Are Hotel Reviews Just About the Numbers?

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Address the comments and feedback, not the rating.

By Larry Mogelonsky, MBA, P.Eng.

Do you remember in high school how jealous you felt when you got a B+ on your English test while your friend got an A-? Now that we are all (supposedly!) grown up, we can safely look back at how insignificant that one trivial grade point difference was in the grand scheme of things. Well, apparently, this lesson hasn’t been fully learned. A few of us are still using this transient comparison of others’ behavior for their online hotel review aggregates.

Statistical Methods Need to Be Recognized
Is it really all that important to see your property’s rating on TripAdvisor increase from 4.5 to 4.6 within a two-week span? Why are people micromanaging these tiny fluctuations? It’s statistically irrelevant. In school, real performance changes were denoted by evaluating your report card handed out at the end of each semester. Much the same way, you can’t judge your hotel on a review-by-review basis but rather from a quarter-to-quarter appraisal.

A caveat of obligatory mentioning would be significant jump in rating aggregates. The MBA student in me reasons that a shift of +/- 0.5 percent (that is, HALF a percentage point) or greater would be deemed statistically worthy of note. But how often does a variation like this occur within a two-week or even month-long span? Ratings typically move a tenth of a percent at a time and you’d be mistaken to fret over a drop of this size.

In my mind, numerical micromanagement represents another risk of the Internet as we are confounded with more metrics than we know how to handle. It’s a double-edged sword, though. The solution is not to study the numbers with closer scrutiny but what the guests are saying. Alas, this isn’t baseball! Embrace the chatter and respond to all deficiencies rather than worrying about rating points.

Ratings Revealed for Their True Worth
One of the beauties of online review sites is that they give guests an anonymous platform to be honest, rather than just silently dismiss your property for return visits. Word of mouth may be a powerful behind-the-scenes motivator, but word of mouse is open to the public, available for you to study and hopefully learn from. These websites provide an opportunity to gain unbiased insight and constructive criticism about your operations. Replying to individual commentators is a great way to broadcast the fact that you are willing to accept outside advice, but all your response efforts will be negligible if you don’t take their suggestions to develop a plan of action to correct said mistakes.

You must evaluate the quality of your hotel based on qualitative data. So, you better grab a pad of paper then start reading every comment, taking notes along the way. After a couple dozen of them, you may start to notice some trends. What are the common criticisms? Was the front desk staff regarded as friendly and cooperative? Housekeeping issues? Room service? Was restaurant food beyond what was expected or just adequate? How does the customer perceive your value equation?

Outliers: What to Do?
Now, from my experience, I’ve found that a small number of reviews may be written from a very hurtful slant. Don’t be frazzled, or worse, obstinate. Every critique is an opportunity to learn, even if that wasn’t the intent when posted. Furthermore, when you assess such negative remarks against the average and the long-run of things, you’ll find that they are much like that one D+ you got on a math test back in grade nine. Within a week, the pain is gone and forgotten. The same goes for any direct assaults against your property. Do not discredit the entire online community based on a few rotten eggs. For the most part, they are here to help, but only if you can listen.

Emphasis should always be on the long-term versus the short-term. But the comparison technique can still applied in two valuable ways. Read reviews, group commonalities, then develop your own quarterly scorecard for measuring qualitative performance over the past three months. Then put this scorecard up against previous metric surveys or past critiques. Is the situation improving? Are specific complaints less prominent or absent all together in the latest series of posts? The benefit of using scorecards is to keep track of over a broad timeframe; enough breadth for trends to change in a statistically significant manner.

Going Beyond Your Reviews
The other crucial tactic is to glance over the reviews of your key competitive set, keeping a lookout for occurrences where they are praised relative to where you are shammed. If their restaurant’s food presentation is lauded while yours is just pedestrian, then you best have a meeting with your F&B director and executive chef to address this discrepancy.

To draw upon personal experiences again, I’ve noticed that most explicit qualms found in online assessments arise from gaps in guest service. Most individuals arrive at your hotel with given expectations set by what they see on your illustrious website homepage and what’s said on the web. Such people will be more obliged to give you a highly positive grade if you meet or slightly exceed their standards. However, it’s when you slip that your reviews will also fall. That is, your staff jumbled a restaurant reservation, front desk was near oblivious to a guest’s needs or individual requests were never fulfilled, to name a few. Maybe you need to heighten internal communication channels to make sure everyone is on the same page. The point is, take advantage of your hotel reviews to investigate and hone your guest service abilities.

Dealing with Negative Reviews
Even if your property is brand-spanking new and in your mind, flawless, you’re bound to receive a negative review. It’s simply human nature: there are individuals who always criticize even if there is nothing to really to complain about. Now that you have the feedback, how best do you respond to this commentary? It is essential that you remain both honest and transparent. If there is a genuine issue, then acknowledge it, thank the guest for bringing the fault to your attention, and clearly state how you are both addressing the issue as well as the timeframe for this remedial action.

Many general managers I know include their business email in their response, encouraging the guest to contact them directly for further follow up. They report to me that about half of the guests take them up on this offer, which reinforces the importance of responding in a timely manner. When asked, I advise simply, “By the next business day.”

But what about a negative comment that is simply unfounded – how should you respond? I do not believe you should be a doormat. Yet, at the same time, an open forum such as TripAdvisor is not the place for a heated discussion with a past guest. Handle the situation delicately. Be genuine and sincere. Don’t argue, just state the facts as you know them. Remember to leave your name and direct contact information, as your goal is to take further discussion offline.

The Bottom Line
Improving your overall rating aggregate is more dependent on guest service than on large-scale issues that require significant capital investment. Do yourself a favor and read through the Internet review chatter. Address the guest’s issues, not the rating. You’ll know when you succeed because the problem will disappear from the latest commentary; or better yet, a recurring customer might even praise you for these improvements.
Regardless, hotel review sites are here to stay and are a critical component in a guest’s property selection criteria. The sooner you pay attention to what people are writing, the sooner you will see improvement to your ratings. ■

Larry Mogelonsky is the owner of Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited. His experience encompasses hotel properties around the world, both branded and independent, ranging from luxury and boutique to select-service. He can be reached at larry@lma.ca.

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