5 Best Practices for Managing Online Feedback

What a difference a few years make in your reputation

When I started working at Revinate in 2010, I spent a lot of time speaking to hoteliers about why it is so important to monitor online feedback and proactively engage with guests over social media. At the time, less than 4% of hotels were responding to online reviews and many hotels weren’t even reading their public guest feedback, let alone using social media in a business capacity. At the time, the research didn’t exist to show the impact that reviews make on booking decisions but over the last couple of years many studies have been published that leave very little doubt as to the importance of online reputation management.

In 2010, TripAdvisor and Forrester began polling consumers about the impact of management responses. The results showed that for the majority of consumers, a management response to a bad review is reassuring and that all things being equal consumers would book with a hotel that responds to reviews versus one that remains silent. TripAdvisor now reports that hoteliers now respond to 25% of new reviews. And, in 2012, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research published a study that put the impact of great ratings into perspective for revenue managers – – hotels with great reviews can charge more than those that don’t rate as high. While intuitive, the study was a big wake-up call for many who have been waiting for a serious ROI study before dedicating time and resources.

Today, the conversation has shifted from why it is so important to manage online feedback to the best ways to operationalize this data and measure it. Working with more than 15,000 clients across 120 countries, I see a lot of different practices around online reputation management. Following are my top 5 best practices, most of which were rarely seen a few years ago.

1. Get serious about measurement

In 2012 I saw many hotels getting serious about understanding the impact of online reputation management to their own bottom line. I saw tremendous presentations by clients, such as qualia in Australia, who used the multi-channel funnel in Google Analytics to measure the direct traffic and assisted conversions from TripAdvisor. In the case of qualia, with dedication to responding to reviews and focusing on improving quality ratings, the team drove 7% more revenue in 2012 than in 2010 and 2011 combined.

2. Show me the money

We all know that what gets measured gets done and what gets compensated gets done the quickest. Many management groups are now including online reputation metrics in employee and management compensation plans. Traditionally, management compensation packages have been based on factors such as market share, financial performance, traditional comment cards or guest satisfaction surveys and staff satisfaction. But what these measurements fail to account for are the factors that are driving real booking decisions today such as TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index, online review ratings, management response rates and social media engagement.  If you’re not already doing it, start setting goals and rewarding your hotels that do a great job. Then invite me to your next GM’s gala and I will happily give out the online reputation award for 2013.

3. Involve the right people

This best practice may sound obvious, but for a long time, many hotels had one or two people responsible for reading and responding to online reviews and they largely acted in a vacuum. Today, many hotels involve all teams in the process of monitoring feedback, responding to reviews, engaging guests and ensuring that feedback is used to improve the operation of the hotel. Many hotels and portfolios are forming committees to review feedback or ensuring that the leading issues from online reviews are presented during weekly stand-ups and action items are assigned to the people empowered to resolve the issues.

4. Use social media for service recovery

The press still likes to cover stories about Twitter being used at hotels for service recovery, so it’s clear that these types of engagement are still few and far between. Given the real-time nature of Twitter, actively monitoring your account gives you the best chance of nipping an issue in the bud, before it becomes a full-blown PR nightmare. The New York Times covered the story of basketball star, Chipper Jones, who was unhappy with his room at a large hotel in New York and took to Twitter to complain. Luckily, the hotel, a Revinate client, was monitoring Twitter and saw the complaints in real time. With a process in place to deal with guest complaints, they dispatched an engineer who went right up to his room to take care of the issues.

Another best practice for Twitter is to monitor the Twitter hash tag of any group meetings or conferences taking place in your hotel.  Doing so will allow you to monitor the comfort of your guests, and as a result, the satisfaction of your clients. Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego has made this a practice at the hotel and has caught issues around temperature and wi-fi in real time, leaving the clients floored by the hotel’s responsiveness.

5. Surprise and Delight

While engaging on Twitter and Facebook provides many ways to forge tighter bonds with your guests, there is nothing like merging the virtual world with the real-world by sending an old-fashioned amenity to the rooms of guests that check-in on foursquare, tweet positively about the hotel, or post photos to your Facebook page while they are on site. These surprise and delight tactics go a long way towards driving loyalty and word-of-mouth about the great service at your hotel. I have been the recipient of many fruit plates, cupcakes and bottles of wine as a result of my tweets and I never fail to take a picture to share with my network, praising the hotel for its great hospitality.

As we move deeper in 2013, I am looking forward to seeing these programs put into practice by more hotels. With real-benefits and hard ROI to back you up, we wish you good luck as you delve deeper into a new frontier.