With an increasing amount of review websites on the market and a continuing rise in the number of reservations being made online and through smartphones, it is becoming all the more important for businesses to be proactive when managing their online reputations.
But how can your business constantly monitor what customers are saying about you on every website? What can you do to ensure those customers are saying anything at all? And how should you deal with those potentially damaging negative reviews?
“Review websites are all too powerful to ignore these days,” admits Magnus Hultberg, strategic advisor and former head of product management at online reservations system Livebookings. “There’s really no difference between a business’s reputation online or offline - and sites like TripAdvisor aren’t going away soon.”
According to Hultberg, the first thing any hospitality business must do when it comes to managing their reputation on review websites is to draw up an inventory of where everything is being said.
“I would look up my business on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google Places and Qype, and also on guide websites like Toptable, Bookatable and Square Meal. You must make sure the information on your business is up to date on all of these sites, and then you can look at whether comments are being made or not.
“When you have your inventory sorted, you can sit down at the computer once a week, take a look through everything, and see if there’s anything you need to act on.”
So the first and most important way of managing your business’s online reputation is to keep on top of everything; understand what is being said about you and where – setting up a Google Alert and registering with Tweetbeep are other easy and efficient ways of doing this.
Responding to feedback and complaints
Successful businesses with a strong online reputation will use feedback to their advantage by responding to all comments, whether positive or negative, as quickly as they can.
“Customers will see that you listen and care about the standards of the hotel,” advises Peter Osborne, general manager at the White Lion hotel, which is ranked number one for hotels in Aldeburgh on TripAdvisor - Osborne uses the reviews as part of staff training and team-building exercises.
“It’s very important to respond to all reviews. In terms of negative comments I try to encourage the customer to contact me directly to discuss in more detail should I feel it is serious enough - I provide my email and phone number in my response.”
The same rules apply for larger hotel chains too. Amy Clarke, e-commerce manager for the Radisson Edwardian group and the May Fair Hotel, says: “For a long time now, Radisson Edwardian and the May Fair have recognized the importance of reviews, particularly on TripAdvisor.
“Our hotel managers take reviews very seriously and endeavor to respond to them all. Speed of response is one of the key elements to preserving your reputation online - a quick response shows that you value the comments from the user and that you’re professional enough to get things sorted.”
The seven steps to success
So… is your business getting it right? While there is no single, definitive way of getting to the top of review websites (after all, a bad business is a bad business), following these top tips will certainly put you on the right track:
- Encourage customers to leave reviews – “People usually only voice their opinion when upset,” says Hultberg. “Encourage people who’ve had a good experience to leave a review on their favourite website.”
- Thank them for their feedback – “Reviews are extremely helpful and the customer should know that their help was appreciated,” says Clarke.
- Be consistent – You should know how to deal with complaints and strive to do the same this every time. As Hultberg points out: “Having one person to deal with everything is a good thing, to give the same tone of voice and be able work most efficiently.”
- Be polite – Never consider attacking the customer for their views. Not only will you guarantee they will never return, they are likely to spread the word among their friends and online. That doesn’t mean you should let factual inaccuracies stand, however. “So long as you keep your response factual and don’t bring in any emotion, then you shouldn’t be afraid to point out inaccuracies,” says Hultberg.
- Share complaints and praise with staff – “TripAdvisor comments are shared with the White Lion’s staff on a weekly basis,” says Osborne. “They are also shared in our staff room on a weekly basis. From this, we identify what went wrong and if it is something we can prevent in the future.
- Keep an eye on the competition – “If a particular issue often occurs with your competition and it is raised online, think about how you would handle that in your hotel,” advises Clarke.
- Always be honest – Finally,don’t try and pull the wool over consumers’ eyes by posting fake reviews as others have done - as Hultberg concludes: “When found out, you will not only look like a chump, you also risk being dragged over Twitter, ruining your brand name in the process.”
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