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  • Writer's pictureAdele Gutman Milne, CHBA, CHDM

Why Isn't My Reputation Management Program Making Impact? Reputation Q&A for Hoteliers.

Nearly everyone in the business today understands that a company’s reputation and customer reviews have a direct impact on revenue results. That’s especially true in the hotel business where we are selling experiences and there’s a lot of competition. Delivering five-star review-worthy stays is a great way to stand out from the crowd and elevate the perceived value of a visit to your hotel, resort, restaurant, or attraction.

But here’s the rub. While many hotels around the world have some level of Reputation Management program in place, many are wondering why it isn’t having more of an impact on its revenue or even its review scores. Is all this work for nothing except to “check the box” on a to-do list?

This week, I address this question and explain the life-changing difference between Reputation Management which can be time-consuming but show minimal results, vs Reputation Cultivation, a simple yet powerful way to elevate your competitive advantage, your employee engagement, guest satisfaction and loyalty, along with your ADR, Rev-Par, and Profitability.

Please listen to the podcast to hear my answers to these questions.

These are highlights inspired by the recording and not at all a transcript, so it is best to both read the blog and hear the podcast as well.

Why isn’t my Reputation Management program elevating my revenue significantly?

Because most people believe that Reputation Management is about thanking people for positive reviews, and composing “polite and professional” responses to negative reviews, so as to appear that we care and are listening to our guests’ feedback. Think member, patient, customer, this applies in any industry. But polite words online don’t fool too many people these days.

How are your words going to actually help make future guest experiences better so that you get more compliments and fewer complaints tomorrow? Without action, they can’t. Henry Ford famously said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” Your actions or lack of actions will create your reputation. Even if you sound polite and professional, and even if you also have an empathetic tone, without leadership action, the words will sound hollow and the future guest experience you offer will be unaltered. It is leadership action that impacts review scores.

What’s the difference between Reputation Management and Reputation Cultivation?

Unlike Reputation Management which is focused on politely responding to reviews, Reputation Cultivation begins with understanding what kind of reviews you aspire to achieve consistently to help keep guests coming back and to attract new travelers organically.

In this practice, managers listen to reviews in context to learn small ways where we can improve the experience by reducing friction points. Sometimes we are changing the friction point itself, but many times we are simply changing our communications to better prepare our teams and our guests for the reality of what we offer so that there are no unwelcome surprises.

General Managers can help prepare powerful action-oriented responses which are composed only after collaborating with the team to identify opportunities for improvement, understand the root cause of the issue, and then formulate a plan to hopefully help prevent the same complaint from happening again in the future. Once you have the plan, then the response almost composes itself. Listen to the podcast for examples.

Most review responses today, sound like templates because don’t even mention the issue in question. This is not anyone at the hotel’s fault. It is the way most people were taught to respond, and people teach others the way that they were taught. It’s just not working because today’s consumer is savvy and when they share critical feedback or read about someone else’s feedback.

Deep down, review writers and readers hope that someone will listen enough to take action. They are disappointed when action is vaguely promised but they are thrilled and impressed when a manager is ready to share what action has already been taken and what plans will be implemented, thanks to guest feedback, to help ensure that the problem will be less likely to repeat with future guests.

Is it ever okay to use an outside company, a PR company, or a mid-management or junior employee, to respond to reviews for us? Is it ever okay to use a template or boilerplate for management responses?

Let’s talk about negative reviews first.

I don’t think any General Manager should allow anyone else to respond to a negative review, or even a review that contains some level of negative feedback, before that GM has investigated the situation…there’s nothing wrong with getting an assist from the management team to assemble all the details if needed, identified the root cause, collaborated with their team on opportunities and solutions, and determined the most simple to implement and affordable plan of action to avoid the issue from happening again in the future.

Sometimes, a phone call or other private offline communication and service recovery are also called for. That should be coming from the General Manager PLUS another person such as the owner, a relevant department head, a corporate office leader, or the DOSM. Having two high-level people on a service recovery call is the gold standard and will give you the best chance for a good outcome. I will share more about that at a later date.

Once that plan is in place, who takes pen to paper to compose the first draft of the response on behalf of the General Manager is not that important. What matters is that the person understands the hotel and the action plan fully and is the best person for the job or writing an empathetic and action-based response that will disarm and impress the readers of how earnestly the hotel has taken their experience to heart.

Be careful here. This will only impact your reputation positively if those words express leadership actions already taken as well as those planned and that the General Manager is completely committed to following through on those actions.

Please do not have a Marketing, PR or Social media person write a response without hearing your management plan first and then just agree, “Sure. Say that.”

This is not a PR issue. This is a leadership issue. Your reputation will be based not on words alone, but on deeds. If you want a stellar reputation, it must be built on caring, honesty, and integrity in action.

Working with your team to take small actions every day to improve the guest experience whenever problems arise is one of the most personally satisfying and profitable actions you can take as a hospitality leader.

