Addressing Guests’ Feedback

Digitalisation and social media have become important elements for tourists as far as selection of rooms in hospitality properties is concerned. Referring to online reviews of the experiences of the guests had at hospitality properties has begun to play a major role in their opting for a particular property.

It has thus become essential for hotels to take notice of these reviews and not only respond to them but also rectify shortcomings pointed out by the disgruntled guests. Ashok Malkani gauges the impact that these reviews have on hotels and how the properties respond to these reviews.

A large number of hotel guests, today, share their experiences on the social web in the form of online reviews. It is believed that over 100 travel agencies and review sites spread the message of these leisure and business travellers.  

Earlier hotel reviews were usually in the form of a magazine article, a critic’s opinion, or just through word-of-mouth. These mediums of expression are still there. But with the advent of Internet and tourist sites, these days people can also write a review of a hotel online, which can be accessible all over the world, or refer to reviews written by guests who have visited the place, f r o m anywhere in the world. 

The importance of maintaining the reputation of your hotel online has become essential for hoteliers, for they are believed to influence the footfall in the hotel, and not without reason.

Impact of Guest Reviews

Ayon Bhattacharya, General Manager of The Orchid Hotel Pune, stated, “Reviews influence the footfall as future guests refer to the reviews by past guests on the digital space before deciding to book rooms. Positive reviews increases footfall and this trend is going to grow with the global market becoming more tech savvy.”

“Digital media has changed the whole shopping experience for consumers and provided them with access to a wide range of products and tools that they can use to get the necessary information instantly. This web revolution has empowered consumers to share their opinions in terms of reviews on the web, across sectors. The ease with which we can compare while searching for flights and booking hotels through travel websites, while taking into account reviews, has made an impact on the way we now shop for hotel rooms and travel,” explained Sriram Ramaswamy, Director of Sales and Marketing, Indore Marriott Hotel.

“In addition to the extensive use of web, the use of smart phones has further influenced travel and hotel bookings. Guest reviews are now all the more important as they could be given ‘on-the-go.’ Today’s traveller, before making any bookings, is expected to  first go through the reviews shared by other travellers as they give them an opportunity to check the quality of service and analyse whether it will meet their expectations. Customers often trust these online reviews more than any other form of communication as they believe these reviews are independent and trustworthy,” he affirmed.

“We, at Indore Marriot hotel, are aware that customers make holiday decisions by extensively using the Internet. This keeps us to stay focused on providing the best possible services that we have to offer at every point of time. The guest reviews also help us to market the hotel and showcase our hospitality standards and feedback. We encourage the guests to write the reviews so we can know their feedback. We believe that guests who visit our hotel come with specific requirements in mind and we ensure their expectations are met,” Sriram added.

“In the hospitality industry, guests have access to multiple online booking channels including hotel websites and Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) that feature previous guest experiences through reviews and ratings. Online reputation has become an integral function as it directly influences the hotel’s popularity and image. Millennials, especially, are most influenced by online guest reviews while making their bookings. They rely more on the candid reviews f r o m other patrons when picking f r o m the numerous choice of hotels. Therefore, it has become very important for hotels to maintain their online reputation, as it directly influences the bottom line. The more positive guest reviews your hotel receives, the more the likelihood of people choosing your hotel over competitors with comparatively lower reviews and ratings is there,” disclosed Divakar Shukla, the General Manager, Crowne Plaza Pune City Centre.

“The quality of guest reviews directly influences your target guest profile’s decision-making trends. Negative reviews adversely impact the online reputation of your property and can be extremely damaging if not handled well and in time. In the same way, positive reviews also play a big role in creating trust and encouraging booking intentions of potential guests. Online reviews also significantly influence the hotel’s search engine ranking. It is thus very important to ensure that positive review responses are increased across all social platforms,” Divakar maintained.

“A quote f r o m a famous entrepreneur once read: ‘Nothing influences people more than a recommendation f r o m a trusted friend.’ Indeed, reviews across any portal f r o m a guest who has experienced a service/services in our hotel, is the best form of marketing we rely on. A stay at our hotel and experiencing the luxuries we offer induces guests to recommend the services to their acquaintances, friends and family,” proffered Anisha Pereira, Guest Experiences Manager at Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

“Good online content for a hospitality property serves a meaningful purpose and helps to promote the property and the brand in innumerable ways. Reviews assist in increasing online visibility, improving operations and driving hotel revenues. As a hotel, we understand that a negative hotel review has serious repercussions to our image and we immediately reach out to the guest and ensure the experience is turned around. Sincerity being the core of our operations, we do not hesitate to admit a fault on our part,” she acknowledged.

