Just about every hotel franchise has some sort of guest service rating system in place to collect and measure guest service comments. For years, hotels have relied on the review of guest comments to improve service and monitor the quality of their facilities and services.
Handling complaints has traditionally been a one-to-one communication directly with the guest making the complaint. The complaint, or sometimes compliment, is usually answered with a phone call, letter, or both. Smart general managers have a good reliable system to handle service issues. After all, for many managers, there are bonuses tied into getting good guest service scores.
Compromises and settlements are often negotiated with the guest to the ultimate goal of retaining them as customers and to, hopefully, discourage them from sharing their bad experience with friends and family. Youíve heard it before; unsatisfied guests will tell at least seven others about their bad experience. Settling complaints, to retain customers, is an important part of the service industry.
Now, here comes the bad news; online rating sites are growing in popularity. Gone is privacy; complaints are now published for the world population to read and read again. Once posted, they are rarely deleted or altered. Sins of the past remain sins of the present with no compromises, no dialogue, and no forgiveness.
On these sites, disgruntled guests are free to use their own words to describe the horror of their stay; totally free to alter the facts without comment, explanation, or remedy from the hotel. Letís face it folks, even near-perfect hotel operations stumble from time-to-time. Online travel rating sites are creating distance between hotels and their customers.
For many years, we did our best to encourage guests to complain to the hotel directly, so hotel managers could settle any service or facility issues before action went further. As more and more people discover the wonders of the Internet, we will need a completely new strategy to deal with online travel rating sites.
I donít know of any online rating sites that currently offer hotels the ability to provide explanation or apology or settlement to retain customers posting on these sites. If there are, please let me know; they need to be complimented.
Thereís abuse on some of these sites already. Many hotels have discovered that these sites are a pretty good way to get complimentary remarks from guests; the hotels anonymously write and post compliments to themselves. I know that some of these sites are working feverishly to create systems to prevent fake or unauthorized ratings, but it will be difficult, indeed, to prevent abuse on either side; good and bad.
Now donít get me wrong, I believe online travel rating sites are a natural evolution created by the Internetís openness and anonymity. As the popularity of rating sites increases, they are a natural supplement for the advice from ďtravel professionalsĒ when travelers want recommendations and more insight into hotel information, before they book. Good hotel operations should welcome the ability of guests to post compliments, but we need a system to prevent abuse.
An angry, Internet savvy, guest, could bury a hotel with reams of ugly comments with no way for the hotel to respond. One remedy could provide for travel rating sites to send a copy of the posted comment, with contact information, to the hotel involved. This way the hotel could react and privately respond to the comments made; good and bad. Sites could still post limited source information, but with a notation that the comments and contact information will be forwarded to the hotel involved.
Good comments on travel rating sites can obviously boost a hotelís popularity, but I havenít seen any data reflecting how consumers deal with ratings on these sites. Are they a strong part of the decision-making process? If they arenít at present, I believe they will be; itís part of the information revolution created by the Internet.
Internet travel rating sites, if managed by responsible people, could be a great benefit to travelers and hotels alike. Their primary responsibility is to create systems to eliminate anonymous comments. Hotels deserve an opportunity to research compliments and complaints. Anonymous postings invite abuse.
I know this will not sit well with rating sites because anonymous postings will always draw more ratings; thatís part of the lure of the Internet. But, if the purpose of these sites is to create better travel experiences by providing travelers with good reliable information, making users register, to post a comment, is essential.
This is a serious business, for serious business people. Guests are entitled to do and say what they feel; smart hoteliers learn from complaints and compliments. But, letís make sure itís done responsibly. When we stumble, just as when we provide a good travel experience, guests deserve more than simply a way to vent; they deserve a resolution.