Maintaining a positive online reputation

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Review and other social media sites are now essential tools for many travellers who are increasingly using them to share their customer experiences online and to research future trips.

Boutique hotel guests are especially keen to find something special, a unique experience they will remember fondly, and tend to seek out reviews from other travellers like them to ensure they choose the right property for their trip. While travellers tend to know what they're getting when they choose a branded hotel, with independent hotels there is more of an unknown factor. For that reason, reviews are essential for independent and boutique hotels - they give potential guests an idea of what they can expect before they book.

While the average rating on TripAdvisor is positive (just over four on a scale from one to five), as with other sites, opinions can range from glowing reviews to less-than-favourable accounts.

So, should hoteliers and other business owners respond to these comments: the good, the bad and the ugly? The unequivocal answer is yes, and a property's engagement can make all the difference in how customers perceive a business.

We know travellers seek out independent opinions and reviews. In a survey¹, 81 per cent of travellers said reviews were important when deciding which hotel to book, and almost half said they wouldn't book a hotel unless it had reviews.

And what's more, according to a Forrester survey1 commissioned by TripAdvisor, 76 per cent of travellers said they have a more positive view of owners who respond to online guest reviews. In fact, 68 per cent said that if they were considering two comparable properties, the presence of management responses on one would sway them in its favour.

According to the survey, lodging businesses benefit from responding to both positive and negative reviews. Of those surveyed, 79 per cent of travellers said a good management response to a bad review reassures them, and 78 per cent said a good management response to a good review makes them think highly of the hotel.

The takeaway is that not only do the vast majority of travellers expect a property to have a presence online, they will also gain a better overall impression of a business that demonstrates they are listening and taking customer comments to heart.

Boutique guests want to find a hotel that will provide them with a personal touch and are looking for passionate staff, unique service and a great customer experience. What better way to demonstrate this than to engage with reviews from previous guests in a public forum, showing potential customers the level of dedication and customer service on offer?
This interaction not only helps maintain a positive reputation, but it also cultivates long-term brand loyalists and shows potential customers that the property they are considering is actively involved.

So, how can a property make the best impact with online engagement? Many review sites like TripAdvisor allow the management of businesses to respond to reviews. And a management response on TripAdvisor is final, giving property owners and managers the last word.

The following are a few tips that have worked well for our partners:
1. Respond quickly
A timely response is expected and appreciated. It shows you are attentive and receptive to feedback, and it leaves a lasting impression. Also, the more quickly you respond, the greater the number of people who read your comments.

2. Keep the tone professional, whatever the concern
Whether the review is critical or glowing, your reply should always be polite and professional, just as you would handle any other customer service reply.

It can be tempting to respond harshly to criticism, but it is best not to lose sight of the fact that your audience is hundreds, if not thousands of potential customers, as well as the individual reviewer. The vast majority of people recognise that not all customers raise reasonable concerns, and that it's almost impossible to please everyone all of the time.

They will give you a lot of credit for offering a courteous and thoughtful explanation, especially when the criticism is unwarranted. This is your chance to set the record straight.

3. Avoid jargon
Don't be tempted into using online jargon. The use of ALL CAPS, HTML tags or excessive typographic symbols can appear abrasive or result in miscommunication.

4. Highlight positive changes and updates
Use the opportunity to communicate new improvements you've made to your business. If you've addressed a situation that has generated comments from customers, this is your chance to state that you've taken their feedback seriously and made positive changes.

5. Be careful of individual privacy
Your responses should never contain the personal information of any person, including names, addresses, phone numbers or other information that may be used to identify an individual.

6. Be original
Customers don't respond well to stock answers. They appreciate an individually tailored response, because they will realise that you are addressing their particular situation.

It is tempting to post material from other sources that support your point of view, but customers prefer direct and unique comments from you. It's especially important to avoid posting correspondence from another guest.

7. Show gratitude
Gratitude builds goodwill. Management responses are great opportunities to tell guests and customers that you are thankful for their positive comments, as well as their constructive feedback. Don't hesitate to let people know you appreciate them. It goes a long way.

In conclusion…
Following these steps can help you maintain a positive reputation online. Remember that, while you may be responding to one reviewer, thousands of others may read your comments and form opinions about you and your property. Make sure they know you run a respectful, attentive and thoughtful business. Your guests will appreciate your interest.

For more tips on how to maintain a positive online reputation, visit the TripAdvisor blog.

Karen Plumb, senior director sales strategy, business listings
Karen Plumb ensures global effectiveness of the sales teams within the TripAdvisor for business division and is responsible for leading sales, marketing and product enhancements aimed at hoteliers, B&Bs and other accommodation providers. Plumb has a wealth of B2B experience having worked in the hotel industry at both Inter-Continental Hotels and Thistle Hotels before moving into the online media environment at Cheapflights. Karen has been at TripAdvisor since April 2010.

¹ "TripAdvisor Custom Online Survey 2010", conducted by Forrester Consulting, commissioned by TripAdvisor, December 2010


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