There is much being said about how to respond to negative or positive reviews. However the reality is that many reviews are mixed. When hotel or restaurant customers write reviews, they often have both something good and bad to say about their experience. I have noticed that mixed reviews either have a management response that glosses over the less-glowing feedback, or no response at all. When review responses ignore challenging feedback in mixed reviews it is easy to see which hotels and restaurants are closely reading and absorbing feedback, and which are posting canned responses. Customers want to know that they have been heard, so if you don't address constructive feedback in a mixed review, it may seem that management isn't really listening to customers.
Analysis of a few hotels and restaurants shows how prevalent mixed reviews are. In one week of reviews about 65 to 75% of good reviews (4 or 5 stars) also contained cutting comments such as poor service, rude staff, high prices, facility issues, etc. Review forms on Expedia even ask for both good and bad feedback from each reviewer. It is important to realize that potential customers are reading these reviews and learning some unflattering things about your business, even though a review may seem complimentary based upon the number of stars awarded.
Cone, a Boston-based marketing agency, did a survey about online buying patterns across all industries. They reported that in 2011 negative reviews changed customer buying decisions 80% of the time and positive reviews reinforced buying decisions 87% of the time. So what is the best way to make a mixed review work for you and reinforce a buying decision? How can management responses help your mixed review readers decide that the positive feedback outweighs the negative?
Tip One: Consider Word Count
One concern that reputation managers have about responding to mixed reviews is tackling multiple points in a succinct way. A study out of Hamburg Germany showed that it takes the average reader about 28 seconds to read 100 words on the web. Often readers are scanning for keywords and the general gist of a block of text such as a management response. It is important to remember that you might only have 28 to 40 seconds to influence a reader. It is important to start with statements that accentuate the positive, because often that is all a reader may absorb. However you still need to address some of the negative comments. If the average reader allots 28 to 45 seconds to comprehension, then you should keep your responses between 100 and 150 words.
Tip Two: The Sandwich Method
The fire hose of information available on the web means that reading comprehension is strongest at the beginning of a text block. Scientific studies show that readers are more likely to absorb ideas in the first 100 words. When you respond to a mixed review, start with an affirmation of the positive aspects of the review. Once you have re-iterated what the reviewer liked, then sincerely and briefly address the negative remarks. You can then close your response with more discussion of the positive feedback or features of your property that relate to topics discussed. By sandwiching the negative feedback between positive thoughts, you will decrease the importance of the negative messages.
It has been shown that reading comprehension follows an F pattern. Readers absorb full comprehension in the first few lines of text but then less information as they move down a text block. Using the sandwich method will meet the F pattern guidelines, and give detailed readers more information about positive features. Using this approach will prove that you internalized guest feedback and truly care what your customers report in reviews. Leaving readers with this impression is more likely to win you the booking than any operational details in the original review. In fact, according to Forrester Consulting, 79% of TripAdvisor customers reported being reassured by a management response to a review.
Tip Three: Highlight the Star Score
The average star rating for reviews on TripAdvisor is 3.9 stars. This means that many mixed reviews will have a high (4+) star rating. Use this to your advantage to add perspective to the user's negative comments in a positive review. Remarks such as poor service, slow check-in, etc. can make a reader feel that a mixed review is actually a poor review, but if you point out the original reviewer's high score, you can downplay the importance of these negative comments.
Some More Examples & Responses
The following are some more examples of real reviews and how I would suggest the response should be framed.
"We traveled as a group of 6 and it was fabulous. They have a great pool, although i suggest bringing a drink with you, as both days the pool wait staff was very slow. The flowers in the hotel were beautiful. My only complaint was that it was difficult to get breakfast in the morning, there was always a long line for coffee."
We were thrilled to read your 4-star review of our hotel. We are so glad that you found our hotel was a fabulous choice for your group of 6. We are sorry to hear that you found the poolside service slow and would have preferred a way to get coffee quickly in the morning. We offer 4 locations with quick grab and go coffee, snacks, and light meals for the convenience of our guests. You are always welcome to bring these items to the pool area. That said, we will address your feedback with the appropriate staff. We look forward to seeing you again soon and thank you for your feedback.
"The Hotel is gorgeous, over the top, and packed with so much to see, do, and eat that you never have to leave the hotel. So why 3 stars? Service; the Hotel is going to need to step up their training game. The staff were too busy checking their cell phones and complaining about coworkers to other coworkers to notice they weren't doing their jobs; not providing a fine experience for guests with many, many area hotel options."
Thank you for taking the time to review your stay with us. We are so pleased that you felt the hotel was gorgeous and we aim to please our guests in every way. We are so sorry that you felt the service was not up to par with the surroundings. We will be using your review as an example in upcoming staff training programs so that our employees can better understand how their actions can impact the guest experience.
We are glad that you could experience the variety of things to see and do in our hotel and I truly appreciate your feedback. We look forward to seeing you again.
What Customers Want
Customers write reviews for two reasons. The first is to feel empowered and that they have influenced other customers. The second is they genuinely want to improve a product or service. By showing that you are responsive to both the positive and negative feedback in a mixed review, you will prove that a review has met that customer's objective. This will strengthen customer relationships and help you learn valuable insights into how to go from good to great!