Timely Response to Reviews

While the guests praise or criticise the properties, it is necessary for hospitality properties to have a review response strategy. A study f r o m Cornell University of Hospitality reveals that responding to online reviews has a great impact on revenues initially, but the impact declines after a certain threshold of reviews are responded to. This is certainly good news as it means that you do not have to respond to 100 percent of reviews across the board, something that few hospitality properties have the time or resources to do.

But how fast should be your response to the reviews, particularly if they are negative, is an important question to consider. 

“Responding to each guest review within a stipulated amount of time is very important as it shows the guests that we have acknowledged their feedback. It also helps to build goodwill for the brand and engage with guests who have taken the effort to share their experiences. All reviews should be responded to in a timely manner. Negative reviews especially should be handled tactfully; understanding the grievance shared and responding promptly to the aggrieved guests. At Crowne Plaza Pune, we ensure that each guest review across any social platform is acknowledged and analysed by our team within 12 hours of receiving the feedback. Each feedback, whether negative or positive, helps us to assess our areas of improvement or competence,” elaborated Divakar.

“Sofitel Mumbai BKC responds to all reviews we receive f r o m our valued guests. Communication is the key to make our business grow. We genuinely feel that if a guest has taken the time to review us, we should respond, acknowledge and thank the guest for the same,” stated Anisha.

“In today’s world of real time feedback, we want the guest to know we are right here for them. We usually reply to post-stay reviews within 12 hours. Real time feedback on social media is replied instantly,” she stated.

“Responding to negative reviews with customised and honest response and trying to address the issues pointed out makes a lot of difference as it makes the guests and potential guests know that we care about our guests. Positive reviews also have to be acknowledged and answered,” declared Ayon.

“Orchid Hotel Pune responds to all reviews coming over f r o m OTAs, Tripadvisor and other social sites. We have a digital tool which auto populates all hotel mentions on a single dashboard. We respond within 24 hrs to all guest reviews,” Ayon stated.

“Any response to a review needs to done as early as possible, in most cases within 24 hours and within a maximum time frame of 48 hours,” averred Sriram.

“In case of negative reviews, the response time should be even lesser and this should be followed up with call to the guest as well,” he added further.

Prioritising Responses

While talking with the hospitality industry experts, we could gather that ideally, all guest reviews should be responded to. But should the priority be to answer negative or positive reviews?

“We need to keep monitoring customer feedback, as it is just the first step. We can’t set a priority here as both positive and negative reviews are important. The responses help in creating a personal and transparent brand image, and makes it definite to the customers that the hotel does care about what they have to say,” opined Sriram.

“At the Indore Marriott Hotel, we have an internal software named Medellia, which ensures every guest review is addressed. This software converts all the negative reviews into a ticket and ensures that they are responded within 24 hours,” he disclosed.

Ayon avers, “Priority should be paid to both. Negative to correct, and positive reviews to share with our employees to feel proud of,” averred Ayon.

“We feel both deserve equal attention and importance. Positive reviews are great for the brand image, revenue and sales, and a negative review can mean the exact opposite. At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, both are given equal importance and are acknowledged instantly,” stated Anisha.

“All reviews should be responded to in a timely manner, more so the negative reviews, which tend to spread quickly and cause a negative impact if not handled tactfully. Positive reviews must also be given equal attention as they are f r o m happy guests who can be converted into loyal brand patrons,” opined Divakar.

Tackling Poor Reviews

Since poor reviews are believed to affect the footfall in the hospitality properties, the hotel industry personnel have to make efforts to offset the effect of these reviews.

Anisha concedes that a guest experience may not be 100 percent satisfactory all the time, and added, “In the rare instance of things going wrong during a guest stay and not being brought to our notice, a guest is most likely to express his/her opinion on social media. At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we put all efforts in place to connect with the guests, and then rectify the situation. As mentioned, we have sincerity in our DNA and more often, guests do understand and not only return but become our loyal patrons.”

“The best way forward is to differentiate negative reviews and categorise them in three broad sections as: (1) service and behavioral issues, (2) infrastructure issues, and (3) quality issues. You should then take the issues to the HOD table and device strategies to negate the points f r o m grassroots level so that the issues do not get repetitive. Of course, some complaints will always be there, where the expectation of the customers is not aligned to the deliverance timeline as per industry benchmarking standards,” declared Ayon.

“Negative reviews have the potential to provide insights into areas of improvement for the hotel.  A quick response time is usually the best practice and should include the following steps – identifying the problem, engaging in damage control and seeking a resolution for the aggrieved guests. Ensuring that the negative review is responded to, addressing the concerns of the guest with reassurance also helps to avoid any negative impact on other customers who come across the review.” explained Divakar.

”Negative review leaves a great impact on the guests searching for your property; thus, responding to their feedback properly is one of the biggest challenges.  The hotel needs to respond to a negative review in such a way that it surpasses the after effect and provides the guest with an alternative,” pointed out Sriram.

