How to respond to reviews, according to experienced hoteliers

Research has shown that responding to online reviews, especially negative ones, increases the trust prospective customers have in your hotel, making them more likely to believe that you care about your guests.

Online reviews are not only a way to generate and cultivate a relationship with an existing or past guest, they are also a major deciding factor for prospective guests. Therefore, those reviews you are responding to are not only talking to the reviewer in question, but also to every other potential guest scrolling through your Tripadvisor, or Google reviews.

However, while responding to reviews is clearly a vital management task, it isn’t always an easy one. It’s sometimes difficult to know what to write, which reviews to respond to or how to address complaints. So, we asked a few experienced hoteliers to share some of their tips and tricks for responding to satisfied and not-so-satisfied guests online.

TIP #1 – Unique, personalised responses

Across the board, all of our experts concur – answer the individual. Whether the review has been positive, negative or has mixed sentiments, it’s important to respond to each guest as an individual. No “copy-paste” or computer generated feedback. Guests want to know that you listened specifically to their compliment, complaint or general comments. This is the guest’s way of communicating with your business, your response not only influences the way they feel about their relationship with your business but it also acts as a marketing tool to indicate to prospective clients the kind of care they will receive from your establishment.

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Just as Anald Musonza, Resort General Manager from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge says, “Always respond to any review with honesty and sincerity, shown by using language that connects with what the guests are saying to you and not these over officious and impersonal responses that look like they are computer auto-generated responses.”  Management responses should be embraced as an opportunity to cultivate relationships with each guest, and to show them that you have heard what they had to say.

– Jonathan Kaye MIH, Operations Director, Cedar Manor Hotel
– Jonathan Kaye MIH, Operations Director, Cedar Manor Hotel

Jonathan Kaye MIH, Operations Director, Cedar Manor Hotel agrees that responding professionally and individually is one of the most important parts of writing a response. “We look at every review individually and never use “copy & paste” or template replies,” he says. “They should be individual for every response.”

We address bad reviews in a positive way – (usually) thanking the author for helpful feedback. We often outline any circumstances that we believe led to negative comments and remember to address the reviewer, but remember that you are promoting your business, even with negative reviews, to a world-wide stage.  People who will visit are reading your response and may make a judgement on staying dependent on what has been written.  Above all, we always thank everyone for feedback and assure them that all comments are helpful.

It’s important to treat each review as a way to start a conversation with a particular guest, someone who has taken the time out to reach out to your business. It is polite to respond to them as a unique guest. Ultimately this will lead to greater client satisfaction, customer retention and word of mouth advertising. All by just taking some time out to get those responses out.

TIP #2 – Respond to all reviews – the good, the bad and the nondescript

Another unanimous answer from our panel of experts is that you need to take the time to respond to ALL reviews. Each review is a chance to enhance your relationship with an existing customer, prompt future bookings, address issues and indicate to potential customers that you are a caring and hands-on business that values each customer equally.

Anald hits the nail on the head: “My personal view is; never miss an opportunity to engage with your guests who have taken the time to give a review. Use your judgement to engage throughout the guest journey with your product or service.” It is of the utmost importance that you take the time to acknowledge the review and the client behind it. Not only for that guest’s sake but also for the sake of your hotel’s reputation among the review’s readers.

As academics from Griffith University noticed in their research, “The provision of an online response (versus no response) enhanced inferences that potential consumers draw regarding the business’s trustworthiness and the extent to which it cares about its customers.”

Jonathan has noticed this too, and suggests hoteliers should “address the reviewer, but remember that you are promoting your business, even with negative reviews, to a world-wide stage. People who will visit are reading your response and may make a judgement on staying dependent on what has been written.”

Pieter Van Rooyen, GM, Bon Hotel Bloemfontein Central
Pieter Van Rooyen, GM, Bon Hotel Bloemfontein Central

Pieter Van Rooyen, GM, Bon Hotel Bloemfontein Central keeps his sentiment simple, “I respond to all reviews – good, bad and mixed.” This makes it clear – responding to each review is important, especially if your competitors are finding  the time to do it.

“Every review should be responded to,” agrees Jonanthan, but he also knows that it’s time consuming. “We respond to all Tripadvisor Reviews. We respond to most Google reviews and occasionally to reviews.  As we are a small team with no marketing department, it’s Tripadvisor that has priority.”

Since the majority of Cedar Manor’s online reviews come from Tripadvisor and Google, it’s unsurprising that Jonanthan has chosen to prioritise these sources. The team also makes use of online reputation management software to keep on top of their reviews and ensure they respond to as many as possible.

“It is important to respond. It’s polite,” reiterates Jonanthan. “Guests have taken the time to write about their experience, and they should be thanked.  Ultimately, it replaces word of mouth and they are marketing on your behalf. Again, review responses are just as important as the review itself.”

It’s important to note Jonathan’s final sentence “review responses are just as important as the review itself” this should highlight how seriously expert hoteliers take the review response process.

This should be seen as one of your most important marketing activities whether you run a small, medium or large establishment. Clients expect their review to be seen, and dealt with in a positive, timeous manner. This will certainly enhance customer retention and delight.

As one of the global leaders in the guest feedback sector Tripadvisor has found, 65% of travellers agree that they would be more likely to book at a hotel that has responded to guest reviews, versus a hotel that has not responded.

