No one reads those comments

The hotel’s general manager just made that statement and muttered that people just like to complain. The marketing manager couldn’t believe his ears.  He had been monitoring various websites where travelers could post their own reviews of lodging and restaurant properties.  He watched the comments pile up, mostly negative. Something was wrong.  The guests were mad about everything from a mixed up reservation to bad service in the restaurant to spotty internet coverage. It was all out there for the traveling public to see.

Clearly the general manager didn’t understand the power of the on-line community.  The marketing manager had just come back from a presentation by one of the pre-eminent industry research experts.  Travel had changed.  People were more likely to book trips on-line between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM.  The other trend the speaker had highlighted was that travelers were more likely to take advice from strangers from the myriad websites that ranged from TripAdvisor to Yelp. While it was possible to reach out to those disgruntled guests and make amends, but the general manager had already dismissed any further action.  No one reads those comments.

Soon the problem became the perfect PR storm. It wasn’t just Trip Advisor or another on-line site. The writer from an international business journal had checked in to the hotel under an assumed name.  When the story ran, the illustration showed a huge spider with a tiny, frightened woman cowering under the covers for protection.  And even worse, she named names.  The phones rang. Reservations, weddings and business meetings were cancelling.  No one wanted to stay at such a ‘terrible place.’

As the damage mounted, the marketing manager called in reinforcements from the corporate office.  The director of marketing did understand and they created a plan that began with a conference call to the hotel.  The general manager and the staff prepared to look into problems that prompted the comments by the disgruntled guests.  The director of marketing and the marketing manager brainstormed ways to reach out to the people who had taken time to post those comments.

The next phase of the plan was to turn the tide of meeting and event cancellations. After working with the reservations department, the marketing manager decided to enlist help from an unlikely source.  The Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown had featured the hotel in an episode of Great Hotels. The marketing manager ordered DVDs of the episode.  Samantha Brown would be the new face of the hotel, showing potential guests and meeting planners around the beautiful grounds and historic buildings.

Within a few months, the guests were back and they were happy.  The hotel’s on-line presence reflected the changes. The general manager admitted that people did read the comments and that a plan was needed to make sure that manage the hotel’s on-line presence.

The take aways:

Yes, people do read those comments.

Any business should be aware of what customers are saying.

Listen and engage with your customers before complaints become the perfect PR storm.

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© Marilyn McCray 2013-2015