Yesterday, while reading the Inquirer, a story caught my eye in the travel section -- hotels want to know you, mister angry@hostelry. Getting to know your customers is a good thing, that was the main reason why I started reading the article.
However, I quickly got to the point in the narrative where I had the realization that hotels now use locations, dates, and user names that appear online to triangulate a guest's identity, and may use that information against them.
Because here's what happens next. Once they find a likely match, the review is added to a hotel's guest-preference records, next to information such as frequent-guest number, newspaper choice, and preferred room type. Then of course, you know how things develop. Reinforce positive reviews with gifts, or carrots. It's very tempting to want to wipe away negative reviews.
How a hotel or a company handles negative reviews says a lot about its culture and desire to address the issues. Listening and offering a measured response of course is not as powerful as fixing the issue. And yes, we all agree that customers can be difficult at times.
You know when customers become really difficult?
When issues are not addressed. Spend some time to look at how customer complaints escalate and you will see that it's usually a communication disconnect. That is the company has chosen to ignore the complaint -- either meeting it with silence, like in this example, or talking at the customer with a promo message.
That's why Twitter is a good tool all around, if your customer is online -- it makes saying I got your message fast and inexpensive compared to a phone call. Of course, the follow up needs to be there. Maybe those companies that never respond don't mind customers disconnecting and taking their business elsewhere?
Feedback can help you improve your business, ask Dell
In my personal board of directors I make it a point to have a very diverse group of people who will call me on the carpet and provide unvarnished feedback. Why would I want to continue making a mistake, or avoid learning?
This group has one thing in common -- they want to see me succeed. When your manager thinks that way, you're in great shape. You should choose advisers based upon this criterion for attitude and approach. The problem with feedback is that often we are not skilled at giving it constructively. The term has its roots on a mechanical process.
You can take a negative pattern and use what you learn to improve your business like Dell did. You can also discover that you are taking steps on the business side and need to improve your communications to convey what you're doing and educate customers on what's different until their next experience.Experience is where the rubber meets the road
Hotels that provide a bad experience will get bad word of mouth and no referrals even if they work hard at wiping negative reviews online. You don't need to focus on the bad side, though. Think about the upside as an incentive to listen to your customers.
For an example in the hospitality industry, look at what the Roger Smith Hotel in New York City is doing with social media. That's easy for a small hotel, right? How about the Four Seasons? Maybe it's because it's a luxury hotel, right? How about Joie de Vivre Hospitality? We should have run out of excuses that it's hard to keep staff and be in "can do" mode, especially at hotels.
It's called the hospitality industry, after all.
Reviews, evaluations, feedback need to be tempered by experience. When in doubt, work on creating a better one, regardless of whether you think the review or evaluation was fair. Sometimes the disconnect happens between the person and their own ability to convey what they meant.
The fact they're taking the time to write something means they felt a disconnect. There are ways to address single concerns while analyzing if there are patterns at certain locations or in certain parts of the business, for example. Retaliating seems to negate the whole point of building a great business.
For my part, I listen with soft ears and work on building connections with the people who take the time to provide feedback. Connections are a good way to address the feedback, knowing I won't please everyone all the time.
If you know me, you know I think about it, weigh it, look to identify lessons I can act upon. What do you do with negative reviews?
© 2010 Valeria Maltoni. All rights reserved.