Business Support

'Honest' TripAdvisor responses: good or bad for business?

By Emily Sutherland contact

- Last updated on GMT

Frustration with bad reviews has reached boiling point for some licensees
Frustration with bad reviews has reached boiling point for some licensees

Related tags: Tripadvisor, Alcoholic beverage

Dealing with bad TripAdvisor reviews has kept many a pub operator up at night. But long-running frustration with reviews seen as inaccurate, unfair or malicious has reached boiling point, with some licensees taking matters into their own hands by posting equally scathing responses back to users who leave bad reviews.

Pub owner Paul Bell chose to issue a 1,000-word response​ to one review that accused the How Do You Do pub in North Shields of allowing 'random strangers' into a private function and Calvin Dow, who runs the Britannia Inn in North Lincolnshire, banned one user​ he described as "impossible to please".

But how should licensees respond to a bad review? Does posting an 'honest' response cause long-term damage to a pub's reputation, however satisfying it might feel in the moment?

Top tip box:

Pick out any positives mentioned in the feedback

Look for the silver lining – maybe the review mentioned the pub's good atmosphere or cosy interior even if the review goes on to complain about something else.

Be careful about offering free drinks or meals in response to bad reviews

Always invite customers back to see your business at its best but be discerning about offering freebies. Make sure all staff members also know what your policy on offering free drinks or food is.

Move the conversation off TripAdvisor if possible

Encourage users to contact you directly and provide an email address or phone number.

Be honest with yourself

There will always be customers who can't be kept happy no matter how hard you try. But feedback is a good opportunity to take a hard look at your business and think objectively about what needs improving and what could be done differently.

Have a consistent policy for dealing with reviews

TripAdvisor recognises that some businesses may struggle to respond to all the reviews it receives. It recommends responding to negative reviews or those where you can correct mistakes or wrong information, and to always have a response among the first 10 most recent reviews, to ensure users don't have to dig too far back to find a response.

Responses to TripAdvisor reviews should ideally come from a manager or owner but if you are going to allow other members of the team to write response, make sure there is a consistent approach everyone knows to follow.

Remain calm

Experts have repeatedly stressed the importance of staying polite. TripAdvisor director of partnerships Gwenael Merlin told PMA500 ​delegates last year the best way to handle reviews is to remain calm, say thank you for the feedback – even if it is negative – and highlight any positives mentioned in the review.

He added that operators who try and take shortcuts by posting identical responses to reviews are "doing more harm than good" and urged the trade to address the specific points raised in reviews.

Media expert Alan Stevens has also pointed out that businesses who respond to reviews "appropriately" receive a much higher overall TripAdvisor rating.

Frustrated operators

But why do some licensees resort to posting their own angry responses? Frustrated operators have said they feel businesses need to 'stand up' to reviewers and called for more regulation on how reviews are posted.

Calvin Dow, who runs the Castle Inn in Skipton, North Yorkshire, as well as the Britannia Inn, told the Publican's Morning Advertiser ​(PMA​) he had seen the benefits of being honest after his response to an unhappy customer went viral on Facebook.

"A lot of people have said they were glad to see someone answering back and I've been contacted by the managers of other local pubs saying they wish they could do the same. It's had quite a big reaction in the pub; with people coming in saying they've seen it and then having a joke about it.

"I get frustrated when I'm stood in front of someone in my pub and I feel like we've sorted out the problem but they then go home and post a bad review. If there's a genuine complaint, I'll bend over backwards to fix it."

However, it's important to remember that a negative response to a bad review will be on your TripAdvisor page for all to see, including potential future customers who might not see the funny side.

According to research carried out by Phocuswright on behalf of TripAdvisor, 69% of respondents said an aggressive or defensive response from a business made them less likely to visit.

A spokesperson from TripAdvisor gave this advice for licensees: "You've just finished reading a bad review. Take a deep breath. If needed, walk away for five minutes. Then look objectively at the review with your team. What was the core problem that your customer experienced? Is this the first time you've seen this feedback or is a trend developing?"

Tools in place

TripAdvisor has come under fire from operators for "hiding behind pearly gates" and not being accessible enough for business with complaints. But there are some steps licensees can take if they have an issue with a review.

A review will be removed from your page if it's about the wrong property, if it violates TripAdvisor guidelines (eg, reviews that contain profanity or personal insults) or if it is suspicious.

TripAdvisor told the PMA​: "Because we have been tracking reviews for over 15 years, our system knows what normal review behaviour looks like and what unusual activity looks like.

"When the system identifies something suspicious, our team of content specialists will investigate. They use fraud detection techniques similar to those adopted in the credit card and banking agencies to catch fraudulent reviews.

"Fraudsters do leave behind patterns and traces we can catch, and we are both aggressive and effective at doing so."

Related topics: Marketing

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