How to Fix Your Property’s Online Reputation

By Cloudbeds, March 31, 2016
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Anyone with fingers and a keyboard can leave a review about your property–even if they never visited. This has produced a climate where some guests use reviews as leverage to get what they want out of property owners. Many hoteliers mistrust review websites, and feel unfairly persecuted by unfair reviews.

That said, online reviews are enormously influential. They’re not going away. So, it’s time to learn how to take control of your property’s online reputation. In this webinar, we will show you how to respond to and flag reviews on the most popular review websites, how to prevent negative reviews in the first place, and we’ll go through the major reputation management companies in the industry, explaining whether or not they are effective.


Click here to download the free eBook companion to this webinar.


Brandon Dennis: Welcome one and everyone to this week’s webinar by Cloudbeds and this week’s webinar is on how to fix your property’s online reputation. My name is Brandon Dennis. I’m the VP of marketing here at Cloudbeds and I’m joined today by Alex Gaggioli, who is our Marketing Coordinator. He did a lot of the research and writing for this webinar, so major props to him and to Richard Sanderson who put it together and made it look all really nice. Thank you everybody for joining on this Thursday morning. It’s going to be a great webinar, we’re going to go through a lot of great content, and so let’s dive on in.

But before we do, just a few technical things. If the screen isn’t fitting your monitor, for some reason it’s not all there, there should be a button in the zoom interface that says, “Fit to screen.” Just scroll on up there and click the “Fit to screen” button and that should shrink things into the right way for your particular monitor or screen. And then also we are taking questions. So we want this to be an interactive webinar, and if you have any questions about what we’re going through at any time, feel free to use the little Q&A button at the very top of the zoom interface. Click the button, type your question and Alex will be good enough to hop on in and ask your questions for us all to chew on for a little bit.

So, as always we will be recording this webinar and we’ll have a recorded version available online tomorrow. So be sure to check your inboxes tomorrow morning for not only a recording of this webinar, but also an eBook companion that you can download of course for free and take with you wherever you go. So, let’s dive on in. So, the major point of this webinar is we want to figure out how to fix online reviews, and obviously we’re not going to want to fix them unless they’re negative. Negative reviews are sadly just the nature of the beast when you’re in business, especially hospitality and it’s one of those things that we’re just going to have tackle.

Now before we go into the step by step instructions on how to fix negative reviews, we need to understand a little bit about reviews, how reviews work, which websites are the ones that are the most important, which ones we need to pay attention to, and the kind of philosophy that we need to adapt when going in to take a look at reviews. So, we just flag everything that we find negative and try and get it removed. Does that drive response or do we comment on every single one? We’re going to dive through that so that we have a base line understanding of where to begin.

We’re also going to talk about some of the practical things, like how to survey your guests as a way to preemptively warm them up, even if they had a bad experience so that they don’t leave negative reviews. You can mitigate the problem before it occurs. And then we’ll cover very briefly on some software and agencies that you can use if you’re interested in finding tools that can help you manage your online reputation. So, why do you need to pay attention to online reviews in the first place? This may seem fairly intuitive, but it’s always important to go through and explain.

So, user generated reviews are not always trustworthy. Now, it used to be that reviews from professionals went according to a very thought-out star system, right. The reviewers would be professional, this was their full time job, they would go and visit the property, they would take a look at very specific aspects of the property, they would take their notes, they would sit on the information, chew on it, think about it, go back to the office, write out a report and then publish a star rating review. And then people would get their book and they would be able to reliably understand the information about all the hotels that they wanted to visit on their road trip, for example.

That is no longer the case. Even though those professionals still exist, the vast majority of online review consumption is not only done by people who might not even know that professional reviews exist, but it’s often published by people who are not professional reviewers, obviously. So, user generated reviews simply lead to less quality, less trustworthy and more biased reviews as their nature. Many times people will use a review platform to spout their general frustration. Or sometimes they inappropriately use their review platform to talk about something else. Something that is not necessarily related to your property, and that’s an abuse of the system.

And that’s just something we have to deal with because online reviews hold a lot of power. They’re very easy for guests to take, and people are seduced by the power of online reviews. Sometimes people will use these in a real bad and evil way like trying to get money out you, say, “Hey, I’ll give you a negative review if you don’t give me an extra night stay”, or something like that. Thankfully, that’s rare and it doesn’t happen all the time. But usually the majority of negative reviews are done by guests who just were unsatisfied with one or two small things and want use the platform to vent.

But the reason is it can be devastating if you don’t tackle your negative reviews, if you don’t fix them, if you don’t handle them, if you don’t deal with the issue, is because people read them. People believe them, people go to TripAdvisor, people go to Yelp, people go to online travel agencies. And as part of their travel booking process they read dozens, sometimes even a hundreds, of reviews. I once read a statistic that said that the average traveler visits 30 to 31 different websites during the travel booking process before booking a reservation.

Often times that’s the hotelier’s website, the OTA website, an online review website, and maybe it’s a travel blog, a lot of different websites that they visit when trying to decide where they’re going to stay, what they’re going to do, where they’re going to go, which is why all the polling says that travelers and guests find online reviews to be very important. 81% of travelers said that it was very important to read the online reviews before determining where to say. 49% said they would not book a hotel that didn’t have reviews.

So, even if you remove all of the reviews on your review page, if that were even possible which it’s not, but even if you had no reviews, nearly 50% of guests just wouldn’t stay there because it’s sign of lack of activity. It’s better to have hundreds of mediocre reviews than to have none, none. That’s just the nature of the beast. So, even though, as we’ve already established, that reviews are published and authored by nonprofessionals and they can carry a lot of bias, and they can even be unfair, the stark reality of the situation is that people read them, people use them, people consume them.

