How does your hotel deal with negative reviews?In an ideal world, Twitter and the other social media sites would simply be places where you can reach out and have friendly interactions with your customers – spreading the word far and wide about your business as you engage with them.

While on the whole, the platforms do offer this opportunity, in reality, the more you put yourself out there, the bigger a target you become. This means online reputation management is becoming incredibly important.

Whether you work for a hotel, an airline, or a travel agency, the effect of online criticism can no longer be ignored. Reviews and customer feedback has been proven to have a significant impact on whether customers will choose to book with you or not.

Take TripAdvisor, for example. Data from a PhoCusWright study shows that 83% of users read reviews on the site to help them decide where they’ll stay, and 80% will read between six and 12 reviews before booking a hotel.

Every business will face criticism and unhappy customers at some point. How you respond and deal with these issues can have a huge impact on how well your company is perceived.

So what is the best way to respond to negativity online?

1. Be balanced

Even if you feel the criticism is unfair and unbalanced, it’s essential to keep your cool – remember, you’re the professional here.

Don’t wade in telling the customer they’re wrong, instead, make sure you’re listening to what they have to say, and responding reasonably.

If the customer is being unreasonable, calmly tell your side of the story, and explain where the misunderstanding has occurred.

Any other customers who notice the feedback will then see both sides of the story, and be able to make up their own minds as to the validity of it.

2. Take the conversation out of the public view

Just as people love to rubberneck at car crashes, they love to watch a good scrap from the sidelines. The quicker you can get the negativity away from the glare of public view the better.

So if someone complains on your Twitter account, for example, and is clearly being confrontational, you want to steer the conversation to a more private setting. Replying with something like the following is the simplest way to do this:

“Hi, concerned to hear that. I will now send you a private message so we can resolve this issue for you as speedily as possible.”

This will show the public that you’re swiftly dealing with the issue, and taking it seriously, while also allowing you to interact with the customer in private.

3. Don’t panic

It’s easy to worry when you see a negative review. While poor reviews can be damaging in the short term, if you address the problems, they should have minimal impact over time.

The PhoCusWright study from earlier also showed that 80% of customers use the newest reviews to form their opinions.

As long as you work on constantly satisfying your guests, your negative reviews should be swallowed up by a tide of praise over time.

4. Contact the website if the comments are not accurate

If the review is factually inaccurate, contacting the website it’s hosted on is the most effective way to have it removed.

TripAdvisor, for example, has various rules that posters need to follow (no profanity, or using caps lock to shout, for example).

There’s no point wasting everyone’s time if the review is fair comment, however, or if it is simply an opinion that you disagree with. You’ll just have to roll with the punch in these cases.

5. Apologise and make things right

If the problem was your fault, all you can do is apologise, learn from the feedback, and move on.

In a world of hollow apologies, people appreciate it when you are brave enough to admit responsibility, and genuinely attempt to resolve instances where you service has fallen short of expectations.

Apologising when you’ve made a mistake shows excellent business values, like honesty and transparency, which can really endear you to your customers – even though the interaction may have stemmed from a complaint.

Offering money back, or giving a detailed response as to why the problems occurred, and what action you’ve taken to address the issues, can can win over many unhappy customers, and bring about happy resolutions to their complaints.

Remember that people don’t expect your business to be perfect, but they do expect you to be on the lookout for negative feedback, to take it seriously, and to respond to it as quickly as possible.

Be alert, helpful and professional when people have something negative to say, and you can win a lot of respect from your customers, and significantly strengthen your bond of trust with them.

- Image courtesy of photostock / freedigitalphotos.net