It’s a sign of the times when the U.S. House of Representatives is looking to protect free speech on websites like Yelp. Four legislators introduced a bill last week that would essentially make non-disparagement clauses in consumer contracts unenforceable. In other words, it would be illegal for U.S. businesses to use contracts to silence disgruntled customers. This initiative certainly isn’t far-fetched, considering reports that a geek toy company and a New York hotel threatened to fine customers for posting negative reviews. The proposed legislation is of course supported by the hospitality industry and other service-oriented industries. It is also supported by travel review websites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. At the same time, you might recall that the Italian Competition Authority fined TripAdvisor for $610,000 for allegedly not doing its part to squash fake reviews. TripAdvisor denied responsibility for these reviews, but it still raised the question of legitimacy. In the digital age, where can the hospitality industry turn to for unbiased customer insights? Hint: Not social media! Social media is a double-edged sword and that’s why many service industries find themselves at the crossroads of First Amendment protections and corporate oversight. It’s a particularly interesting topic in regards to hotel reputation management. Are there incorrigible people who seize any opportunity to complain on a public forum? Of course there are. Should hotels seek to squash these views and inadvertently silence the feedback of customers with legitimate complaints? Absolutely not! Learn from the hotel that started threatening people with a $500 fine for negative reviews. This not only dissuades customers from leaving constructive feedback, but also turns off future customers once word gets out. Hotels can’t close the lines of communication once they are opened, and removing comments makes your brand look weak and insecure.
Social Media is Not the Place for Hotel Reputation Management
Social media has its limitations and can’t be used in place of a traditional guest feedback program. When a customer doesn’t have an alternative forum like a survey to voice a complaint, they will turn to social media. By then, it’s too late. The hotel is put on defense for damage control. Hotel reputation management is a topic that Market Metrix studied at length in a 2012 survey. Here are some interesting statistics to keep in mind:
- Unresolved problems have a “dramatic impact” on guest loyalty and drive it down 56% on average.
- Guests who have a problem review it about 22.6% of the time.
- Gusts without a problem write reviews just 8.8% of the time.
- Almost two-thirds of the loyalty lost can be regained if the problem is addressed.
Addressing problems at the source is critical to hotel reputation management. While social media is an important tool for word-of-mouth promotion, it can’t create your reputation. Also keep in mind that social media has a generational gap and tends to over-represent the younger generation. It’s just as important to hear from older customers who are comparatively spending more on travel. For these reasons, survey-based feedback programs are far superior.
“Negative scores can automatically put service recovery steps into action, alerting the right person about the problem so it can be fixed right away,” wrote the authors of the Market Metrix study. “That’s how you turn a negative review into a positive one, and build your online reputation.”
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