It’s important to make sure that you tackle them. So, we talked about this briefly. This was the state of reality. This was how people used to research. They’d get their travel guide, they’d get their Australia book, they’d go to Seattle and pick up a little pamphlet. Now, this is the reality. They go to Google, Google my business, Yelp, TripAdvisor, they check the BBB, they check out your Facebook comments. This is now the reality of the situation. This can still be important in some certain locations, but this is really important in all locations, well nearly all occasions. Yelp isn’t everywhere but Google is.

Here are a few more reasons why online reviews are not necessarily trustworthy. Just to drill this down, as to why this can be such a problem. And number one is that no one uses a consistent scale. For example, your five-star review may be my three-star review. There are some online reviewers who are really proud of the fact that they’re picky. And it takes a lot to get a five-star review out of them. You sometimes see this with movie reviewers. Each movie reviewer, whether it’s the Boston Globe movie reviewer or the Seattle Times movie reviewer, they adopt a different system when dealing out stars.

Some guys are always four and five stars in the real blockbusters. Other guys, their greatest recommendations are three-star review. Oh, this amazing movie, Interstellar… well that wasn’t, it was all right, I’ll give it a 2.5, right. You see, it’s really subjective about what kind of star system is going to be handed out. And sometimes it’s not even a star system. TripAdvisor for example has a nice series of circles. What does a circle mean? Is a three circle better than a two circle? Well, yeah. Okay.

There are more circles but what actually involves a circle and how is that different from a star? So, guests in their own mind have their own ranking systems and their own things that really influence the way that they rank things. Maybe this particular guest is more concerned with noise. This particular guest is more concerned with the water pressure in the room. This particular guest just really wants to make sure that you’re a green hotel, right. All of those things influence their own biases, which lead to wildly inconsistent reviews.

Another reason that they’re not always trustworthy is quantity over quality. Large properties get an advantage with online reviews because they tend to get more reviews. Now, the way we just talked about earlier how a property with no reviews has a 50% chance to lose every single guest that visits their page. Because nobody likes to speak to an empty room, nobody likes to visit a property that they think is not important, or that they think is not popular. So, smaller properties tend to fare less well on the whole review system. They tend to be the ones that are more likely to have no reviews.

Also, they tend to have less consistent reviews. One negative review on a property’s review page that’s smaller can break the entire system. So let’s say you’ve got three reviews on your page, and they’re all four or five star reviews, you’ve got a 4.5. Well, one guest has a bad experience and they take the opportunity to give you a zero-star review. Well, that will break the average. All the way to two and a half or three stars, which ruins what you’ve been working on all that time. And you’re a small property and you don’t get a lot of guests in the first place and the percentages of those guests who actually leave reviews is small to begin with.

So, you may be stuck there at a three or two-and-a-half-star review for years before somebody finally comes along and starts giving you the real stars that you deserve. Right. Another problem with these online reviews is some of these websites have been accused in the past of participating in mafia like tendencies. Now, what we mean by that is you don’t really have a choice. If you own or manage a hospitality business, you’re on Yelp, and you’re on TripAdvisor, and you’re on Google business, and you don’t really have a choice about that.

You can’t call them up and say, “Hey, take me down”. Because they have free speech, they have the ability to publish a listing just like you’re in the phonebook or you’re in the yellow book and they have the right to publish what they want about you as long as it’s not slander, it’s not libel and all that stuff. But even in that case, lawsuits that have actually been taken to Yelp and TripAdvisor almost always end in the website’s favor. There have been very few successful lawsuits from business owners who have gone to Yelp and say, “Hey, these reviews are unfair”, and Yelp refuses to remove them, and so I’m going to sue them and they tend to lose. Right.

This is what we mean by mafia like tendencies. You don’t really have a choice. Your presence is on that website and you can’t take it down. So, the goal of course is to alter the way your brand is perceived on those websites instead of trying to take the nuclear option and just decimate every mention of your property’s name on that website. And then, as I touched on earlier, online reviews can be prone to fraudulent behavior, whether it’s a really unscrupulous person who’s trying to take the leverage of the fear that one might have about online reviews, to get something like an extra night stay or an upgrade and stuff like that.

Thankfully, that doesn’t happen all the time, but it can happen. And it’s just another bummer when it comes to these user generated online public reviews. So, let’s take a look at the future. Let’s take a look at an alternative here. And I know that Alex and I have slightly different opinions on what the future of online reviews will have in store. This is mainly due to our age. I’m barely a millennial and I think Alex is right in there in the millennial phase. I still go to OTAs, I still go and read a lot of online reviews, but there are a lot of people who are going to social media and who are reading travel blogs and using YouTube and those social media type resources to plan the travel. Alex.

Alex: Yeah. So, totally Brandon and I had a fun conversation about this yesterday and Brandon always… so what he was saying is that he always turns to TripAdvisor or… yeah, TripAdvisor and sites like that to start his research for his travels. And I would agree that I also start my journey there, but my journey on the internet does not end with reviews from people I don’t know. So, what I’ll do is I’ll hop on Instagram or hop on Google and type in the location and see if a travel blogger or a social media influencer has covered that location or has covered the types of activities that I like to do.

And so, when Brandon mentioned that people are clicking 30 to 37 different sites before making a decision, that’s totally me. I’m probably in the hundreds trying to get all the information, trying to get all the pictures in the inside knowledge, trying to make the best decision. So, as your token millennial, I’ll tell you that getting as much information as possible is what’s important to me.

