Here is a simple question: Why do hotel guests leave reviews? On one level, that might sound like a deeply philosophical enquiry, like something to do with the meaning of life, but on another, it may seem pretty obvious.
Reviews are such a common feature of hotel marketing that a number of answers might instantly come to mind: because a guest has had a great time and wants the world to know about it. Equally, it could be that they are distinctly unimpressed by the service they got and want people to stay away. And other people do not leave reviews purely because they cannot be bothered or are simply not in the habit of complaining much even when things go wrong. However, it could be that this is an oversimplified explanation. A review may be the last thing a guest does after leaving, so it is important to consider the chain of events that will lead to either a bad or good review.
What prompts a bad review
Perhaps the most remarkable revelation about the TV sitcom Fawlty Towers is that it is based on a real hotel, and Basil Fawlty on a real hotelier. One can just imagine the kind of real-life complaints that would arise from guests faced by being told “Madam, you can see the sea, it’s over there between the land and the sky”, goose-stepping in front of German guests while trying not to mention the war, or not even knowing what a Waldorf salad is. In the case of the fictional Torquay hotel, there was, of course, no defence, bar that of the colonel’s retort to the claim that it was Britain’s worst hotel: “No it’s not – there’s a place at Eastbourne”. But for real-life hoteliers, the kind of feedback that Fawlty Towers would have got on Tripadvisor would ruin many businesses. However, bad reviews are usually avoidable. Of course, problems will occur and things will go wrong. Something will be amiss with the food, a revolting object will manage to find its way into the sock drawer, the toilet may not be fully clean and there might be a bloodstain nobody spotted on one of the bed sheets. In any of these cases, a customer complaint could follow swiftly. What matters most is how it is dealt with. Failure to acknowledge a problem, attempts to shift the blame or an inadequate offer of amends – such as a free drink when the food is not properly cooked – will generate resentment. Indeed, this is likely to lead to a double-whammy. The guest will not want to come back in the future, as well as leaving a negative review.
There are also some less-avoidable bad reviews. These are either because of a frivolous or bizarre complaint, such as the location of a hotel when the guest could have checked what part of town it was in before booking, or those who do not complain vocally but still write up a bad review. However, at least in the latter case they cannot complain that the hotel failed to act on their concerns, as they never expressed them.
What prompts a good review
Good reviews are also prompted by more than one possible motive, rather than simply being because someone had a good time there. Firstly, there are people who habitually leave a review for every place they stay at. In their case, they will need no extra prompt to tell the world what they think – be it good or bad. However, those who give a particularly glowing review may indeed be those who have enjoyed an exceptional stay and great service. Indeed, what could be better than a glowing review prefaced by the words “I don’t normally write hotel reviews, but…” Should somebody be moved in this way, it really is a feather in one’s cap. The simplistic explanation for good reviews is that a hotel has provided something very special and the guests have been delighted by it. But this does not happen by accident. To reach a high level of excellence can mean a lot of learning, including taking on board negative feedback. The bad review of last year can be the catalyst for this year’s good ones. Better still, it is possible to speed that process up. If something goes wrong and a customer complains, swift action to tackle the problem and an offer of amends can not only solve their immediate issue, but could earn praise in any review they write. That might not amount to a review that declares everything to be perfect, but it will reassure people that you have the humility, flexibility and responsiveness to take the right actions when required.
The customer is king
By understanding why someone may leave a review, you can gear up your staff policies accordingly. What is not in doubt, however, is that the old saying ‘the customer is always right’ should be applied. After all, anyone reading their review will not know otherwise.