“Some of the ways one can achieve this are by thanking the guest by their name. Address the guests by their name and thank them for taking time to share their valuable feedback. If it is a negative review, then apologise for the guests’ poor experience and endeavour to lessen the bad effects of the review in the eyes of your prospective guests. Also request for any suggestion on their services to be added or changed. Communicating and receiving suggestion; be it negative or positive, helps in building a good image for the brand. This conversation could also be taken offline, however, it should be made sure that there is no communication on compensation mentioned,” Sriram elaborated.

Getting the Desired Guest Response

As an hotelier, it is crucial to obtain positive feedback f r o m satisfied guests who share their experiences with a hotel.  So what steps should be taken to get positive response f r o m the guests?

Ayon is of the view that one should “observe the trends of negative reviews, introspect, sort and address the same. This, according to me, is the turn-around mantra.”

“We truly believe that if we work with sincerity, humility and f r o m the heart, on a daily basis, then there is no stopping favourable reviews f r o m pouring in. At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we have a brilliant programme titled ‘Cousu Main’, which literally means ‘Service f r o m the Heart’. Every experience is hand sewn with love and respect for our guests, thus creating ‘magnifique’ experiences, which, needless to say, converts into favourable reviews,” averred Anisha.

“The focus should always be on delivering unsurpassed customer service and unforgettable experiences. The human touch is what elevates the experience and a guest seldom forgets a smiling and helpful face. One should remember, the better the experience the better the chance of guests leaving excellent reviews,” pointed out Divakar.

“Some of the precautionary steps that could be taken by the hospitality property to get favourable reviews online are assigning a dedicated team to read, analyse and respond to the queries and reviews online; ensuring that each and every review provided across different digital platforms are answered well in time; appreciating your guests’ review and recommendations, as it helps in building a good brand image; submitting a report to the management team on the week’s online reviews received and using them as a tool to improve customer service, which also acts as a motivating tool for employees; and providing assurance in serving guests better while they visit the next time,” articulated Sriram.

Who Should Respond?

The main challenge for hoteliers is to engage in actively promoting a hotel’s reputation while monitoring recent developments and constantly interacting with guests.  It is easy to get sucked into the operational vortex of the hotel’s day-to-day affairs while your hotel’s online reviews get neglected.

So who should be assigned with the responsibility of responding to the reviews?

“At Crowne Plaza Pune, each review is usually responded to by the General Manager; making sure that each guest is thanked for his/her feedback,” asserted Divakar.

“At the Sofitel Mumbai BKC, every review is read by the management team of the hotel and spearheaded by the General Manager, Biswajit Chakraborty. We dedicate 15 minutes every day, without fail, analysing all the reviews of the past day. After that we sit along with General Manager, to dedicate quality time to each review. Our General Manager personally relays what he wants to convey to each guest. This is a very special touch we exercise whereby the General Manager himself takes personal interest in the overall guest experience of the hotel,” affirmed Anisha.

“The guest reviews should be responded under the signature of the General Manager, though the mechanism may defer f r o m one hospitality property to another,” opined Ayon.

Sriram believes that a dedicated marketing team should respond to the guest reviews. “At the Indore Marriott Hotel, in case of a positive review, the social media team responds to guests with a thank you note, which is also circulated in the internal forum of the hotel. In case of a negative review, the social media team informs the concerned department and the HOD regarding the feedback. The feedback is further analysed to understand the reason behind the guest’s experience. Post analysing the situation, the guest is provided with a response on his/her social media post along with an apology, and with an assurance of a memorable service during his/her next visit,” he disclosed.

Online Reputation Management Companies

Several online reputation management (ORM) companies have also emerged on the global scene. How heavily do hospitality properties in India rely on them?

“Reputation management companies do help in delivering a more qualitative and professional response but the soul of the review should be through an honest addressing of the issues. The Orchid Hotel Pune does have a digital reputation platform to see the reviews as a single dashboard but the responses are drafted and answered by the hotel. The same platform is also used to send invitations to review the hotel in our direct channel,” declared Ayon.

“At Sofitel Mumbai BKC, we rely on TrustYou – an online guest feedback platform and hospitality reputation software. TrustYou collects and analyses over three million guest reviews, surveys, and social media posts f r o m all across the web, every week, for 5,00,000 hotels. All hotel reviews in one place certainly helps in monitoring reviews better and understanding trends,” affirmed Anisha.

“At Crowne Plaza Pune, we maintain our online reputation at a property level, ensuring that each platform is checked on a daily basis,” pointed out Divakar.

“The reputation management of any hospitality property plays a key role in making or breaking its brand image as guests are now choosing a particular hospitality property by considering its social media reputation. There are some reputation management companies in India who manage to maintain online reputation of some hotels,” Sriram articulated.

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