Brandon: And this should be really encouraging news for those of us who are in the hospitality industry. Because it means that millennials are becoming a little bit more savvy and they’re realizing that yeah, anybody has access to these online reviews sites and can publish anything they want, and they’re being a little bit more selective about the kind of content that they’re going to believe. Which is why they gravitate towards personalities. Online personalities on social media, online personalities on blogs who are really consistent about the travel that they do, and where they go and you can follow the specific personality that you adhere to.

Maybe you’re really into craft beers and so you find the online travel blogger who visits all of the hotels near the famous breweries that he likes to go to and you could get that perspective. What we’re finding is that the internet is moving towards a more tailored experience towards each individual traveler. And there’s enough information out there now that you can go and find all of the guys who are talking just about craft brewery travel or whatever other niche that you happen to be in. So, that may be the future, where people are moving towards blogging and social media and all of that where online reviews from just anyone might not hold as much weight. But the reality of the situation is that today is today, and today, online reviews are exceedingly important.

So, this is what to look for. Now, one of the things that…the reason we bring this up is because it is possible to flag a review on TripAdvisor or Yelp, as a business owner, and say, “Hey, this isn’t fair. This isn’t fair, this is not a real customer, because I think this is one of my competitors. I think a competitor hired some company to place this false review because we actually don’t serve sour biscuits at our property, because we don’t serve any biscuits at our property etc., etc., etc.”

So, if you find reviews like that, if you find things that are just so over the top that they need to be removed, then, take a look at these four tips when trying to decide whether or not you should flag something. Because we actually do recommend that you don’t get reviews removed if possible, but instead focus on responding correctly to them. But when you’re taking a look at the reviews, take a look at context. People tend to make comments, people tend to post reviews based on their personal point of view, the things that they really value and the things that they’re thinking about at that time.

And sometimes that won’t make a lot of sense. And sometimes it won’t even pertain to your property. It can help to kind of just take a look at their review and the previous reviews that they’ve left on other properties to get them. To understand where their mind is at, so that you can get an idea for what they were looking for. And that’s going to help you when you go back to respond to them. You can say, “Oh, I saw from some of your previous reviews that you were really looking for this kind of experience, but we have publicly listed that we provide this kind of experience. So, we would recommend in the future that you try and find properties that are more closely aligned your experience.”

This often happens with small families that end up staying at a party hostels and they didn’t realize, and of course it was really loud and then you get angry. Well that’s not the fault of the party hostel because it’s marketed as a party hostel. Right. It’s the fault of travelers who just didn’t do the appropriate research, or maybe it’s the fault of the manager of the property who didn’t list the fact that it’s a party hostel. These are the kind of things that you can discover and diagnose by reading the online reviews for your property. And this goes into the identifying biases thing, right.

Let’s talk about the noise example again, because you may have a property that is right in the middle of the city, it’s right around a whole bunch of bars, it’s exceedingly noisy, there are a lot of people who are having a lot of fun, and it’s a big party hostel and then you’ve got somebody complaining about the noise. Well, it’s like, “What do you expect?” This is a party hostel in the middle of city. Of course there’s going to be some noise, but someone’s going to be biased, somebody likes what they like. Identifying these biases and pointing them out is important to making sure that you correct reviews either in the comments section or that you understand what you’re doing before you flag them.

And then identifying false reviews. We do suggest that you flag and report all suspected false reviews and leave a comment on them as well. You can comment on the review before you flag it and then flag the review hoping that it can be removed. And when you comment on a review like that, just make it very clear that this is a false review that this person never actually stayed at your property. Just say, “Hey, Glenda,” is Glenda a name? Maybe I was mixing Brenda and Glen. Anyway, “Glenda. Thank you for staying at our property, but the thing is we actually don’t have any parking at our property. So it would be kind of hard for you to have your car towed from our property because we called the cops on you. So, we don’t think that’s true.” Something like that.

Just really polite, maintaining the politeness of your brand, but making sure that you put the facts in there. And then don’t focus on the numbers. As we talked about earlier, the reviews rating is arbitrary. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, there’s not a lot of consistency. It can be tricky if all you’re doing is focusing on the numbers to understand the true tenor of guests’ opinion about your property. So, all you’re doing is taking a look at the views. You could have four and a half to five star reviews. And you’re like, “Great everyone loves us”. But then you’re missing the 10 to 12 to 13 different reviews that are always complaining about the exact same thing.

Maybe somebody thinks that your property is wonderful overall so they give you five stars. And they say, “Hey this place was great. I’m so glad I stayed. But…” And that’s where they’re going to talk about the problem. So, you would miss it if all you did is pay attention to the numbers. By taking a look at the context, by going through the review and scanning it, and trying to understand the overall experience that this guest had, you’re going to find things that you might have missed otherwise that you’ll be able to diagnose and fix.

All right. Negative reviews. This is where we get into the meat of the issue. Let’s dive on in. It never feels great to get a negative review. When we get negative reviews we can start to feel ourselves get angry and we get defensive, “This is our baby, I built this company from the ground up, I’ve spent 10 years working on it. How can they say this horrible, negative, false thing about my hostel?” And then we need to calm down because that kind of reaction, that kind of angry gut reaction can get us into a lot of trouble especially if we have a business account on TripAdvisor and we can quickly login and say, “You’re full of rubbish, you didn’t stay and that’s not true and…” Wow, we’re suddenly damaging our brand.

