Online hotel reviews are changing everything. With more than two out of three global travellers now using travel review websites before making a booking, and 93% of those saying online reviews influence their booking decisions – it’s clear hotel operators must become adept in the art of handling online guest reviews in order to stay competitive in today’s transparent business landscape.
Guests like to make their opinions known
Whether they’ve had a good experience or a bad one, increasingly-connected consumers are turning to social media and travel review sites to share their opinions to millions of other travellers around the globe. Indeed, the number of customer reviews on the popular TripAdvisor site has surged past the 150 million mark this year, a 50% increase year-over-year. This explosion in online sharing is reflected in findings from the World Travel Market Global Trends Report 2014, which states that “social media sharing and adoption is growing globally”, with the most active consumers to be found in emerging markets, such as China, Brazil, Argentina and the Middle East “where social media usage is growing very fast”.
Negative feedback can impact your bottom line
Regardless of how well you manage your hotel’s operations, even a few negative reviews can hurt your sales. A study by Cornell University School of Hotel Administration found, for example, that even a one-point difference on Travelocity’s five-point rating scale (from 4.5 to 3.5, for example) can influence hotel room rates by as much as 11%. To stay ahead of the curve, hotel operators must actively monitor what customers are saying about them online and actively engage with them to lessen the impact of negative reviews on their bookings as well as rates.
Use negative feedback to your advantage
The good news is bad reviews do not have to spell disaster. To the contrary, less-than-glowing comments about your hotel represent a great opportunity to respond to customers and show off your commitment to a high-level of quality service. In fact, savvy operators welcome the opportunity to respond to customers’ complaints (as well as praises) because it gives them a chance to shine.
How to handle your guest reviews
Having a plan in place to deal with online reviews should be part of an overall strategy for measuring your customer satisfaction and engagement. Here are seven tips on creating the best possible experience for your customers across your hotel review channels:
- Be proactive and catch guest complaints before they go public. For instance, having a feedback system in place will give you access to real-time feedback, allowing you to respond to issues as they arise.
- Use social listening tools or a hotel reputation management system with real-time alerts to get on top of what guests are saying about you across review sites, blogs and social media.
- When responding to a complaint, be sure to acknowledge the poor experience, emphasise the changes you intend to make, and follow up with the customer as needed.
- Respond to issues as quickly as possible; the longer they go unaddressed, the longer they will fester and potentially get out of hand.
- Act on your promises to customers and move conversations offline when necessary to provide a higher level of personalised service.
- Always use negative feedback as an opportunity to turn unhappy customers into brand ambassadors. In particular, being truthful with customers and acknowledging mistakes will go a long way towards building trust and loyalty when it has been broken.
- Share customer feedback throughout your business. Your staff are your frontline brand ambassadors – but only if they understand the challenges and are incentivised to create the best customer experiences possible.
View online sharing as a strategic opportunity
Instead of viewing negative reviews as a damaging, use them as an opportunity to build more trusting relationships with your customers and improve your business processes. In a move to embrace the growing online sharing trend, some hotels are taking it a step further by rewarding their guests’ online behaviour – encouraging them to share their experiences and photos online in exchange for rewards and perks.
While these trends are clearly creating new challenges for hotel operators everywhere, they are also presenting incredible opportunities for hotels to establish themselves as leaders in their industry. By differentiating their brands through superior service, hotels can increase their share of the expected 1.15 billion travellers in 2014 – who place a high value on review sites when making their booking decisions.