I’ve already had my say about reviews (or rather, about how to respond to negative online reviews, regarding both business and ethics): the most convenient action to take is to argue for unfounded criticism by bringing objective figures and valid explanations.
But perhaps it’s worthwhile going further into details, because we are used to witnessing far too many mistakes (and horrors) in communication – above all on TripAdvisor, which, whether we like it or not, counts as many as over 280 million visitors each month, for a total of 100 reviews per minute.
What does it mean? It means that at least 210 million users – that is, 75 percent of the little owl’s lovers – rely on how many stars hotels and restaurants have before booking a vacation or a candlelight dinner (source: “Reviews, Reputation and Roi” by TripAdvisor for Business).
From threat to opportunity
Do we really want to ignore 210 million prospect customers? Of course it is always possible pretending they aren’t there, but by doing so any negative review – that is, any threat – will simply remain as such. Whilst on the contrary, if we learn good communication tricks, we can turn a bad comment into a good opportunity.
How? First of all, by monitoring the Internet (if we aren’t online and we don’t know how to find out what users think and say about our brand, we just can’t do anything but passively undertaking the events). And then, by giving proper and well-argued responds, not only to defend us from accusations, but also – when it is the case – to apologize, to show empathy towards the client, to prove that we have already remedied the mistake, so that any upcoming experiences with our hotel or restaurant get to be always up to expectations – all actions that demonstrate at least one thing: that we really care about what our guests think of us and that we are thus attentive to their needs. And if it doesn’t seem important to us, it means that the true meaning of “communication” is a bit out of our reach – it comes from the Latin verb communicare, that is putting together; it’s composed by the Latin words cum (“together”) and munis, that is, “office, duty, function”. So communicating also means “doing one’s duty with the others”.
The seven rules to handle a bad review
Here there are seven rules to follow, but please never forget to knit your job. Even if we are good hoteliers or fantastic restaurateurs, it isn’t known we can communicate equally well. And what less will it be for our cousin or our barman, young and always connected to Facebook with their smartphones though they might be.
Sometimes, in short, we’d better turn to professionals, saving time and limiting the risks of social media mismanagement (the web is full of experienced and capable agencies, just look for them on Google – and yes, this may be given in charge to our cousin).
- Answer as quickly as possible
To negative reviews one should at least answer promptly (they will be the first to be read by other users, so you need to moderate them as soon as you can). It’s not just a matter of “attention” to the customer, it’s also the most convenient strategy, because it gives the chance to turn off the fire on its very beginning as well as to engage a private conversation with the disgruntled user, inviting him/her to directly contact us, to better explain the reasons for his/her complaint and to find a solution together (it is actually allowed to include an email address in the reply).
- Be kind and diplomatic
Respecting the customer, showing understanding and kindness, even when he/she proves to be idiot and crazy, never harms our image. Indeed, in the eyes of other users we immediately get to be placed one step above the accuser. And we’ve already scored a good point.
- Appoint the company management
Either if we personally write, or if we have entrusted the task to a communications specialist (which is far better), we must always have each comment signed, with name and surname, by a chief executive (the hotel manager, the restaurant owner), obviously updating them on what we are doing. This proves to customers two things: the first is that the complaint has come to the proper people and was not intercepted, or worse overwhelmed, by who knows who; the second is that these proper people are really attentive to the opinions of their guests, so much so to take the trouble of personally answering instead of delegating to any pencil pusher.
- Be thankful and always apologize
Let’s make it clear: if a guest has had a bad experience by us, we really have to be sorry and grateful for any advice that helps us improve our service quality. This proves that we have passion for what we do. So, specious though the criticism may be, we should thank the user for giving us the opportunity to face his expectations and to show our concern for disappointing them. Only then will we argue our reasons, but never really trying to defend ourselves. Just those who do nothing are never wrong, aren’t they?
- Don’t mislead the customer (although he is not always right)
Whether the customer is right or not, don’t let us clutch at straws. If the complaint is grounded, we’d better admit it sincerely, thus giving evidence that we are already at work so that such situations never happen again (and if possible, once the problem is solved we should document it with a tailored post). If, however, the complaint is questionable, let us argue our reasons with moderation, giving our interlocutor the benefit of the doubt. Just remind: you may not be right without having to be wrong. Empathy also means understanding such shades.
- Report false reviews
In the event of an objectively false and denigrating comment, it is not the case to lose our Anglo-Saxon aplomb. We can safely answer that some review is invented without necessarily transcending language. If we then have the chance to prove that the allegations are unfounded, we simply need to show all the evidence in our possession. After that, we will contact the site service to report the occurrence and request the removal of the review.
By doing so, in the time between the evaluation of our report and the removal of the comment, we can give our version of the facts and restore the truth. When the review is removed our response will be deleted at the same time.
- A practical example
Exceptions made for specious or false claims that deserve to be properly counter-argued, the answer we all would like to hear, after having had a discomfort, sounds more or less like this: «Dear customer, we sincerely apologize for not being able to offer you the best during your latest visit. However, we appreciate your comment because it contains helpful suggestions for improving our service. As owner/manager of the hotel/restaurant, I have been charged with verifying all the details of your report and I guarantee that we are already working to ensure that such situations never occur again. We invite you to come and visit us again soon, so that you can witness our progress and finally experience the best of our hospitality experience. Best Regards, Name and Surname».