We need to be very careful, right. Instead of responding out of anger or grief, or instead of responding emotionally, if we are emotional people, it sometimes may be best sit on it for a day. You see the negative review, you get angry and you go to the pub, and you grab a pint, and you just sit there and you calm down for a little bit and the next day you handle it. Or you can talk to somebody in your family who can handle it for you, right. Negative reviews never feel great, but you still have to tackle them with rationale.

So, why should you respond to negative reviews? Because your reviewers are paying customers. Assuming that it’s a legitimate reviewer, this is a person with whom you convinced to be separated from their money forever. And you’ve got that money now and they did it and they stayed at your property and they paid the bills and they got the food and they got the experience and they’re gone. They’re a customer, they’re a paying customers and you want them back.

Statistics say that people are much more likely to stay at properties where they’ve stayed in the past. So, even though this person left negative review, statistically this person is more likely to stay at your property again than someone who’s never visited your property. So, what an opportunity? Right. What an opportunity to satiate this person, to solve their issue, to address their complaint with a laser-like focus so that you can make them feel good about the experience instead of bad.

Responding with anger and responding defensively almost always makes the other person feel even worse. It makes them feel justified in their negative review. As if your actions somehow made them feel like what they did was right. “Of course I left them a negative review. They’re just nasty, angry, mean people. Check out their response to the Yelp review that I left.” Whereas, if you respond with understanding and kindness, and if you try to reach out to them and to make amends, and to solve the situation, and heal the wound, and really just butter them up, they can be repeat customers. They can say, “Hey, look, this guy was so nice to me. He responded with grace and aplomb, I may just come back to shake his hand and say, ‘Hey, thanks for being such a decent human being.'” Right. Reviewers are paying customers, they’re a great opportunity to try and get repeat viewers, even if they left a negative experience.

Number two, they’re also human beings, right. We are civilized human beings in this world. And it’s important and incumbent upon us that we act like civilized human beings even to strangers whom we do not know. It’s important not only in regular life, this is advice I wish I could have given 15 years ago. But it’s also important in the hospitality industry because this is a service based industry. We’re all about the service that we give. Giving people good service is not just something we do to get a good review online, but it’s something we do because we have dignity. And this is the business that we live in. And people who work and live in this business have the dignity to treat others as human beings and with respect.

And the third reason why you should respond is of course because your reviewers are vocal and opinionated. That’s why they’re going online to list reviews to begin with. They happen to be very vocal about their opinions and maybe they’re going to be vocal about their opinions on other review places. I know that this has happened with businesses I’ve worked on in the past, where one person who had a really bad experience posted a negative review on say Yelp. Then the owner of that business responded in an angry, bitter way and that incited the original reviewer to take his review, to copy it and to publish it on Foursquare and then on TripAdvisor, and then on Google, and then on Bing, and then all of these other places.

Look, these reviewers are pretty savvy with the internet and they know how to leave a review. And if you incite them, if you prod the badger, so to speak, and you may rile them up to go and leave that same negative review on 10 different websites. When in reality they were only going to do it on one. Your reviewers are vocal and opinionated. It’s really important to address the problem, to treat them like humans, to treat them with respect, and to really try and solve the issue like a hospitality professional instead of responding defensively or with anger.

Alex: Hey Brandon, I have a quick question that will play into the next slide really well. So, from Alan, how would you deal with a negative review like two out of five stars when the reviews are all positive? So, very nice comments about everything, but they only have two stars out of five.

Brandon: That’s an excellent segue, and this goes back to what I was saying earlier on how everyone’s review scale is completely different. Right. Someone can say, “Hey, I loved your everything. Great transportation, wonderful food, I love the view, I’m staying here again.” Two stars. And you’re like, “What? What’s the disconnect here?” And the way to respond is of course with grace and magnanimity. And you start with a thank you. You say, “Hey, thank you so much for staying on my property. Thank you so much for coming and leaving a review.”

But then you just very politely go on and question. Say, “I was surprised to see that you left a 2.5-star review.” Because sometimes these guys don’t know that they did that. May be they’d seriously left a 2.5-star review because they’re just that kind of reviewer. But maybe they accidentally clicked the button. May be they meant to click five and they instead clicked 2.5. I’ve seen that happen in the past too. Where you can respond politely and with warmth and just say, “Hey I was a little concerned about why you left a 2.5-star review. Is there something you didn’t tell me? Was there something about the stay that I could have improved on? I really want to fix the issue if there is one. Let me know how I can make this a five-star review.” Or maybe not that, “Let me know how I can make your stay better in the future that would encourage you to leave a five-star review. What can I do to encourage a five-star review from you in the future?”

And in the past what I’ve seen has happened, they’ve hopped on go, “Oh, I accidentally left you a 2.5-star review. I meant to leave a five-star review. There you go. It’s fixed.” And everybody’s happy. And then sometimes what you can actually get out of them is something that they weren’t really comfortable speaking on a public platform, right. They wanted to talk with you in person. And so this is a great opportunity to take them offline. So, of course I should probably go through the numbers, be personal, we talked about that, responding to them as a person, be sensitive treating them with respect even if they have weird needs.

That’s okay. Those are their needs and they’re your paying customers. Treat that with respect. And then take the conversation offline. In a case like this where they’re uncomfortable talking publicly about what it was that caused them to leave a two-star review, you can say, “Hey, that’s okay. We won’t talk about this here. Let’s take this offline. Let’s chat via email, because I have your email address in my database or if you live locally, you can stop on by for coffee I’ll treat you to a nice breakfast or something like that.”

