The first step to build a good reputation is to consistently deliver great service.
By Alicia Hoisington
Word of mouth is a great way to secure business that can turn into loyalty. But today, word of mouth is amplified by strangers sharing information online. The good, bad and the in-between merge to form a property’s reputation – and hoteliers need to know how to protect that reputation if it’s great or fix it if it’s not so great. By protecting the hotel’s reputation, hoteliers can protect their profits.
“Reputation impacts the business, and it will impact revenue,” says Mike Supple, senior director of product management for Milestone Internet Marketing. In fact, he says a change in one star of an overall rating can directly affect revenue from 5 to 9 percent.
“It will impact a guest’s decision to book or not,” Supple says. “People tend to book more when a hotel has more positive reviews and book less with less positive reviews.”
Research from TripAdvisor shows that nearly 50 percent of travelers won’t book a hotel without reading reviews. Of TripAdvisor’s global users, 83 percent will usually or always reference TripAdvisor reviews before making a booking decision, and 96 percent consider reading reviews important when planning and booking hotels. Additionally, 93 percent of users find hotel reviews to be accurate of the actual experience. TripAdvisor houses 500 million reviews covering 7 million accommodations, restaurants and attractions.
“Considering this trend, all businesses have a greater stake in managing their online reputations than ever before,” says Tara Lieberman, senior public relations specialist for TripAdvisor. “Maintaining a high-quality online reputation is important because it can help you shift customers’ perceptions, improve leads and ultimately drive a larger profit.”
A quality reputation laden with reviews also helps hotels rank higher in search results via Google and online travel agencies – which many potential guests use as search tools when researching their trips, according to Jason Lee, senior director of online product and technology at Travel Media Group.
“Each touchpoint has bread crumbs for travelers,” he says. “Guests start to see a recurring theme [on multiple review sites and OTAs], underscoring the value of the hotel.”
Supple agrees, saying that search engines take reviews into account in their ranking algorithms. If hoteliers can improve their search rankings with online reviews, then they can get more eyeballs on their properties and drive revenue.“
You can have a great website and great content, but if you don’t have the core piece on Google, you’re missing an opportunity,” he says. “Google and search engines look at the overall ratings, how many there are, how frequent they are and whether you’re responding to reviews.”
How to Protect Your Reputation
Hoteliers can influence and protect their reputations by monitoring and managing their online reputation, experts say. And that starts on-property by delivering exceptional service.“
The best businesses know that the first step to building a good reputation is by consistently delivering great service,” Lieberman says. “Research has shown that businesses that provide high levels of service impress customers and ultimately have a better reputation, and customers also want to share positive experiences with others.”
Lee says that frontline employees need to be empowered to make decisions in the best interest of guests to keep them happy. It’s about thinking guest-forward, not risk-management-forward, he says.“
There are too many variables at hotels for there to never be an issue,” Lee says. “It’s how you handle it that’s at stake. That’s where you begin to protect your reputation.”
If a guest complaint does make its way online in a review, Supple says it’s critical to take the communication about the negative experience offline as quickly as possible. Hoteliers should have a process in place so when negative reviews come up, management responds and then communicates with the guest privately so the reviewer feels acknowledged.“
If someone had a problem, whether it’s legitimate or not, don’t have the discussion on the review channel. Give them a way to give further feedback off that channel,” he says. “There’s no faster way to kill a reputation than getting into a heated exchange online with a guest you don’t agree with.”
He says hoteliers also need to think beyond themselves by taking a look at the competition.
“What good or bad is being said about your competitors? If certain things are going wrong for them, stay ahead of it so you don’t fall into those traps,” Supple says. “The people spending money at your properties will be similar, so you can gauge what direction to take to avoid missteps.”
