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Death and taxes are often said to be the only certainties in life. If you are an owner of a tourism business, you can add a third certainty – bad online reviews.

No matter how well you run your business, how well you train your staff, and how unfair it is, at some stage someone will post a nasty comment about your tourism business right there on the very online platforms where you are trying to put your best foot forward.

The worst thing about them is that they are indelible, becoming a permanent part of your business’s online record. Knowing how to handle bad online reviews is therefore a crucial skill for any tourism business owner, says Arnold February, regional investment manager at Business Partners Limited, who offers the following tips to tourism operators:

  1. Catch the complaint before it leaves the premises:

Encourage your customers to let you know if they have any complaints before they leave. Build feedback prompts into your operations, such as well-timed questions from attentive staff members or a quick check-out survey. It gives you a chance to resolve the issue or at least temper the anger so that the unhappy client feels less motivated to vent online.

  1. Incentivise your staff to resolve complaints:

The staff of a tourism operation have to go beyond being friendly and diligent in their daily tasks. They have to be trained on how to deal with complaints and incentivised to resolve them as soon as possible. Instituting a weekly or monthly reporting cycle on all the complaints and how they were resolved can form the basis of an incentive system designed to catch most of the issues before they escalate and grow into nasty online reviews.

  1. Encourage positive reviews:

Let the occasional horrible online comment drown in a sea of good reviews. When you receive a positive “thank you” comment from a happy client, via text or verbal, ask them to post it online. Make it easy for them: Send them a link to the review section of the site where you want their comment to appear. If the odd negative review appears among fifty positive ones, most of the harm will be neutralised.

  1. Keep it real:

Do not manufacture fake positive reviews. The public is increasingly aware of the phenomenon of fake reviews, and if they get a whiff of fakery when they scroll through your online reviews, it will spoil the credibility of the real positive reviews that you receive.

  1. Amplify specific reviews:

Generic positive reviews such as “excellent service” are good, but the gold nuggets are those that are specific about what the client liked about your business. It paints a vivid picture of the best your business has to offer. You can amplify it by adding even more detail in your response to the comments. For example, if a client posts a positive review about a meal they enjoyed, respond by posting the usual “thank you”, but add some interesting details about your chef and his or her approach to their work.

  1. Respond immediately:

A bad online review is at its most poisonous when it is lying at the top of the timeline without any response from you. The moment you post a reply you lessen the damage by showing the public that you are concerned and responsive. Immediate response is therefore crucial. Appoint a staff member to check every possible platform every day for any new reviews and task them to respond immediately, or, if they don’t have the necessary discretion, to inform you so that you can respond without wasting a second.

  1. Keep an open mind:

No matter how unfair you feel the complaining customer is being, do not become angry or defensive in your response. If you do, you are simply inviting the client to respond again to your rant, which just blows the issue up into something bigger. Use the review as a real opportunity to identify any weaknesses in your systems, your operations or your staff’s skills and behaviour.

  1. Respond with concern and empathy:

The tone you need to strike is one of concern and empathy. Acknowledge the client’s pain (“I can understand just how upset you must be”) and commit to finding out what exactly went wrong and to fixing it so that it never happens again.

  1. Take it offline:

The last thing you want to do is to get into a back-and-forth with a complaining client online. It amplifies the issue. Acknowledge the pain, commit to investigate and fix, and offer your contact details with an invitation to discuss the matter offline. If the complainant gets in touch with you and you manage to resolve the issue, you can go back online to post the outcome, ideally with the confirmation of the complainant. If they don’t get in touch with you, at least your quick response and willingness to take up the complaint is a permanent part of the public record.

  1. How to deal with fake reviews:

A competitor might try to hurt you by posting fake negative reviews about your business. But even if you know that a negative post is fake, you have to resist the temptation to call it fake in your response, as it could come across to the public as dismissive and unresponsive. Maintaining a tone of concern and empathy, you can place a question mark over the complaint by stating something like “We have no record of your visit to our establishment, but we are very keen that you to get in touch with us so that we can resolve the issue.” Meanwhile, you can try to ask the website to remove the post, offering them as much evidence as you can that the review is fake.

About the Author: Ben Bierman

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Ben Bierman has been our Managing Director since 2015. He joined our company in 1990 and has risen through the ranks occupying various positions ranging from being a management accountant, Head of Information Technology and Chief Financial Officer. Ben is an avid reader, enjoys classical music and being in the outdoors including for hunting trips. He is our go-to-spokesperson for our SME Confidence Index, SME sector policy and trend matters, and business leadership articles.