Every month, our resident marketing guru ANGIE PETKOVIC addresses you marketing conundrums with to-the-point advice.
Q: I read an article yesterday about the effect of bad reviews on staff welfare, and the growing problem of sleepless nights and staff leaving thanks to negative comments on TripAdvisor. My thoughts inevitably turned to an incident last year, where a waiter was unfairly name checked by a customer in a negative review and it really impacted her confidence. It got me thinking; is there anything I can do to prepare and safeguard my business and my staff?
A: I too read the same article and was interested by some of the comments that emerged and the illustrative statistics that were used. Certainly, the experiment by Which? was an interesting one, showcasing the challenge TripAdvisor has in ensuring reviews are genuine and fair.
First, let me commend TripAdvisor on the work that they do do to make their site a useful and valued resource; for the most part, reviews are fair and genuine and it is important not to underestimate the value that people place on the reviews they read. Perhaps this is the single biggest reason that most hoteliers and their staff fear a negative review. I was pleased to see last year TripAdvisor partnering with VisitEngland and Quality in Tourism to introduce independent assessments and star ratings to the site, but even these impartial features can’t prevent a bad review, particularly if it is justified.
You already seem to have accepted that negative reviews happen and also that they impact on the general wellbeing of your staff, which is commendable. In fact, preparing for something like this is not really a marketing query initially. My recommendation is to start with an HR adviser and to specifically outline your approach to negative reviews in your staff handbook or policy document. Making it clear that negative reviews are taken into account when they are justified, but also outlining how they will be handled, and what is expected of staff when the review is not justified, will ensure your staff feel safe and secure in their role with you.
When I ran a hotel, I implemented an ‘expected complaints’ book with my staff; at times when they had a difficult customer, felt that they had been unable to meet client expectations, or generally had a bad gut feeling, there was a process in place and a line in the book. Each situation was recorded, including the date, name and brief description and where possible was counter-signed by a second member of staff. Not only did this ensure that we had a guide of when to expect bad reviews, and why, but it also gave us a chance to nip any issues in the bud before review stage, identify common reasons for complaint to improve our staff training, and most importantly helped us to identify fake reviews when they happened. Not only that, but this process actually encouraged a really good system of peer-to-peer staff support and we saw a big increase in how conscientious and mindful all our staff were.
From there, this is where your marketing and social media policy comes in; you have already given yourself the tools you need to identify when and why bad reviews are likely to happen and from here, you need to market. Agree a process for handling bad reviews, from reporting suspicious ones, to producing and listing comprehensive responses and plans of action that help publically offset the negative review. You should also agree the circumstances in which you are prepared to recompense the complainer, offering vouchers, refunds or repeat visits. Remember, compensation should not be your go-to option for handling complaints, but should be a last resort; offering them as standard will simply serve to create a culture of complaining in the short-term, with an impact on sales in the long-term.
One other trick you should have up your sleeve is to create a mystery-shopping relationship with some of your regulars, and some one-off guests too. I personally place far more faith in mystery shopping visits than I do in review sites, because the mystery shopping proactively helps me, whereas review sites are aimed at your customers.
Using regulars for your mystery shopping helps you to benchmark changes in standards, areas for concern and areas where you excel; and the friendly, familiar faces will also ensure that your staff are relaxed which will highlight any differences in behaviour. As long as your staff don’t know your regular is also a mystery guest every once in a while, this feedback is like gold-dust. To complement this, you should also opt for some impartial, one-off visits as this will not only give you an insight into your ‘first impression’, but even you won’t know who to expect and when – particularly if you outsource to a professional company.
Bad reviews cannot be 100% avoided, but nor should you allow them to impact on your staff happiness. True, some will be honest and action will need to be taken, but in the most part, reviews will offer a constructive insight and should ultimately be embraced.