Online reviews are a blessing, even if they sometimes seem like a curse. They're no longer considered an optional part of the path to purchase by most customers. Now, they're a necessary part of the process. If you aren't soliciting them, you may be missing out on bookings from discerning guests.
A BrightLocal consumer survey from 2016 found that 91 percent of consumers read reviews at least occasionally, and 50 percent read them regularly. Half of the surveyed consumers don't feel ready to judge a business until they can read four to ten reviews. Clearly, it's important to gather reviews of your tours or activities — even if that opens you up to the risk of negative reviews.
Here's the thing, though: guests will review your company whether you ask them to or not. If you're lucky, happy guests might go out of their way to evangelize you. Angry guests will definitely find somewhere to air their complaints. Give them a platform, and at least you'll be able to respond.
If you're using TripAdvisor Review Express for your tour or activity company, you may already know how important review responses can be. Otherwise, consider this: if you don't respond to reviews, your customers are the ones creating your company's public image. Angry reviews could be all prospective customers will see.
Responding to reviews gives you the chance to showcase your professionalism, your deft customer service skills and your good nature. It also allows you to contextualize and address specific complaints. Best of all, it lets you highlight the best things about your business.
On the other hand, poorly-planned responses can do more harm than good. Let's cover some of the do's and don'ts of responding to tour and activity reviews.
Don't know how to leave responses? TripAdvisor offers a helpful guide on the subject.
Do: Get out ahead of the problem.
Ideally, a negative review isn't the first time you're hearing about a bad customer experience. If you have the opportunity to follow up with your guests after their tours, either in person or by email, you can start the resolution process before they even have a chance to complain online.
You don't need to address a surprising complaint blindly, though. Look into the customer's booking history. If you weren't present for the situation they're complaining about, talk to the employee or guide who was. The more you know about the context of the complaint, the better you'll be able to respond. That might mean learning the day's conditions, any problems that cropped up, and other perspectives.
Don't: Leave your customer waiting.
Research is important, but so is timeliness. If you leave a complaint untouched for over 24 hours, the customer will feel neglected and justified in their negativity. Other potential customers will also have time to see the complaint and judge your company without the context of your reply.
The sooner you start working on your response, the longer you have to ensure it's perfect before submitting it.
Do: Have the best person offer their response.
TripAdvisor allows businesses to have multiple owners, and each owner can manage reviews. That means you don't need to pick one person in your company to handle every response. The most appropriate person can answer instead.
Companies sometimes leave review responses exclusively in the hands of contracted public relations or social media teams. This ensures that responses are always professional, which can help. It can also leave them feeling colder than they would from someone directly involved in the business or the guest experience.
Don't: Give just anyone access to your TripAdvisor account.
Setting your employees loose on your reviews without appropriate guidelines is one path to a public-relations nightmare. It doesn't take much for a well-meaning employee to destroy a carefully managed brand. Just let them speak for the company without training or instruction and you'll see how easy it is. Instead, keep your TripAdvisor owners to those people in your company who care about its success and image. The best people for the job are those who have steady tempers and excellent judgment.
Do: Keep your cool.
Bad reviews can bring out the worst in even the most cool-headed people. Take care to keep your temper in check when responding to negative or mixed reviews. Angry management responses reflect poorly on your company, and can create the sort of viral attention no one wants.
Don't: Test out your comedy routine.
You may be a hilarious person with a wit that's celebrated by everyone you know. If you're positive that your sense of humor will be universally appreciated, and that no one will be left feeling like you don't take their concerns seriously, then you don't need our permission — go forth and use the healing power of laughter in your review responses.
Otherwise, keep a tight rein on the humor. Your responses benefit from a bit of personality, so you don't need to be stiff and formal, but customers need to know that they're being heard. A good joke can seem like a slap in the face to someone who's really upset. A bad joke can take a negative review and turn it into a PR crisis.
Do: Pay attention to the positives.
Most reviews aren't anger-fueled rants. They'll contain positives and negatives, and those positives deserve acknowledgment, too.
"I'm glad you had the opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous vistas," might be appropriate in a reply to a reviewer who talks up the views. Someone who compliments a specific staff member will be happy to hear that their words were appreciated. If a guest has nothing nice to say but isn't actively cruel, you can at least thank them for taking the time to share their feedback.
In a PhoCusWright survey from 2012, 59 percent of people surveyed said that they ignore extreme comments in reviews. If a guest is actively cruel or aggressive in their review, you can probably safely keep your thanks to a minimum. Remain polite and professional, of course.
Don't: Gloss over the negatives.
If you note the good things a reviewer says about your tours, you also need to note the negatives. A sincere apology goes a long way. If there's nothing specific you can or should apologize for, you can always apologize for the negative experience in general. Avoid apologizing for the way the customer feels, though. That type of apology is rarely considered genuine.
Do: Show that you're addressing the problem.
This is one of the most important parts of a review response. It shows potential customers that you take criticism seriously and move to address problems. Look over the complaints in the review and pick out any specifics your company can address. Briefly explain what you're doing to ensure that those problems don't recur.
It doesn't help the reviewer unless they're planning to book again, but it does let others know that they won't have the same problem.
Don't: Argue about details of the problem.
It's reasonable to briefly, politely dispute outrageous falsehoods in reviews. It's unreasonable to pick apart every point a reviewer makes with forensic precision. Did the guest complain about a muddy trail when you're quite sure it had been dry for a week before they arrived? That's unfortunate, but arguing with them will make you look hostile. Besides, it won't go far to ease the worries of other potential customers.
Does your response seem like a good opportunity to negatively review the customer like they've reviewed your business? Step away from the keyboard until you regain your calm. Insulting your guests is never a good look, even if they're being terribly rude.
Do: Remember all the potential customers who will read your response.
Ultimately, your Management Responses aren't solely for the benefit of the customers who leave reviews — they're also important parts of your marketing strategy. Potential customers will read reviews, look at your responses, and decide if you're a company they want to book with.
It's a big responsibility, but it's also a great opportunity. Remember, when it comes to reviews, you have two options: let reviewers speak for your company, or craft a message and speak for yourself.