This week a small tourism business belonging to a friend of mine suffered its first inevitable bad review on a particular well-known travellers’ website (cough cough, Tripadvisor, cough). I say “inevitable” not because of any ongoing bad service—indeed they run a very good operation—but because ultimately 99.9% of tourism businesses are going to one day find themselves a victim of it, no matter how outstanding their behaviour. It’s just human nature.
Online review sites have a notably different effect on the small business when compared to the medium to large multi-national corps. Outstanding customer service is the back bone of any small tourism operation’s marketing, and with an increasing number of web-savvy travellers, review websites can now make or break their reputation. Unfortunately there are always those customers who are never happy until they have something to complain about… And the clients who have unrealistic expectations… AND of course most of us are quicker to write about a negative experience than a positive one, myself included. So, sometimes the odds are against you.
Whilst the small business owner will quietly weep at being publicly assaulted on an online forum, the larger tourism companies will continue to operate regardless, usually because a negative comment will get swallowed up in the mass of other half-decent reviews. And even if they do receive consistently bad remarks, there’s no real stress as the majority of their customers will come from equally large and uncaring travel agents. Again, not naming any names…
So, what should you do if you do receive a negative online review?
First things first, is it legit? Whilst I was working for Haka Tours we were subject to a number of vicious negative reviews, all completely fake. Fortunately the website in question (not TripAdvisor) recognised this and took them down, but for the few days that they existed they may have done the business’s reputation some damage. To this day we do not know who it was.
If you suspect that a bad review is not an honest one, do get in touch with the website’s staff and clearly state why you believe this, giving evidence wherever possible. Unfortunately, you may find that some of the larger review sites like TripAdvisor don’t respond (or care) in the manner that you hoped, so keep pressing. In the meantime do write a response in a similar manner to the advice below, including politely why you don’t feel the review is fair.
If it is legit, then it’s time to suck it up and deal with it. And quickly. Find out everything that happened from any staff concerned. Then take an hour to two to craft a response (most good review sites should allow you to respond).
Getting the correct tone of a response can be difficult, especially in some cases when all you want to do is set the person’s laptop on fire. But it is important to be respectful and polite. Do not act overly aggressive or dismissive as this will come across unprofessional and thoughtless.
Crafting a response:
- Start with thanking them for leaving feedback and say that you are always looking for ways to improve your business through customer comments, good and bad.
- Tell them that you are thoroughly disappointed with their remarks as you always strive for top customer service.
- Address all their comments without attacking them or dismissing them as irrelevant. Try to keep it concise and don’t drone on.
- If appropriate, state the steps you are taking to improve or address the problem(s) encountered – particularly if you were clearly in the wrong. If you feel the review is unfair then explain why, without dismissing the reviewer’s opinion/view as if they do not matter. In either case it is good to mention that you are discussing the review with your staff.
- Offer a discount for future services if you feel appropriate (depending on your business, products and how fair the review is).
- Re-word and repeat point 2 before signing off with your name and position (probably Director or Owner). This personal touch is better and it looks good that you made the effort.
The quicker you can respond the better. Once this has been done, check the web to see if the reviewer has written anything on other review websites – and address these if necessary.
Your next step shouldn’t be to try and forget about the review…
… and pretend it doesn’t exist! Do take steps to improve your business and talk to the staff involved if needed.
And then… yes, actively push the bad review down the pile with fresh reviews. And do it quick. But please don’t fake your own reviews! Get in touch with any past customers who you know 100% loved you. Email or phone friends that have come on your trips. Basically target anyone who is totally loyal to your brand. And don’t be afraid to tell them why – people are more likely to respond if you are personally asking them (individually) for help.
NB. Some people may argue that I am encouraging false reviewing activity in the above advice but I feel that as long as the people giving the reviews have experienced your services, then it is simply good marketing common sense.
Like my aforementioned friend, if your business is a good operation with usually great customer service then have faith, this should eventually shine through. The bad review will move down the page and potential customers will recognise that the majority of great comments outweigh the bad one. Many web-educated travellers have already begun to distinguish the validity of negative reviews, and they can often tell whether the person in question has good points, was just unfortunate in their experience, or is being abnormally fussy.
In any case it certainly doesn’t hurt to give your happiest customers that little extra push to help spread the reviewing love.