Sources: Keep online review responses in-house

by October 25, 2012 4:21 pm In The News

GLOBAL REPORT—Hotel GMs are finding themselves in somewhat of a conundrum when it comes to responding to online guest feedback.

Most experts suggest responding to every review—whether positive or negative—to show commitment to customers. “I think hotels should be responding to all negative reviews and all positive reviews, as long as there is a way to personalize the response,” suggested Michelle Wohl, VP of marketing for Revinate, a software platform that helps hotels and restaurants manage their online reputation.

However, as online feedback becomes more common and more websites accommodate it, the demand for management responses is growing rapidly. Most hotel GMs are already carrying full plates, and finding time to respond to each review is a growing challenge.

So managers are faced with a decision: Is it OK to ask for help responding to reviews? And if so, who is the right person or what is the right company to manage the job?

Sources interviewed for this article provided varied responses. Scott Ostrander, GM of Cedarbrook Lodge in Seattle (which at one point in 2011 was ranked as the No. 1 hotel in the world on TripAdvisor), chooses to respond himself. Other experts suggested tasking a trusted person with crafting responses and ensuring the GM signs off.

“Putting myself in the shoes of a user, if I’m traveling at a small hotel, I would expect that the manager responds. You can have an intern or whoever write it, but it has to have the manager’s name,” said Benjamin Jost, co-founder and CEO of TrustYou, a software solution allowing businesses to gather and analyze reviews. “If I go to a big chain, I don’t expect the manager of a couple-hundred-room hotel to respond; I would expect some type of quality-assurance manager would respond to it.”

Third-party solutions
A number of solution-providers recently surfaced offering to respond to online feedback on behalf of hotels. While some experts rail against outsourcing feedback responses, Vijay Bamne, assistant VP at Cyberwebhotels, said the fact that most hotels receive the same common complaints—annoying sounds or dirty rooms, for example—allows his company to formulate accurate responses on behalf of hotels.

Bamne said his company receives an alert from TripAdvisor when feedback is left for a client hotel. He then formulates a response, sends it to the hotel for approval and posts it as the hotel’s “webmaster.”

“We don’t argue with the customer; we just accept what they say,” he said. “We do it in a very systematic way and in compliance with TripAdvisor.”

In an email to, Bamne shared some examples of management responses his company left on TripAdvisor on behalf of the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Ukiah, California, and the Rodeway Inn in Springfield, Pennsylvania.

However, most sources were adamant that review responses should come from someone at the property because it validates the authenticity of the response.

“If you have a third party do it, no matter how much they’ve engaged with the hotel, they don’t have legitimate relationship, bond, engagement with the guest,” Ostrander of the Cedarbrook Lodge said. “They don’t know the inner workings of the hotel and, for that reason, I’m of the belief that they could not respond with a level of authenticity.”

Authentic responses
Authenticity is the biggest reason most experts suggest responses be written by management or, at the very least, someone at the property level who works closely with the hotel manager.

“If you have to sit down and agonize over how to respond, it forces you to be accountable,” said Daniel Edward Craig, online reputation management consultant with Reknown.

“The closer that we can get the hotel staff to the review, the more impact those reviews will have on the people,” added Josiah MacKenzie, director of business development with ReviewPro, which offers web-based tools that allow hotels to manage their online reputation.

Sources suggested hoteliers create guidelines for how to respond to certain feedback. Creating templates is OK, many said, but each response has to be personalized and address the situation that spurred the guest feedback in the first place.

Canned responses are a no-no, experts said.

“Users can spot a canned response a mile away; don’t even bother,” Craig said. “You can have some general guidelines, but each response should be tailored to address the specific comment.”

“I’ve seen some bad responses,” Mackenzie added. “You would think if it was going to be canned, they’d want to make it look like it wasn’t.”

A canned response only sends the message that the hotelier doesn’t really care about the feedback he or she receives and just wants to cover his or her bases, Revinate’s Wohl said.

Affecting operations
In addition, experts suggest holding online feedback in the same regard as the old-fashioned comment cards; that is, use it to better understand how guests perceive the property and make operational tweaks if necessary.

Guest feedback should be shared with the entire staff—preferably at weekly meetings—and if it calls for operational changes or changes to the way guests perceive the property, then those changes should be considered.

“To the extent that a review is real, it absolutely brings to the surface things a GM may not have realized about the property,” said Fred Malek, managing partner of HotelMe, a site that allows only authenticated guests to leave reviews on hotels.

“What really truly separates you from any other hotel? It comes down to the people and the service,” Ostrander added. “Whether I spend four hours a week or 12 hours a week (responding to reviews)—other than spending time with my employees—there’s no better use of my time. I’m either 1) confirming accolades that the guest has bestowed us, or 2) taking necessary action to explain something that might change their viewpoint or explain something to regain their trust.”