Why Hoteliers Should Support Legislation on Customer Reviews
Things in real life are rarely as clear-cut as good fighting against evil, like we see in the movies.
Moreover, there’s often value in understanding the differences between dark and light, and the nuances behind a positive or negative review on sites like TripAdvisor. There is much you can learn about your hotel and your potential for improvement by listening to your guests’ positive and negative comments. That’s why preserving the right to voice such judgments is important.
The provisions of the proposed Consumer Review Freedom Act for online reviews are a step in the right direction for businesses in the United States.
Passed by the Senate on Dec. 14, 2015 and pending approval by Congress, the current bill includes…
- A nationwide ban on the use of “anti-review,” “gag,” or “non-disparagement” clauses
- Empowerment of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and states to take action against businesses that attempt to keep consumers from posting negative reviews
We already know from incidents like the debacle faced by the Union Street Guest House a few years ago that consumers don’t react well to retaliation for negative comments. If anything, attempts to keep guests from posting online tends to backfire. There are many reasons to embrace and protect your guests’ ability to leave public feedback. Here are just a few reasons.
1. Freedom of speech in online reviews = consumer trust
If Congress passes the bill, it will be unlawful for companies to contractually prevent their customers from reviewing them online.
The new legislation will preserve your guests’ freedom to post their honest opinions online, whether those opinions are negative, positive, or a mix of both. Everyone has the freedom to say what he or she chooses offline, and the same liberties should be allowed online.
But, aside from the constitutional implications of this bill, think about how this freedom of speech affects the value of online reviews for prospective guests. “Anti-review clauses,” as such restrictions are often known, run contrary to the idea of transparency. They also encourage companies to shy away from a crucial part of doing business online – being open to all customer feedback, whether positive, negative, or neutral.
Studies also suggest that 92% of consumers trust online reviews, and some 85% of consumers read 7-10 reviews before they make a purchase. According to TripAdvisor, 53% of travelers say that they will not book a hotel that doesn’t have any reviews.
Think about what would happen to your bookings if guests couldn’t trust your reviews to be a genuine picture of those individuals’ experiences with your property. Consumers would rather book a hotel that cares about honest feedback than a hotel that shies away from negative comments. If the new bill is passed, consumers will be able to confidently voice their honest views, without fear of legal action simply because those views might be less than flattering. And businesses will gain from this new piece of legislation as well.
2. Learn through your guests’ constructive criticism
It’s important for any consumer-facing business to learn to take criticism constructively. When guests feel free to tell you about their experiences without fear of retaliation, you have a valuable opportunity to discover ways to improve. Guests often bring up critiques that hoteliers wouldn’t think to address.
For example, when given the opportunity to see trends in their reviews data, The Dictionary Hostel in London saw that guests were consistently complaining that their wi-fi was insufficient and that there weren’t enough outlets in the dormitories. In response, they used the review data to justify improvements to the property. As a result, their average rating on TripAdvisor improved from 3.3 to 4.5.
3. Show prospective guests that you care
Every hotel gets reviews that express guest dissatisfaction. This is something that will never change. Opinions are subjective, and misunderstandings happen. However, companies can turn these instances into opportunities by taking the chance to listen to and learn from negative comments, and show that they’re working to fix what went wrong.
Responding to reviews is part of this process.
Companies that respond to reviews help consumers who took the time to voice their praise or concerns feel like their words matter. According to TripAdvisor, properties that respond to over 50 percent of their reviews increase their likelihood of receiving a booking inquiry by 24 percent (compared to properties that do not respond to reviews).
Responding also creates buy-in from consumers who feel they’ve played a role in improving a company’s services. Creating a two-way dialog allows a company to showcase its strength in meeting criticism head-on and proactively work to address the problem.
Customers appreciate being acknowledged by a real human and the company’s efforts to preserve him or her as a customer. Public reconciliation spreads positive feelings and can also encourage repeat business opportunities.