Editor’s Note: As we are building our SkiftEDU service for marketers and SMBs in travel, we recently launched a new initiative: our new weekly series on digital marketing tips and tricks, SkiftEDU How-Tos. These How-Tos are a series of free in-depth weekly articles around various topics in digital marketing, such as this one below.

A few weeks back we ran an article outlining the importance of actively managing your online presence here on SkiftEDU: The 4 Pillars For Your Online Reputation Management. In today’s article, we will give you some examples about what to do (and perhaps, what not to do) in order to answer most effectively to users comments, questions and reviews left on social media accounts, online travel agencies (Expedia, Booking) or review sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, GogoBot or Google Reviews.

But first, you may wonder: is it really necessary to answer online reviews? Absolutely! Various studies have supported this claim, and here some interesting findings:

  • 70% of users return to review sites because the information there was deemed trustworthy (Worms University, 2014)
  • 78% of travelers say that seeing management responses to reviews “make me believe (the hotel) cares more about its guests” (PhoCusWright, 2013)
  • 57% of respondents say that seeing management responses to reviews generally “makes me more likely to book with a hotel, versus a comparable hotel that didn’t respond to travelers” (PhoCusWright, 2013)
  • 84% of travelers agree that appropriate management responses to bad reviews “improves my impression of the hotel” (TripAdvisor, 2014)
  • However, 64% of respondents agree that an aggressive or defensive management response to a bad review “makes me less likely to book that hotel” (TripAdvisor, 2014)

In other words, it’s quite obvious that management responses have an impact and thus, you should answer questions and reviews. But as the last point highlights, if you are going to respond, you must do it well! The folks at Blue Sky Hostel in Glasgow learned this the hard way, back in 2014, when the owner responded to a bad Facebook review by calling the user a “retard”. As can be expected, a social media crisis emerged with many people leaving unflattering comments on their Facebook page, but also spilling over onto TripAdvisor as well. Did they learn from this? Apparently not, as can be seen in this exchange in April 2016…

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So, with this in mind, here are a few tips and tricks to help you reply to online comments and reviews.

Should you answer every comment or review?

The short answer is no, but there are some important nuances to understand. The folks at Revinate came up with this rule of thumb that I found to be helpful with smaller independent hotels, inns, restaurants or attractions who don’t have the time, nor the resources, to answer every review posted online.

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Source: Revinate Hotel Benchmark Study, 2014

By the way, did you know the average score on TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking for hotels is about 4.08 stars? In fact, it is estimated that only 10% of all reviews posted online are either one or two stars. In other words, the vast majority of online reviews are 3-star and above. This also means that whenever you receive three stars or less, it usually means the user experience was below average. Thus, you should answer every 1-star and 2-star reviews, and keep a close look on 3-star reviews, answering every other one (I’d say you should answer more like 75-90% of them).

What about positive reviews, like 4-star and 5-star reviews? While there is perhaps no need to answer them all, specially when there is not much in terms of editorial content, i.e. “food was amazing, we’ll come back”, this is nevertheless an opportunity to thank travelers for their business while reinforcing organizational values along the way, as we’ll see in following tips. This is why you should aim to answer at least one out of every four or five positive reviews, on average.

Thank the user

The very first step is to acknowledge the comment, question or review by thanking the user for time taken to write it, whether it’s positive, neutral or negative. This is true on most platforms, from social media to review sites and online travel agencies alike.

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First off, you will want to acknowledge the user by name, if possible. In the case shown above, the hotel GM responded to “mctb0609” because that’s the user’s name on TripAdvisor. On Facebook or other case when you can see the full name, you may want to revert to M. X or Ms Y, but unless it’s a corporate policy, try to stay away from “Dear Guest” which sounds so… well, corporate!

Notice in the example above that you can also go beyond the simple “Thank you” by adding exclamation or superlative remarks, like in this case “Wow, what a great comment”. Again, it helps making the response that much more genuine and less of a copy-paste approach. Remember we are all busy people, so when someone takes a moment to write a comment, questions or review, the least we can do it to answer… and thank the user for taking the time to write (not to mention thanking them for their business, too).

Apologize for deceptions / Reinforce positive remarks

The second step when it comes to answering reviews and comments is all about addressing the content of said review or comment.

In case of negative review:

  • Apologize for the events or poor experience. Saying “We’re sorry you did not have the stellar experience you were entitled to have at our restaurant” or “We’re sorry about your experience with our concierge” doesn’t mean you are guilty, or at fault. It means you are listening and acknowledging the below-average experience this traveler has had. Empathy doesn’t equate guilt.
  • Address issues one by one. The important and key aspect here is not only to address the issue, but to say if and how the issue can be fixed or mitigated.

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In the example above, notice first of all the empathy from the general manager (highlighted in yellow), who truly seems at a loss with this review… which was a 3-star review, mind you. By the way, this boutique hotel is ranked #1 in New York City out of 479 hotels! Notice also how the GM addresses the two main issues raised in the traveler review: noise outside the rooms, and poor breakfast experience. In both cases, the answer is specific and show how the hotel can provide solutions to these perceived weaknesses.

In case of positive review (or positive remarks within a negative review)

  • Acknowledge the remark. This demonstrates you have actually read the review, and this is not a generic cookie-cutter reply from management. If the remark mentions a specific person, make sure to emphasize that the comment will be passed on to that person (see example above, with Daniel at Hotel Crystal in Montreal).
  • Spin-off other benefits and organizational values. Remember that when you answer to someone, you are not only replying to him or her, but also to the all the readers on that platform. Thus, take this opportunity to “ride the wave” and talk about how your hotel, restaurant or attraction prides itself on being community-based, eco-friendly, historic or employing staff with a social reinsertion focus. Or whatever it is that sets you apart from competition or makes you unique.

In the example stated above, notice how the GM of 414 Hotel reinforces the fact they are a small hotel and that they pride themselves on doing efforts in order to exceed customer expectations.

Close with a call to action

In the vast majority of online reviews I see on social media or review sites, management responses end up after the above elements have been addressed. There is a missed opportunity here. Why not invite the guest over once again? If the review was negative, it’s about having a second shot a making that good impression. And if the review was positive, well, now we’re talking customer retention and loyalty, right?

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In the example above, notice first of all how the GM of this Quebec City hotel demonstrates that she has read the review and followed up with internal staff before answering. Even though this was clearly a positive review – a 5-star review on TripAdvisor, in fact – they seized the opportunity to close the response with a call to action: why not come back for the honeymoon? Other examples of call-to-action:

  • If traveler came during summer, why not boast things to do during winter at your destination, or invite to visit during a different season?
  • If traveler came over for business, perhaps invite to return for some R&R
  • If traveler came with family, perhaps invite to return as couple or with friends
  • If traveler experienced your restaurant at lunch time, or breakfast, why not invite to come again for dinner or Sunday brunch?
  • A simple “we hope to see you again very soon” will do the trick as well

Of course, when the review was mostly negative, these kinds of calls to action may not prove to be adequate, but you can certainly invite the client to come again. There have been various demonstrated examples of customers who complained over Twitter or Facebook, got answered by the travel brand, and eventually ended up either deleting their initial complaint or better yet turned into brand advocates after a positive customer service interaction.

To summarize:

  1. Prioritize your management response policy – should you answer every comment and why
  2. Thank users for their question, comment or review
  3. Apologize for the negative experiences
  4. Address issues with specific solutions
  5. Reinforce positive remarks
  6. Call to action to come back and experience again
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