When it comes to TripAdvisor, Lieberman suggests hoteliers claim their listings on the review site and use the free management response tool to monitor and respond to customer reviews and comments. Of TripAdvisor users, 85 percent agree that a thoughtful management response to a bad review improves their impression of a hotel. Meanwhile, 80 percent of users agree that seeing management responses to reviews makes them believe the hotel cares more about their guests.“Thank the good feedback and provide thoughtful, sincere responses to the bad,” Lieberman says. “Consumers will think more highly of those who do.”
How to Fix Your Reputation
If a hotel’s reputation is less than ideal, it’s not a hopeless cause. There are ways to work on a hotel’s reputation to raise its ranks.
The best way to get rid of a poor reputation is to build a good reputation, Supple says. Again, that starts with the guest experience. By reading guest feedback, management will learn what problems need to be addressed. The key is to actually fix the issues that guests complain about in order to improve the customer experience.
Lee agrees. “If there’s a problem, fix it. It’s all about resolution to problems,” he says. “If you practice passive hospitality where you blame your guests for your problems or you’re not addressing them at all, you’re going to have the same issues.”
Supple says reputation management should be made part of the corporate ethos, and all team members should be involved.
“Make sure everyone on staff buys into the importance of reviews,” Supple says. While guests can’t be incentivized for reviewing a hotel, team members can ask them to leave reviews.
“Don’t offer discounts for leaving reviews because that can backfire,” he says. However, management can incentivize team members for encouraging guests to review the hotel.
For example, the associate whose name is mentioned most frequently in positive online reviews during the month can win a prize.
Lee says hoteliers need to think about guests’ motivation for leaving online reviews. He notes three tiers of guests:
• An extremely unhappy guest who wants to punish the hotel with a bad review for his or her horrible stay experience;
• The guest whose experience was wonderful, who wants to reward the hotel with a positive review; and
• A guest whose feelings about the hotel are neutral, who will give an honest review.
The latter is the minority, Lee says.
“That kind of objective sentiment doesn’t happen often,” he says. “It’s either overwhelmingly positive or negative, so you need to find ways to get more guests to give their feedback.”
Besides asking front-line employees to encourage guest reviews, Lee says technology can play yet another role. Post-stay emails can solicit feedback from guests. Emails should be sent within 24 hours of the stay so the experience is still fresh in the guest’s mind. The sites to focus on when soliciting reviews depend on which ones the hotel needs a score boost.
How to Keep it Manageable
Reputation management should be part of every marketing plan, Lee says. However, the job can be large and overwhelming when looking at the whole of it, so he suggests dividing it into bite-sized pieces. Those pieces include:
• Guest resolution at the property level;
• Soliciting guest reviews on-property or post-stay; and
• Responding to guest feedback.
“If you do it on your own, you can have action items in each one of those buckets,” Lee says. “But you need to set time aside. This needs to be something that is handled daily or weekly, for sure.”
Supple suggests making use of Google alerts set up for the hotel’s name. Hoteliers can then receive automated notifications via email if they can’t remember to check the review sites every day due to busy schedules. However, he says hoteliers should identify which sites affect business the most and make checking them part of their routines.
But that doesn’t mean the job should all fall on one person, Supple says. Hoteliers should identify team members who can help with the task, assigning employees to monitoring certain sites and handling responses.
Help via software is another option to help manage the job, he says. Important software features include the ability to monitor the channels important to the hotel; email notifications that prompt quick responses; the ability to prioritize reviews; and keyword filters.
“Getting started can be hard. It seems daunting because no one likes to read about the negative,” Supple says. “But it starts to pay off in time, and it will help your business. ■
8 Important Sites for Reputation Management
Guests visit a multitude of sites before making a booking decision. That means hoteliers need to be aware and monitor more review sites than ever before – and the list keeps growing. Here are eight of the top sites to keep top of mind when monitoring and responding to reviews.
30 billion visits
23.4 billion visits
336 million visits
148.1 million visits
59.4 million visits
57.6 million visits
13.6 million visits
12.8 million visits
Source: SimilarWeb, visits on desktop and mobile, May 2017.