And then once you take the conversation offline, personally reach out to each of these guests. Sometimes it’s good enough to leave a simple comment, response on the online travel agency, particularly if it’s just a really nasty review and they’re just there to be a troll and you can’t really do anything out of it. But if the comment is sincere and it’s genuine and it’s filled with a lot of detail that is really likely…and they’re listing some of your staff by name, in situations like that, it’s important to just reach out to each guest individually.

And that can just take the form of calling them up on the phone, if you’ve got their phone number in your database, or are using email and saying, “Hey, I just wanted to say I saw your review online and I feel really bad about it and I want to make sure that we can fix the problem, that we can make it right. We pride ourselves in exceptional service obviously you weren’t satisfied and we want to make it right. What can we do?” Personally reach out to them and they’re going to feel amazing. They’re going to feel great.

“Look at these guys. They really care about me and my stay. They really care that I’m satisfied after spending my money at their property.” So, of course I’m going to share with them my thoughts. And then try your best. You know what? Sometimes guests are just trolls. Sometimes you can’t satisfy them. You just can’t make them happy no matter what you do. You’re kind to them online, you send to them a nice email, you give them a good phone call, you give them a coupon and their best response says, “Whatever.” Or something like that. They’re just nasty people, and you can’t help that. At the end of the day when you reach people like that, just walk away with your dignity intact. You tried your best. You are a seasoned hospitality professional. You did your job. You reached out to them, you were kind, you were sensitive, you treated them with respect, you tried to fix their problem, just nothing would satisfy them. Sometimes you’re just going to find people like that and the best you can do is salvage your own self-respect out of that situation. So, try your best.

All right. Now, let’s talk about using negative reviews to your advantage. Seems a little counter intuitive but it can be done. Because every guest’s review is an opportunity to learn both good and bad. And we talked about this a little bit earlier. You can mine nuggets of wonderful information about your property or about your employees or about the location from reading some of these online reviews. And by taking a look at the context of each review, you’re going to understand whether or not that situation was an isolated event, in which case there may be a limited amount of stuff that you could do to fix it, or if it’s part of a trend, is that pointing to a larger problem?

If you take all of the reviews about your property from one platform and you put them in a spreadsheet and you read them, are you starting to notice a trend? Is it consistent that people are talking about sewage smell? If so, well then maybe there’s a septic tank leaking somewhere and you guys can figure it out. Of course it’s a bad example because if that was the case you would’ve figured it out a long time ago because you do have a nose as well so I don’t know.

But this is just an example of some of the things that you can discover by reading the reviews from your guests on your online profiles. And then taking a look at the tenor of them, taking a look at how they’re connected. You can analyze them for consistencies and that’s going to help you make a positive impact on your property. It’s going to help you make the appropriate, smart decisions to change things at your property, to change things within management, to change things within yourself, to make your property a much more serviceable place.

Okay. So, how do you prevent guests from leaving negative reviews? This is the million-dollar question. Obviously, the answer is never make mistakes. Right. Because we could totally do that, right. We can never make, no, no I’m kidding. We can’t do that. You just can’t help it. Even if you’re the best property on this planet and everything is perfect, every time. Your front door greeter is amazing in a top and tails or something like that and you’ve got excellent food, it’s got like Michelin stars and people are sleeping on goose down and 600 thread count Egyptian cotton or whatever, people are still going to find things to complain about.

People are still going to get upset. You can’t help it if you get negative reviews. It’s just going to happen. So, there’s no way to answer this question. There’s absolutely no way to 100%, keep people from leaving negative reviews. But you can do a few things to prevent it in a certain extent. There are a few strategies that you can enact at your property to mitigate the damage, to prevent some people who might have left a negative review from doing so.

And a lot of this is going to be due to the instinct of your front desk staff. The people who are checking people in and checking people out are the ones who are front line when it comes to somebody who has received a negative stay. And even if the guest is uncomfortable talking about it, even if the guest is a little shy and they are keyboard warriors, they’re going to go to Yelp and Foursquare and TripAdvisor, but they don’t have the guts to actually talk to you in person. Sometimes the front desk person can read body language, can read facial expressions and can see that there’s something about this guest, they weren’t satisfied.

They’re walking away less happy than they could be. So, talk to your guests at check-out. Make sure that your front desk staff understands how to read that kind of behavior and is constantly asking questions from each of these guests to probe them, to prod them, to pull from them how they really feel so that you can address it at that time, in the form of a coupon or in the form of discount or in the form of an apology. Sometimes a simple apology is all it takes. But even if you don’t get everything that you wanted out of that interaction, out of that conversation, at least they know that you really care. Every single guest is going to walk away going, “Wow, they’re really concerned with making sure that we had a great stay.”

Alex: We have another quick question from Alan. He said, “Prior to the guest leaving the property, we as hosts can sometimes sense that the guest is not happy and will in turn leave the bad review. So what would be your advice? Do you deal with this person before they leave the property and steer them away from leaving a negative review?”

Brandon: This goes back to what I was hinting on just a moment ago. As I said you can usually often read body language, as you just told the audience here. Reading body language, seeing it on their face, being honest I think is really important. Instead of just putting on a fake smile and running their card and saying, “Well, I can tell that you don’t really look happy but you’re done, I got your money so sayonara.” That response obviously none of us would want to do that because we’re in hospitality.

