One aspect of online technology that has had an enormous impact on the hospitality business is the online review. Services like Trip Advisor and Yelp! offer every guest the potential to comment on their experience and rate a property—and those ratings can be a major influence on guests looking to book a stay or meeting planners setting up an event. At the same time, getting guests to write those reviews can seem impossible—unless it’s a one-star rant that can really damage a property’s reputation.
But it is possible not only to get guests to review your property, but to help ensure the raves vastly outnumber the bombs. That’s what the Magic Castle Hotel in Los Angeles has been able to do over the years—so well, in fact, that its Trip Advisor reviews are its main form of marketing. To date, the hotel has garnered nearly 3,600 reviews—one of the largest number for hospitality properties in LA—with some 2,700 of them earning a five-circle rating. More amazing is that a mere 35—under one percent—carry just one circle.
Lodging News asked Darren Ross, CEO of Service Freak Hospitality, which operates Magic Castle Hotel, to share his six top tips for building and maintaining that level of online goodwill with guests.
1. Great reviews start with great service.
“Over the years, the way we’ve gotten guests to go onto Trip Advisor is by giving them an extraordinary experience,” he says. The goal is to provide guests with unexpected and unique services that “compel them to want to go and tell people about their experience at Magic Castle Hotel without us asking them to do it.”
2. Encourage your fans to become reviewers.
When you hear a guest talking about the great experience they’re having, it’s an ideal time to be the catalyst to a great review. Take the time to engage them about their stay and after even a short conversation “it’s then very natural to ask them to write a review.” Try to appeal to them on a human level, too—“We let them know how important it is to us, especially as a small business,” Ross says. Much of the time, guests will happily post a glowing review based on this personal ask.
3. Don’t squander guest time on comment cards and surveys.
It can seem tempting to find every possible way to get guests to tell you about their stay, with lengthy comment cards in the room, online surveys and other tools. That can wind up being counterproductive, Ross says. “Every company is asking you to review their product or service, and I’m sensitive to people having only so much time,” he says. The hotel’s comment cards have only two questions, because in his view, the best thing a guest can do with that time is “tell the world about their experience” in a review.
4. Resist the temptation to open the floodgates.
Ross pointedly does not advertise Trip Advisor or any other rating service on the property—no stickers or cards and no automatic requests via email. The reason? Opening the floodgates like that is much more likely to give unhappy guests the encouragement to leave a negative review than it is to get the average guest to post one. And while negative reviews can be tough on a brand, good reviews over time beget other reviews. People who discover a property via online reviews are much more likely to do a review themselves, and if the service lives up to expectations, they will be great ratings that will overwhelm the negatives that inevitably show up. “The more reviews we get, the more visitors we get, and the more reviews we get from them. It’s self-fulfilling.”
5. Respond to your reviews—and be genuine.
When you get a great review—especially from a guest you’ve approached personally—posting a thoughtful and genuine response helps to amplify that review with readers. “Try to pick out one or two specific points from their post, to show that you’ve read it.” Most importantly, though, is to see your response less as a conversation with that individual guest and more as a message to the future guests who will read it. And don’t just respond to the glowing reviews—respond in the same way to negative posts and admit it if you dropped the ball. “It is a balancing act; you don’t want to be walked on, but you always want to be accountable and own up when you’ve messed up.” Good or bad, avoid canned or generic responses at all costs, Ross said. “Replying is a kind of an art form,” he says. “If you’re tempted to do a standard reply, it’s better to do nothing.”
6. Trust your reviewers to be your allies.
It’s easy to be upset over a negative review, especially if the guest got it wrong. Rather than composing a long and angry response, though, Ross suggests letting your fans do most of the sorting out. Take aim at the falsehood and once you’ve put things into context, let readers draw their own conclusions, relying on the power of social media to self-correct. “Readers are smart. They can see through the bull and see through angry guests and those with an agenda,” he says. “I’ve talked to a lot of guests over 20 years about our reviews and people remember certain ones and they’ll respond for us.”