Can Bad Hotel Reviews Be Hacked Out of Existence?
In the wake of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing back in 2013, the Russian Federal Guard made an order for typewriters. Some documents, they decided, are better kept out of cyberspace altogether. Old-fashioned paper archives are not connected to anything. In a heavily guarded facility, you’d have to be James Bond to get ahold of them.
Ordinary people living ordinary lives however experience the risks of cyberspace. We worry that data will be compromised or stolen in the cloud; we’re also worried that once a piece data is in the cloud, we’ll never be able to destroy it. Digital tracks have a way of sticking around. Unwanted information — that photo of you shotgunning a beer back at uni, or that angry political comment in the archives of a web forum — is embarrassing at best. At worst, it can affect your personal life and career prospects. The wrong photograph can be worse.
Where hotels and resorts are concerned, unwanted information can (and does) affect bookings and occupancy. A 2014 TripAdvisor study showed that people read up to a dozen reviews on average before they make a booking. Another study showed that an overwhelming majority of people — 88% or more — trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. To fuel the flames, psychologists and market analysts have found that people pay more attention to negative comments than positive ones. Negative interactions between customers and businesses are also more likely to be shared – in the same vein as the old word of mouth model – if it’s a good experience you’ll tell one to five people. If it’s bad, you’ll tell 10- 12, so you have to ensure you have twice as many good experiences to outweigh the bad.
Bad hotel reviews are a stain that can’t be washed off. And as many hotel managers will tell you, these stains aren’t always deserved. Sometimes people just aren’t happy, no matter how hard you try to please. And when it comes down to it, TripAdvisor and other review platforms have no objective way of ascertaining the facts. All they can do is allow both the hotel and the guest to share their side of the story.
Upon receiving one or more negative reviews, hotel management might ask themselves the following three questions:
Can I write to TridAdvisor, Expedia or another review platform and ask for the review to be removed?
Answer: Yes, but it won’t be removed simply because you don’t like it. It would have to violate guidelines established by the OTA itself. If a review uses insulting language, is commercial in any way, was written too long after the stay in question, or is clearly insubstantial, there is a chance of removing it. Check the guidelines for the platform on which the review appears and ask yourself honestly whether any of these guidelines were violated.
Can I persuade the customer to edit or delete the review?
Answer: Depending on the review platform, users may have the ability to request deletion of a negative review. But any efforts to sway people in this direction will probably violate the OTAs terms and conditions, and may in fact lead to another negative interaction.
Can I hack the review platform to remove the offending comments and preserve my hotel’s reputation?
Answer: Not unless you’re a world-class computer hacker, are willing to employ one, and are ready to face serious jail time in either case.
But let’s imagine for a moment that you can hack into TripAdvisor or another OTA. You go in, eliminate all of your negative reviews, and your critics vanish without a trace. Finally, your hotel’s reputation is squeaky clean. There are no stains, no bad comments, no frustrated guests. Only good feedback, positive reviews, more bookings, better occupancy rates.
What would you do then?
Naturally, you would have renewed vigor in preventing negative reviews. After all, you went to a lot of trouble employing a hacker, breaking the law and risking everything. The last thing you want is a negative review to pop up the following day.
But would you strive harder to address the issues that led to negative reviews in the first place? Maybe the photography wasn’t accurate on your own web site, or on various booking platforms. Maybe your staff was suffering from low morale or ineffective management practices, resulting in negative interactions between guests and staff. Maybe a guest had a need that wasn’t met, and came away with the impression that the hotel was too inflexible. Would this all change just because you had cleansed the negative report? Of course not.
The successful manager doesn’t cleanse the feedback, they learn from it.
In fact, the good manager tries to intercept the feedback before it even goes online. One motel years ago used to have a sign that said: “If you are happy, tell your friends, if you are not, please tell me!” It is important to have our staff trained to elicit feedback from guests at every stage of their stay/experience and address it there and then. Many hotels even send texts during a guest’s stay to see how they are going.
The important thing here is that negative feedback is not always negative.
In fact, negative reviews are a gold mine. They contain valuable information not only to other guests, but to hotels themselves. Dealing with them effectively means striving harder to make every guest experience a positive one, and responding to each negative review in a constructive and conciliatory way.
For hotels, the only way to ‘hack’ negative reviews is to welcome them when they are deserved, be gracious when they are not, and view every single one as an important learning opportunity. And if you don’t take this approach, you better start handing out the typewriters.
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