But when you see that kind of facial expression, when you see that kind of body language, maybe just putting the pencil down for a minute and say, “Hey I feel like you might not have been happy with your stay. I feel like you’re not exactly, like something is wrong, is there anything we can do?” Just looking at them in the eyes and be warm and sincere, business is down, they are the center of attention. You’re focusing on them, you’re forcing them to make eye contact with you, and you’re forcing them to address the problem. You’re forcing them to talk a little bit about it and you’re going to get something out of them.

Now, sometimes you’re going to deal with guests who just don’t want to talk about it at all. And they just want to be angry. They are no happier than when they are furious. The thing that delights them most on this earth is arguing with other people. And yeah, okay, you’re going to have those kinds of people and you can’t do anything about it. But a genuine, sincere professional person who has an issue and just had a hard day or whatever, you can set things down, you can make eye contact, you can just honestly open up and say, “Hey, I sense that there’s a bit of an issue. Did it have something to do with the stay? Is there anything I can do to make this better for you before you check-out?” Just hitting that note, being sincere, that personal hands held approach, that I think is going to go miles to making them feel better about their stay.

All right. So, incentivizing guest responses. So, let’s say that they just were not comfortable talking with you in person or they just were in a rush and they didn’t want to stick around but they had something to say. What can we do to incentivize the guest response to intercept these issues before they make their way online? Well, let’s talk a little bit about surveys. We’re going to get in to surveys here in a bit. But what you can do is you can send email surveys. You can have surveys on the actual receipt as they’re checking out. And these can be really short surveys that are one or two questions. They don’t have to be long. But if taken together and if kept consistent over time, you can start to see a pattern develop which can be really useful when it comes to diagnosing problems. You can entice people to take these surveys with a free gift like a coupon, or an upgraded night’s stay or a parting fruit basket or something like that.

Some really cheap…something that’s monetarily cheap for you, but feels valuable to them. Those are the best kind of gifts to give have when giving an incentive to leave their opinion. The more insight you get into a guest’s stay; the more opportunity you have to not only make them happier but to change your property in the long run so that it is much more accommodating. Which is of course is going to improve every aspect of your business.

Alex: We have another question from Andrina [SP] and she said, “How about bad reviews about things that are out of our control like the design of the parking garage, elevators being out etc.?”

Brandon: Yeah. Sometimes you’re going to get stuff like that when people are so focused upon their personal experience that they just can’t put themselves in a hotelier’s shoes and they can’t look around them and see the obvious. Like, “Oh yeah we’re in the middle of a city so of course there’s not a lot of parking.” And in situations like that the appropriate response I think would just be to be open about and say, “Yeah, you know what?” So, when you go on to the review, you can respond just as yourself first, the manager, and say, “You know what? I feel the exact same way every time I come into work I have to hunt for parking too, it is a pain. But you know that’s just the nature of living and working out of this really busy city. But I tell you what, if you ever decide to come back. I know a great parking garage where I can get you 15% off, or if you come and talk to us we validate parking.” Or finding some way to meet them halfway or to solve their issue in the future.

Not only is this going to be helping them. And sometimes they don’t even respond to that. Sometimes they respond positively to it. But what you’re doing is you’re showing the world who’s reading your review, that you’re responsive, and that you’re polite, and that you’re happy, and that you’re cheerful, and that you’re not rude, and that you’re not angry, and that you’re going out of your way to try and solve this issue as proactively as possible and that’s an attractive quality. That’s an attractive quality that is going to convince guests that, “Hey, even though this one person that might have had a bad stay, I’m more likely to stay here because the response was so magnanimous.”

And also people have pretty good detectors. They’re able to detect unfair reviews fairly well. As our culture becomes more sophisticated with the internet and with online reviews in general. Sometimes you can just read or a review from someone and go, “Gosh, what’s wrong with this person?” And yeah, you might not be able to remove that review and yeah, it will drag down your star rating but if you respond to it politely, and if you respond to it with magnanimity, that is an opportunity to just make yourself look better, to make your property look better. And even if you can’t get that review removed, you’re going to be convincing a lot of people that your property is worth it.

More ideas. So, have an online complaint form. Right. Instead of people going online and posting reviews, perhaps you can point them to your online complaint form. They’re already hopping on the computers and they’re already going online anyway, right. So why not just make it easier for them to just go directly to your complaint form? So, on your website you can have a Q&A section or a contact us section or a review section even, which goes directly to your email inbox. And if someone is checking out and they seem upset but they don’t want to talk about it, you can say, “Hey, I can tell you’re in a hurry. I can tell you’re upset. Here’s a card that has a link to our online complaint form and that goes directly to me or that goes directly to our manager, that goes directly to the owner, and we really want to know what we could do to make your stay better. Go leave your review here instead of on Yelp. Leave your review here instead of on TripAdvisor.” An online complaint form won’t always work, but it can help mitigate some of the negative reviews that pop up online.

And then post-stay emails. After people leave your property, I’m sure many of you have emails system set up to send them an email with a coupon or to put them in some sort of drip campaign in the future or to reach out to them to just personally thank them. But it’s also an opportunity to find out how their stay was and to see if there’s anything else you could have done. And within this email you can link them to the on line complaint form. Right. So, 24 hours later you can say, “Hey thanks so much for staying at my property. It was great to have you there. I hope you had a good time. If you have any complaints whatsoever, we would love to get your feedback. Here is a link to our online complaint form. Please leave it here and we will be sure to respond to you. You’re not just sending your opinions out into the ether, you’re not dumping them into a black hole, we’re going to respond to you directly to make sure that we make this right.”

Alex, I thought I saw the Q&A have buttons pop up there. Do we have anything?

Alex: It was just a private chat, but I got it.