TIP #3 – Respond to positive reviews with thanks

Good reviews take just as long for your guest to write as bad ones, and deserve the same recognition from your business. Responding to good reviews can also promote brand loyalty, lead to future bookings and work as a billboard to market your establishment to prospective guests.

You should thank the customer for taking the time to leave the review. Also as said before, make it individualised, make note of what the customer celebrated and highlight that. Responses to positive reviews are a great opportunity to sing your own praises and market your business to other potential guests, while enticing the reviewer into booking again.

“Acknowledging good reviews shows you take pride in delivering a satisfactory service or product for your guests or client,” explains Anald. “I have made new bookings or got referrals or return business through responding to guest reviews.”

This cements the idea that engaging in these mini-dialogues can have a great impact on the booking rates of your hotel. Customers who were already satisfied with their stay, hence the positive review,  can be even further delighted by these responses. Being made to feel heard and appreciated can go a long way for referrals and word of mouth advertising.

Jonathan explains how you can personalise a positive review response, “With good reviews acknowledge all the factors that the guest complimented you on. If staff were mentioned, let the guest know that you will congratulate the mentioned staff member/s for doing a great job.”

Using the positive reviews in this way not only enhances customer satisfaction but also can be used to bolster employee morale or offer incentives, encouraging employees to deliver excellent service time and time again.

TIP #3 – Respond to unsatisfactory reviews wiht empathy and honesty

Responding to bad reviews is crucial in order to regain the dissatisfied customers’ trust. It also becomes equally important for potential guests who are reading the reviews.

As many of the experts have said, it’s important to stay empathetic, look at the response from the customer’s point of view. It is not going to help anyone if you take the comments too personally or become agitated or defensive. As we have mentioned before, this is a time to market your business to others. Potential customers will be looking at the way you respond to negative comments as an indication of what they could expect from the establishment if they were to check in. Don’t try and dodge the negative comments, this becomes apparent to all readers, both the disgruntled guest and prospective clients.

You also need to acknowledge the constructive criticism, perhaps there is something that needs to be addressed, thank the customer for bringing it to your attention and let them know how you plan to correct the problem. It is important that the customer sees that there is a clear course of action to attempt to correct their complaint. As Jonathan points out, “Sometimes guests won’t tell you to your face and go to review sites to give their feedback. It’s important to address any issues raised and try to deliver a positive outcome.”

Seeing management responses that are aggressive, long winded or attempt to dodge the complaints can tell prospective guests a huge amount about your business and how they will be treated at your hotel. Pieter stresses the need to temper your response. “With bad reviews it is important to stay calm. Don’t take the negative comments personally. Let the guest know that you will address his specific complaints immediately.”

– Anald Musonza, Resort General Manager from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
– Anald Musonza, Resort General Manager from the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge

Anald articulates this client-centred approach well:

Every review must be responded to with empathy as each guest who gives this feedback is trying to communicate a message to the business. Responding to a bad review shows you care enough about your product to take constructive criticism. This also goes to show you respect your guests for being honest with their feedback based on their experience of your product or service as a business. Include aspects of what the feedback means to you and offer a trackable course of action that can be implemented and guests can see the sincerity in your organisation to embrace feedback.

As mentioned above, honesty and sincerity when approaching negative comments are paramount. We want clients to know that we have heard them, intend to solve the problem as best possible and that we respect their feedback. Again it’s important to respond to each review individually, respectfully and timeously.

TIP #4 – Top points every review should include:

Be sincere, honest and empathetic

Try to view the situation from the guests point of view, acknowledge any complaints and take on board the customers constructive criticism. Highlight compliments and celebrate good reviews, share these reviews with your staff or relevant stakeholders.

Respond timeously

Responding promptly to customer feedback shows a level of commitment to your customers, and shows a level of professionalism to both the existing client and potential customers. Online reputation management software is a great tool for making sure you don’t miss the reviews that need responding to by alerting you immediately to reviews that fall below a certain score, and making it quicker and easier to respond.

See each comment as a way to market your property

Emphasising good reviews, specific points that stood out for the customer can be a way to encourage the customer to book again, it also allows you the opportunity to try to use the response, where appropriate, to subtly direct the customer back to your site or special offers.

Be appreciative and courteous

Thank each client for their response. Speak in a relatable but professional manner that encourages a sense of care for the client. “Always acknowledge the guest for completing the review and always invite them back to your property.” says Pieter Van Rooyen, General Manager, Bon Hotel Bloemfontein Central

Jonathan covers all of these points in his universal tips for responding to reviews:

Be thankful and courteous, even if they have given you a bad review. You can (but shouldn’t) discredit the reviewer if necessary. Always finish with positives so that future guests can see your business as a place worth visiting. This is also the best marketing tool you can use, so mention about booking direct, visit our website and sign up for news and offers. Anything you can think of to be creative.  Don’t write “BOOK DIRECT FOR BEST RATES” in capitals on every review, it’s not subtle and won’t work.  Just the odd mention, particularly in good reviews.  Use them to promote your business.

These tips from experienced hoteliers can make the task of responding to guest feedback a little less daunting, and they also show how imperative it is to engage with customers in the form of review responses.

Customers are looking to be delighted by excellent service both during, as well as after their stay. Responding to their feedback can help you do just that, perhaps turning a satisfied customer into a brand ambassador or winning back a dissatisfied customer all with just a couple of characters.

Tags: personalised responses, reviews

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