ProTip: Review responses are searchable content so if you can, only use your hotel name in the response for 5-Star reviews and not for neutral or critical reviews. You want your best reviews showing up in an internet search.

You can do this!

Now let’s talk about positive reviews.

When it comes to Positive OTA reviews, review responses can be counted in the algorithm they use and that can impact your visibility. Of course, your guest review index probably has a higher impact on the algorithm than the responses, but both are important. In this situation, responding to five-star and four-star reviews that are free of any critical comments can be assigned to a well-trained person within your team. I don’t think there is any harm in using some templates that can be customized a bit for each guest.

Feel free to reach out to me on my website or LinkedIn with your hotel email address if you would like a set of Thank You templates for OTA positive reviews to give your team a starting point for creating your own. Please be sure to mix it up and personalize your response just a bit for each one. I just read four review responses in a row from a hotel that had the very same two-sentence response. If you are doing your best and that’s all you can do, I certainly understand due to the labor shortage. But if you can, try to do everything with excellence. Taking a few moments for each guest to personalize and vary your responses will give more credibility to your hotel’s level of care and it can help you make a connection that leads to more repeat business from them in the future.

I believe Tripadvisor and Google review responses have higher visibility. I think as a traveler, I would not like to see too much repetition there.

Remember, your responses are searchable content. Your positive review responses are a great way to boost your messaging, communicating in detail all the great reasons to stay t your hotel. If for some reason you don’t have the opportunity to be as expressive as you want to be on your website, it is also a great way to communicate clearly what people need to know before their visit so that they are set up for success to have the best experience possible. That is not limited just to the experience inside the hotel but extended to all the unique attractions in your vicinity. People love to have the inside scoop!

Nothing is better than doing this yourself, after all, if you want to create a long-term relationship with your customer, you really want to make it personal. But if due to the labor shortage you don’t have time, you can either leave it for later, when you do have more time or you can hire a highly trained response writer, exclusively for 5-star review responses. Make sure you share with them all the messaging that you believe will capture the imagination of the readers and set you apart from the competition.

Don’t oversell it, though. Over-promising and under-delivering can cause disappointment, which leads to poor reviews, so always be honest and just share what you and your most loyal guests love about the hotel and what gets you the most smiling faces at your property.

Is asking for good reviews an organic way to improve your online reputation? What’s the best way to ask for reviews?

The best way to ask for reviews is to make great human-to-human connections with your guests before and during their stay. Encourage and celebrate your team for going above and beyond to turn transactions into meaningful and enriching experiences. Then, you can send a post-stay email, text, or app notification, thanking them for staying and asking them to let you know

I am not a fan of asking for reviews in-house. I never want guests to feel we care more about the review than we do about their excellent experience.

I also feel that asking employees to ask for reviews or incentivizing staff can be counterproductive. Incentives are unsustainable and lose their impact over time. They also have unintended consequences that can devastate your reputation. Most of all, it focuses our team on the wrong thing.

If you truly want a phenomenal reputation, you CAN build it organically, one guest at a time, focusing on making every guest cared for, appreciated, and respected at every encounter! You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to do your best to learn and improve in small ways every day. You can do it!

When should you direct people to a survey and when should you direct them straight to a review site link? This is my opinion, lots of others feel differently, and I may change my mind over time. But for now, if I owned a hotel and if the vast majority of the reviews are 5-Star and we had 85% or higher guest satisfaction, then I would be brave and direct people right to Tripadvisor. If your reviews are doing well enough to go live on a website where they can help you attract new guests, you don’t want to miss a single review. You don’t need to promote reviews on OTAs, they are already doing that for you.

At Library Hotel Collection, we got our extraordinary high scores and high volumes of positive reviews by always sending people direct to Tripadvisor where we felt it would have the most impact, and it did wonders for us. We never sent any surveys because we didn’t want to siphon off any reviews from Tripadvisor if people felt they already sent us the feedback in a survey. We felt that our guests were busy and didn’t also have time to answer a survey and write an online review as well, so we guided them to the site we felt would give us the most marketing value.

If your review scores are not that great yet, but you are sincerely looking for opportunities for improvement, why not work with surveys instead for a few months so you can clean up your issues as quickly as you can in a more discreet way? Then, when you watch your reviews get better week after week because you are FIXING problems rather than just responding to complaints, celebrate every milestone along the way!

When you are ready and have elevated your ability to make great human-to-human connections with your guests, making sure service is quick, convenient, and personable, you’ll be ready to send people links straight to Tripadvisor where travelers will see it just at the right time when they are making their travel decisions. Volume and freshness of reviews are important for your rankings, as well as your ratings, so that will help your hotel get the most visibility for your consistent five-star reviews.

I hope this was helpful. Please subscribe so you won't miss any future segments. Please let me know what questions would you like me to address in our next Q&A session.

Keep reaching for the stars and I look forward to seeing you next week on Get Great Guest Reviews!

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