5th June 2015

The rewards of responding to bad online reviews

So I was catching up with friends at the weekend and the talk inevitably turned to work and our jobs.  One of my friends works in a hotel and she was particularly irate about an incident she’d experienced with a tricky guest last week.

Apparently, the guest had insisted on additional services to the ones he had booked and then complained about having to pay for them. My friend had done her utmost to accommodate the demands at short notice to ensure the guest enjoyed his stay, but it was all in vain – he left unhappy and, to make matters worse, posted a scathing and, in my friend’s eyes at least, unfair review online.

Now, anyone who’s ever worked in a restaurant, hotel or shop will be well aware of the importance of delivering top-notch customer service to secure repeat business. However, as my pal can attest, there’s always one customer who is never happy, no matter how far you go to please them or resolve the issue they are dissatisfied about.

In the past, these tricky individuals were an issue only for the duration of their visit, with their complaints rarely travelling beyond their kith and kin. However, the rise of TripAdvisor, Yelp and other review sites means the headache caused by an inexplicably unhappy customer can now last an awful lot longer.

An online review can reach more people than ever before and remain on the internet for months or even years after it is posted. TripAdvisor and other review sites are not only trusted by consumers, but also appear much higher up on internet search engines than individual hotel or restaurant sites, making them highly valuable marketing tools for any service sector business. Any unfairly negative comments that appear on these sites have the potential to cause significant harm to a brand.

The cost of an unfair bad online review is real and tangible, but what can be done to mitigate the damage?

Well quite simply, a business can choose to engage with the review and the author directly through the site. Taking the time to identify a bad review, craft a sensitive reply expressing regret that they were unhappy with their experience, and to offer to get to the bottom of their complaint can pay dividends for a brand. It can not only alleviate some of the reviewer’s frustration, making them less inclined to complain again, it also helps to position the business as one that is concerned about its customers in the eyes of other readers, making them feel more positively disposed towards the brand, in spite of the feedback.

It can also help to maintain a good presence on social media sites like Twitter. If consumers use a brand’s social media channels to complain, it can make it easier for a business to respond and to contain the negative feedback before it becomes a problem. Businesses can even incentivise consumers to post reviews directly to their accounts with loyalty and rewards schemes, strengthening dialogue with customers and encouraging the appearance of more positive feedback.

No one likes a complaint, especially when it’s undeserved, but with so many of us depending on review sites before we decide on where to stay on our holiday, or which restaurant to go to, it is crucial that businesses don’t bury their heads in the sand. Rather than pretending the comment doesn’t exist, they need to tackle it straight away to limit the effect on their reputation and, ultimately, sales. Creating a dialogue with both happy and unhappy customers through social media channels can really help them achieve this goal, not just preventing damage to their brand, but helping to strengthen it by reinforcing their image as a business that cares.

By Michael Wood, senior B2B copy writer