Many independent hotels struggle with who should have the responsibility to respond to reviews. Many properties meet this need with the most obvious person, the General Manager. This is often the right choice since the GM should be on top of what guests love and hate at the property, but as the task becomes more time intensive due to the increasing popularity of posting reviews, is this the best approach?
First, it is good to consider the size and budget of your business. If your staff does not include a dedicated marketing person, guest service manager, or social media manager, the GM is usually the best person to respond to reviews. However, there are an increasing number of hotels that outsource or delegate review response to customer service groups, but is this sending the right message? Customers want to know someone who can make a difference to the operation of a property has considered their review. If every negative or positive review is met with a packaged response, the effectiveness of management response decreases. Clearly the time constraints on busy GMs make delegating or outsourcing review response appealing, but it is still important for GMs at large properties to understand what guests love and hate, and weigh in regularly to show that they’re listening for feedback and welcome guest opinions. This one-on-one discourse with management is really what the reviewer is looking for.
Choosing the right member(s) of your team to respond to reviews should include consideration of the following factors:
This is a big consideration in a world where businesses are trying to do more with fewer resources. Ideally the person responsible should be able to dedicate time to responding to reviews every day. A report by Forrester and TripAdvisor shows how much a management response can sway a customer. In this report 79% of respondents said that a management response reassured them after reading a poor review. A further 68% said that a response would sway them from one property to another. With the fast pace of booking, the sooner a review response is posted, the sooner your hotel could benefit and see more bookings.
Lack of time is a common issue with GM-focused solutions. If you want to or need to have a busy GM keep this role, then review management software such as Revinate can help streamline all reviews to a central dashboard. A good reputation management system can not only reduce the time it takes to respond to reviews, but also ensure that you have a comprehensive approach to reviews from all sites.
Empowerment to Solve Problems
Properties that choose to have someone other than the GM respond to reviews often have issues with empowerment. The best customer service responses come from employees who are empowered to make a service recovery and implement operational changes that can prevent that problem from reoccurring. Employee empowerment has always been a key facet to good service and this still holds true in the age of online reviews. If your responder does not have the power to remedy complaints two potential problems can occur. First, a GM will often have to engage with service recovery anyway. Second, customer insights gained from reading and responding to reviews may not get to the General Manager.
The knowledge gained from reading and responding to reviews is critical to improving operations. If valuable insights from aggregated review data are not communicated to upper management, a hotel can miss powerful opportunities to improve and increase profitability. A good sentiment analysis tool can help manage this data and create powerful sentiment reporting. With sentiment analysis, upper management can have their finger on the pulse of customer complaints regardless of who handles review response. If no system is in place, it is important to have your review responder aggregate customer insight data and report it weekly to the management team.
Writing Skills and Brand Training
As with any other type of official communication, it is critical that your review responder can write professionally and represent the brand effectively. The more professional your social media messages and review responses are, the more professional your business will appear. Every business has a brand, be it a large chain hotel or a one-of-a-kind inn. If the decision is made to outsource or delegate review response then the individual with this responsibility must intimately understand your brand and marketing message.
Your branding should be defined by your business’s personality. Bloomberg Businessweek states “your brand is what your business stands for and what it is known for.” Personality is displayed by all communications relating to your business and reviews are certainly included. Reviews are the only brand communication that speaks directly to a potential customer at the time they are considering a purchase. Review responses are the front line of branding! It is important to speak in a voice that is appealing to your targeted customer and represents your business professionally and accurately. It is also critical to speak with a personality that fits your brand. For more on this topic please review Finding your Hotel’s Voice
Customer Care Characteristics
Responding to complaints is nothing new to the hospitality industry. The same traits that make someone a good customer service person make a good review responder. Empathy, patience, a caring nature, a genuine love of people and communicating will help someone succeed in this role. Writing ability and brand training can be taught over time, but having the “right stuff” to handle customers is inherent to someone’s character.
Even one review can have significant impact. Take a look at the following report about how many people read some reviews that I have posted. One review that I posted for La Casa Que Canta in Mexico was seen by over 7000 people.
Reviews have significant influence, and a review response can have equal influence to reassure potential customers. If the person who responds to reviews does not have the natural ability to connect with customers in a genuine way, then this opportunity can be lost. The right review response will address both the issues and the customer in a professional and caring manner. As we learned from the TripAdvisor/Forrester report, a well-crafted response can turn a negative review into a positive sales opportunity.
Take a Team Approach
An increasing number of hotels are choosing to take a team approach to review response and this can be very powerful. From a customer perspective, if the relevant manager to a review’s topic crafts a response, there is no doubt that the feedback was internalized. For example, if a review specifically mentions a front desk issue, having the front desk manager respond would be ideal. If complaints highlighted the cleanliness of a room, having the housekeeping manager respond would make sense. This approach ensures the responses will be viewed as genuine and heartfelt and that the “canned” approach would be avoided.
It is still important to have a General Manager weigh in often, so that users know that the entire management team is engaged in the review process. It is also critical that all team members who respond to reviews are good communicators of the brand, but this is by far the best way to approach to assure customers that you care about and act upon guest feedback.