Brandon: Okay, great. So, how to survey your guests. This is directly related to reputation management because surveying your guests appropriately and using intelligent questions to get the right information out of them is important when you’re producing your post-stay surveys. So, some of the best practices include the following. So at checkout you’ve got either a piece of paper or a tablet that’s right there where they can leave a review, where they can leave an idea. You can even start doing it via text message. We just recently published a great piece on incorporating texting technology into your business. Because people are all about texting, especially the millennials, they love texts. It’s much more convenient than a phone call or an email that’s really long. Just getting a text that allows them to click a link or to respond directly to you can sometimes be the thing that keeps people from leaving a negative review. And then of course there is traditional email and phone. All of these different ways that you can send out a survey.

Let’s talk a little bit about best practices. Keeping it short is important, keeping it to one page is important because you actually want people to complete them. If they’re longer than one page, people get, they’re like, “Well I’ve got to go get coffee, then I got to go pick my kids. I really don’t want to spend my time doing this survey.” All of the questions may be really important to you. You may really think this is a great survey. But we’re dealing with people who are very busy lives and if you actually want to get it completed, making sure it’s short is important. And then keeping it personal is also important when you reach out to guests, call them by name don’t say, “Dear guest,” or, “Dear visitor.” Make sure that you’re using their first name, make sure that you’re keeping it personal. That’s going to make it much more likely that they receive it. Now, perceived difficulty is also an issue when crafting surveys. We talked a little bit about length, about keeping it under one page but the design of the survey is also important.

If it feels like there are a bunch of questions page after page after page after page, then that’s going to intimidate people into actually fulfilling it. However, if you don’t have all of the different pages listed out and you say this is question one of 15, then even if you have longer questions, people might go through it. Like if you just present one question with the next button. Fill out the question, next. Fill out the next question, next. That doesn’t tell them how many questions are coming up and that could intimidate some people, but it’s also going to encourage people to actually fill or finish this survey.

Number three, keep it simple. Instead of making complex questions that can confuse people, just think of…we say this a lot here at Cloudbeds, we talk about Ernest Hemingway a lot. And Ernest Hemingway when he was writing, talked about getting the one true sentence, what’s the one true sentence that encapsulates the idea that you’re trying to get with this paragraph? And it can be really tempting for us especially if we’re really passionate about our businesses to write an entire paragraph sentence. The question has multi-facets, so it can get really complicated. Instead, channel your inner Ernest Hemingway and find the one true sentence and keep it as short and simple as possible.

So, in this example, one of the questions we’ve got is, “How satisfied were you with the check-in process and the hotel’s amenities?” That’s a legitimate question. You’re really wondering about it. However, you can break this down into two simple questions that are going to be much easier for the guest to answer. Because for example, check-in process was smooth, but the guests just didn’t like the hotel amenities, then he or she does know how to answer the first question. “Well, do I answer positively because of the check in process or negatively because of the hotel amenities?” So, splitting it into two different questions and keeping it simple. “How were you satisfied with the check-in process?” And then, “How were you satisfied with the hotel amenities?” It’s going to make it much more easy for your guests to answer and it’s going to give you more useful answers.

And then avoid biased and leading questions when you’re crafting your surveys. This is fairly straightforward. Here’s… I’ll just read one of these examples. “Our front desk agents the most friendly in the industry. How was the check-in process with our front desk agents?” Well, okay, that’s a bit leading, right. You’re priming the person to thinking that your front desk agents are the best in industry, because you’re saying, “Our front desk agents are the best in the industry.” That’s a leading question and that’s showcasing your own bias. But the survey is less about what you think because we all know what we think. Actually sometimes we don’t know what we think. That’s another webinar and instead trying to dig from our customers what they think, what they’re interested in. So, using a simple scale system, making sure that you’re taking away leading language, and you’re take out the biases from questions.

All right. Then keep it relevant, right. Use question logic. So, question logic is a feature when you’re crafting surveys that allows you to present a question to a user only if they qualified by selecting a specific answer to a previous question. And keeping it relevant is going to make it much more personal to the guest and that’s going to improve the likelihood that they actually respond and answer the question. So, if you’ve got a question in the survey that says, “Did you enjoy our morning breakfasts? Yes, or no.” And then if they click yes, then you can say, “What did you like most about it, the muffins of the cupcakes or the Pop-Tarts?” If they answer no, well then you know not to answer the second question because they didn’t like it to begin with. Instead, you know to go to a completely different question which was, “What was it about our breakfast that you didn’t like, the coffee, the tea, or the orange juice?” Or something like that. Using question logic to create surveys that are smart, that are intelligent, that are almost written specifically for that guest can be helpful to getting unique nuggets of information.

Question variety is important. Making sure that your questions are multiple choice or it’s on a sliding scale, reducing the amount of length and time people have. So, nothing is more frustrating to me, when I’m filling out surveys than if every single question is a block paragraph. They’re like, “Give us your thoughts on X. Give us your thoughts on Y. Give us your thoughts on Z.” Then I’m like, “Goodness gracious. I’ve got a lot to do today. I’m not going to sit here and write a paragraph for each of your questions.” If I’m doing a survey I want it to be yes or no, multiple choice, A, B, or C, something like that. Sliding scales. Just so I can give my thoughts, press go and move on with my day.

And then leave demographics at the end. Sometimes surveys will ask things like, “What is your gender, your religion, your race?” That may not be applicable to the hospitality industry or it may be information that you’ve already got in your system. But if it’s information that you really need because of the location where you’re at, put that at the end of the survey because we found that demographic questions at the beginning can bias your answers throughout the rest of the survey. So keeping them at the end is going to lead to a less biased survey.

