Do You Dread Reading Your Online Reviews?
By Caroline Cooper
Do you look forward to reading your online reviews, or does the very idea that someone has felt compelled to post a review fill you with dread?
Getting feedback from your guests is essential to gauge whether or not what you're offering is right for your target audience. Whether it's positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not, it is key to your success.
So why is it then that so many businesses seem to ignore this fact?
Maybe part of it is that customers are often reserved about giving direct feedback. They take the view that it's not worth making a fuss, or why should they bother, when they can vote with their feet and just not come back again. Others by pass you, but still want to be heard and post a comment on line.
Unless we get people's feedback we can't do anything about it.
What feedback do we need?
* What things customers like - so you can keep doing them.
* What are the things that disappoint, irritate or annoy them - so you can correct them.
* What are the things that make them choose to stay, dine or drink with you rather than your competitors - so you can use this as a selling point to differentiate yourselves.
* What are the things that are their biggest priority or they value the most - so you can promote them.
* How do they think you could improve - so you can make those improvements.
* What factors would encourage them to come again.
When to ask for feedback
Simply relying on questionnaires or a visitor's book when your guests leave is not only impersonal, but is leaving it a bit too late if things weren't perfect. Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective and ideally, we need to get feedback before it's too late to do something about it. If what you have provided fails to meet expectations, you'd rather know about it before the guest leaves so you can resolve it, rather than waiting for them to put their comments on TripAdvisor.
As well is asking at the end of each course, the meal or their stay, be observant and look out for signs that things aren't right or that someone wants to get your attention. For example, if a diner has hardly touched their steak but eaten everything else, that might suggest there was a problem with the steak. Or you hear a guest complaining about the temperature of their room to others in their party; this probably suggests something that needs investigating.
Talk to your guests throughout their stay
Being visible in your hotel or restaurant, and making contact with your guests builds rapport and trust. Once you've gained this, you're in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand. The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your guests. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with feedback - good or bad - in a positive way. Bare in mind your guests will tell you things that they wouldn't feedback to your staff, and vice versa. So ask your staff what feedback they have received, and listen to their ideas on how to make improvements and how to capitalize on positive feedback and your strengths.
Asking direct open questions
Make it easy for your customers to give you the feedback you need.
Making statements such as "I hope you enjoyed your meal" or "was everything all right for you?" is not likely to get the customer to open up. We need to ask specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example, how would you rate ..., how could we improve on ..., what did you like most about ...
Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don't agree with feedback, you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem.
Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except maybe when they're really unhappy about something. Questionnaires can help you rectify your mistakes, but they often dwell on negatives rather than positives. Although face-to-face will always be preferably, some people will always be reluctant to feedback first hand so don't dismiss them altogether.
Visitors Books on the other hand are another good way of capturing general feedback. Although they may not go into specifics, they provide a great record for other to see and people will often write things that they would not say directly to you.
Make the best of the positive comments you receive and ask your guest if they would be happy to use these as testimonials in your marketing -- prospective customers like to see social proof.
Also take note of the language your guests use to describe what they like. Capitalize on this information and use the same language it in your marketing.
Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically, people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they've a bad experience than when they've had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many as your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.
Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.
It's considered unethical to offer incentives, such as room discounts, in exchange for positive reviews. But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notification. A quick thank you in acknowledgement might be all you need for a positive review or feedback.
With negative feedback, it's important to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. By asking them to phone you provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation.
Don't be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests. Watch out, too, for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, so you can respond accordingly.
Dealing with negative feedback
It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. What we need to ask is what led to this customer's perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way. The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer's point of view. Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception. So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologize (even if you're just apologizing that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you've made if appropriate.
Whatever the feedback you receive, listen and learn from it. Keep your objectivity and don’t take things personally. Use the feedback to identify your strengths, so you can capitalize on these. And make sure you share these with your team. Then use the less positive feedback to identify root causes and what changes are needed, and remember to involve your team in the process. So next time someone wants to give some feedback, look forward to it. It's the businesses that embrace feedback that will succeed.
Caroline Cooper is a business coach with over 25 years in business and management development. She is the founder of Zeal Coaching, specialising in working with hospitality businesses, and is author of the 'Hotel Success Handbook.'
Getting the most from your team is the theme of Caroline's new online leadership coaching program.