The Dos and Don’ts of Handling Negative Reviews

Negative Hotel Reviews

So you’ve used your social listening tools and come across some stellar reviews for your hotel. But just as you are mid back pat, there it is: the negative review, looming like a dark shadow. For those of us who pour our soul into our work, this can be as painful as a dagger in the heart. But how much do online reviews matter? According to research, nearly half of travelers use online hotel reviews to decide where to stay.

It’s essential that you manage your hotel’s online reputation by learning how to react to negative online reviews. But as with all criticism, use this as an opportunity to grow. And as you will see, this can even be an opportunity to promote your hotel. So take a deep breath and read on for the dos and don’ts of negative reviews.

The DON’Ts of Negative Reviews

Don’t Take It Personally – The first rule of criticism is to not take anything personally. That doesn’t mean shrugging off the criticism with an air of superiority. It just means taking a deep breath and looking at the criticism objectively.

Don’t React Right Away – Probably the worst thing to do is to reply to a review in the heat of the moment, especially if you are feeling emotional as that could lead to review rage. Every public move you make is a reflection of your hotel, leaving a negative or positive impression on potential guests reading your review. You have probably seen reactive responses from management on reviews and it never looks good even if the hotel is in the right.

Don’t Fine or Sue Your Guests – Have you heard about the New York hotel that, on their website, threatened to fine guests $500 for negative online reviews? Well, that back fired. When the press got a hold of this, Union Street Guest House faced the fury of dozens of negative Yelp reviews leading to a low rating. But what if a review is particularly slanderous, should you sue? If a review is in no way truthful, then the burden of proof is upon you but you may have a case. However, your guest will not be liable for expressing their opinion, as long as what they say is true. There are many other ways to resolve the issue.

The DOs of Negative Reviews

Analyze the Complaint – When you come across a negative online review, research the incident or the complaints. Talk to staff and find out their side of the situation in order to create a whole picture. You may even want to contact the guest, privately, to fill in any holes of the story and to express your concern. Then you are prepared to take action to rectify the situation and respond to the review. If you resolve the complaint offline, be sure to also provide an update on the online negative review on how the matter was resolved.

Ask for False Reviews to be Removed – If you feel the review is slanderous, untrue or fraudulent, you may have a case for requesting to have the review removed. Some review sites, however, have a no-removal policy but it doesn’t hurt to ask, especially if you have reason to believe that the review came from a competitor and not an actual guest.

Understand Your Guest – As you are in customer service, you already know how far understanding your guest goes when addressing a complaint. When someone is upset, they want to feel like they are being heard, respected and understood. Saying things like “That sounds really upsetting,” or “I can understand how you must feel,” is enough to acknowledge to your guest that how they feel is valid and valued. And when you try to see the problem from their perspective, it makes you ready to resolve the issue.

Respond by Flipping the Script and Turn it into a Positive – After you have cooled off, analyzed the situation and understood your guest, you are ready to respond online to the review. We have all read reviews where the hotel responds in a defensive or arrogant way and we know as the reader how that makes us view the hotelier. So take time to craft a response that not only addresses the concerns of the reviewer but actually spins the situation to make you come out on top while still looking like the good guy.

This Forbes article about negative reviews explains that each response is the opportunity to highlight your business’s positive qualities, while maintaining genuine concern for the incident, for example, “We are very sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience. We are so proud to be in the top three most popular boutique hotels in the county and we continue to strive to maintain that position. Reviews like yours help us to continue to exceed guest expectations.” In this way, the reviewer can feel heard and valued and leaves a positive impression on others reading the review.

Bring the Customer Back – This point seems so obvious and yet not widely done. Assure your guest that there are no hard feelings and invite them back to give your hotel a second chance. Offering a discount, an in-room bottle of wine, a free night, or a complimentary spa service can turn a disgruntled ex-guest into a satisfied repeat customer who is all too happy to share their positive experience.

Get Positive Reviews – Your best defense against negative reviews are positive reviews. Using post-stay surveys and emails, ask your guests to rate their stay and to share their experience. People are most often motivated to write negative reviews, so take the opportunity to ask your happy guests to write reviews as they just may need a little prompting.

At the end of the day, responding to negative online reviews is like putting out fires. If you are having to put out a lot of fires, it’s perhaps time you take a harder look. Here are our 8 Ways to Improve Guest Satisfaction and 6 Tips for Doing Social Customer Service Right that can point you in the right direction.

Online reviews should not be your only form of receiving guest feedback. Use reputation management platforms like Revinate for gathering post-stay surveys, which may reduce negative reviews on social media if issues are resolved within a short period of time. Better yet, diffuse negative experiences by checking in with your guests during their stay to ensure their expectations are being met.