All right. Now, let’s wrap this up with some software and service recommendations. These are companies out there who make their business helping small company manage their online reputation. Now, as we discussed earlier, oftentimes it’s as simple as registering with a company like TripAdvisor or Yelp and creating a business profile and then just looking at your reviews every single day, reading each review and then just being proactive. Now that can be really time consuming and tedious, especially if you have hundreds or even thousands of reviews. So, using a software solution or hiring an agency to help you may be beneficial.

So, we’re going to go over a few options here. Reputation Management Agencies versus Reputation Management Software. These are two different concepts. Software is going to be a software as a service subscription where you basically pay $25, $30, $100 or however much they charge per month to have access to their software, and the software is going to give you the tools necessary to manage your own online reputation. This makes managing your online reputation easier, but you do still have to put in a little bit of work. Now, many of these tools are going to come with great features like the ability to scan a variety of websites, looking for very specific words. It’s going to give you email or text alerts when you get a new review. Or if you get a new review that meets a certain criteria, like if they use certain keywords in the review or if the tenor of the review is really negative. You can be alerted proactively by the software when things like this happen. Instead of having to go in every day and check them out. And these are some of the companies that we’ve talked about.

These are focused specifically towards hospitality and reputation management. ReviewPro, Revinate and TrustYou are some of the big ones. Now, agencies are going to be a little bit different. Agencies work proactively for you. You don’t have to do a lot of work yourself. You may have to do a lot of work when setting up with the agency or first reaching out to them. But these are professionals whose job it is to probably use software on your behalf, and go out and manage your reputation, discover issues as they happen using Google alerts or anything else and they go to you to figure out what you want to do about it or just solve the issue themselves.

These are people who you probably give authority to use your business account so that they can flag reviews as necessary, or they can respond as necessary, or they can reach out to you to get a response from you as necessary. They can also do things like Search Engine Optimization to tamp down the visibility of negative reviews. Now, I do want to add a caveat, I’ve been in SEO for quite some time and so I know some of the tricks that they use. And some of these agencies will use black or grey hat tactics to try and manipulate the search engine results, so that your property is best displayed.

And some of these can involve link farming or publishing a bunch of really thin, shallow content on a variety of different websites to try and get Google to rank them above the reviews for your website. And oftentimes these tactics don’t work and can actually negatively harm you and they tend to charge you out the nose for it. So my only warning is when you’re looking at an agency, be sure you’ve got your…make sure you’re looking out for language that raises a red flag. If they’re talking a lot about SEO and about black hat and about controlling your search engine results, then I would stay clear of those kind of guys. They may be a little less scrupulous.

However, if they’re talking about proactively managing your online reputation by responding to reviews and flagging negative reviews and crafting a branded language to make your property look better on some of these are OTAs, claiming a brand presence for your property on those OTAs, that’s much more legitimate. And I would feel much more comfortable working with those kind of agencies. The software side of things, you have less to worry about because you’re actually doing all of the work. The software is giving you tools necessary to make it easier for you to do some of that work.

All right. Well, we did it ladies and gentlemen. We plowed through it. We covered a lot of information. So, I hope this was useful. Thank you so much for all of your amazing questions. This is an opportunity to ask even more. So, do you have any more questions? Alex and I are here ready to answer and share our wisdom. Let me take a sip of coffee.

Alex: We have another question from Alan. He said, “Is there a point to respond to very negative reviews where it’s obvious that the guest’s the problem. Mood, attitude, [inaudible 00:53:38] accommodation. Isn’t it better to leave the review unresponded and let the review sink on its own?”

Brandon: Yes, if the review is so obviously horrible that anybody with any sort of personal decency will see it and go, “Wow, these guys are just crazy.” Yeah then you can either leave it or if it’s really egregious then you can flag it. The only time I would respond to a really horrible review like that is if they’re saying something that’s a flat out lie. If they’re saying something like, “This front desk person assaulted me,” or something crazy like that, right. If they’re saying something like, “I found mold in one of my muffins.” Or something that just really makes your property look bad and it’s not true, then I would respond, even if it is a horribly negative out there crazy review.

Alex: Yeah, and I mean I would argue just even if you respond with one or two sentences being like, “Sorry that we didn’t meet your expectations, we hope we can do better.” And if they respond and they’re still super negative it’s like people see that you responded and they know that this person might be well, a little crazy person.

Brandon: This person’s out there.

Alex: That was the only question in the queue. [inaudible 00:54:52] opportunity.

Brandon: All right. Well, ladies and gentlemen, get your questions in real quick if you want to have your question answered live. And just so you know we are recording this and we’re going to publish a recording of it tomorrow. So, check your email inboxes for an email from our team and you can find a link to this webinar to watch in the future and to share it with your friends and coworkers. Additionally, we are producing a 28 page eBook. It’s a pretty substantial eBook that is going to cover a lot a lot of this information in-depth.

So, it’s going to be a good, portable handy resource that you can use in the future to refer to when you have any questions about reputation management or you want to share it with some of your employees or coworkers. So, stay tuned for that. Do we have anything else?

Alex: Great. I don’t see anything else. Last call. Last call for some questions.

Brandon: Last call, ladies and gentleman. All right. Well thank you so much for coming to this week’s Cloudbed’s webinar on reputation management. We hope it was useful. And stay tuned for our next webinar. We tend to do it every two weeks or so. So, keep watching your email inboxes for our next invitation. Thanks so much everybody. Have a good…

Alex: Thank you.

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