How Should You Respond to Negative Online Reviews?

Here's how to respond to negative reviews online so you can minimize the damage and get a second chance.
Freelance Content Marketing Writer and Strategist, Freelance Writer for National Brands including IBM, Ameriprise, Adobe, Samsung and Hewlett Packard
February 15, 2012

Before making reservations at your hotel, many travelers will look up your business on various travel-review sites to see what your past customers had to say about their visit. Needless to say, online reviews can play a big role in gaining additional business or having customers head to another hotel down the road.

“In a sense, online reviews are an extension of in-room comment cards and customer word-of-mouth. The customer has just shifted where and how they talk about their stay,” says Allyson Cavaretta, director of sales and marketing at Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Maine.

While telling a few friends or writing a scathing comment card has limited impact on future business, online review sites give customers a way to broadcast their complaints to millions of people with a click of the mouse. Monitoring online review sites is an important part of getting customer feedback and improving customer services.

Should you respond to negative online reviews?

It’s almost guaranteed that at some point a customer will write a negative review about your hotel or attraction. Owners often wonder if they should respond to the negative review or simply ignore the complaint. Most experts agree that responding to the negative review online in an appropriate way can help minimize damage to future guests and possibly even get the reviewer to give your business another chance.

Marie D'Costa , co-owner of The National Hotel in Frenchtown, N.J., said her hotel always replies to negative reviews and takes the time to find out the story behind the guest’s complaints. She talks to the hotel staff who interacted with the guest and looks at records to find out what happened. “If the guest's comments are correct, it is my responsibility to let that individual know that I will address their concerns and fix whatever might have been an issue, to ensure that the next time this will no longer stand in the way of an enjoyable stay at our establishment,” says D’Costa.

By replying promptly and posting your response underneath the original review, you can also help minimize damage from other potential customers being swayed by the reviewer's experience. Future customers will see that you care about your patrons and actively work to improve your business. Cavaretta says that her hotel actively monitors the major online review sites and has a policy of responding within 48 hours. “In the event that a review is negative, the response is to be reviewed by two or more managers to ensure it meets our expectations for empathic service,” says Cavaretta.

What should you say?

Your response to the unhappy customer should be sincere and not defensive. Oftentimes, simply apologizing and thanking the customer for taking the time to share their issues can go a long way.  Many business owners have found that a simple “I’m sorry” can make a big difference in person, and the same holds true online.

Karen Schloss, owner of hospitality consulting company Schloss Communications, recommends that the owner or manager reply to the review and identify themselves.  Using a pseudonym or having friends post in the businesses defense is not recommended. She also suggests a reply such as “My name is X and I am the owner of [insert name.] We were sorry to hear about your mixed experience the other night, and want to invite you back on us to show you we're serious about good customer service.” Include any specifics about their complaint and any ways you are going to fix the issues. Schloss also advises including your name and phone number in the response and invite the reviewer to give you a call to discuss further.

If the reviewer’s comments are inaccurate, you should carefully and factually respond with your hotel's side of the story. “If, in fact, the review is incorrect, or states erroneous information, I believe it is also the responsibility of the property owner or manager, to make sure that we inform that guest (and others who may see the review) of this, as well,” says D’Costa.

What should you do with the information?

After responding to the review, determine if the issue brought up in the review is an ongoing issue or a one-time occurrence. If your business consistently receives feedback that your front desk staff is unfriendly, then you should take prompt action to fix the situation. However, if 99 percent of your reviews comment on your friendly staff and one customer who had a negative experience complains about it, then it may be an isolated issue. By noticing patterns and addressing the concerns to improve your guest’s experience, you will be on the right path to bringing new customers to your door and having past customers return.

Jennifer Gregory is a journalist with over 17 years professional writing experience. Jennifer blogs via Contently.com.

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