#chavgate restaurant: How to respond to negative reviews

Taking some time to think before you react to negative reviews, say social media experts

After Manchester restaurant 47 King Street West was caught up in 'chavgate' and criticised for its damning response to a review posted by a disgruntled customer on its Facebook page, we speak to social media experts to find out the best way of dealing with negative reviews and comments.  

Receiving a negative review on TripAdvisor or a scathing comment via social media about the business you've worked hard to build up can hurt, but as Mike Hymanson, owner of 47 King Street West, found when he insulted hen party guests in a response on Facebook to a TripAdvisor review, it's not a good idea to take it personally and bite back. 

As hospitality social media expert Karen Fewell, better known as @digitalblonde and founder of the food marketing school says, remember there is a person on the other end of the review and if they've shared their thoughts on your social media page they can just as easily share your response to their followers. 

"Social media isn't about dealing with technology it's about dealing with people, so all the hospitality industry training you've had about looking after customers should apply on social," she says. "It's not something suddenly different. It's the same, but potentially creating larger problems because of the scale of it."

So how can you ensure your business doesn't get caught up in a media storm through your social media response? Here are our top tips:

Think things through

Fewell and TripAdvisor spokesperson James Kay both think it is a good idea to take some time and think carefully before you respond to any comment or review, but don't leave it too long as silence can be just as harmful. 

Fewell says: "You do really need to think things through. If a journalist was asking you these questions, you'd think through before you gave an answer and you wouldn't do that immediate knee jerk reaction. Yes, you are going to take this personally, but we're professionals. We run businesses and therefore we need to think this is no different to speaking to a customer directly, or a journalist.

"When you're dealing people you've got to think about how they will respond. Sometimes a business can never recover from a quick reaction on social, so really think about it before you respond." 

"Take a deep breath. If needed, walk away for five minutes," advises Kay. "Then look at the review objectively with your team. What was the core problem that your guest experienced? Is this the first time you’ve seen this feedback or is a trend developing? Understanding the background situation can help you identify the root cause of any problem." 

Thank customers for feedback 

Critical, or negative reviews can actually be useful for a business so they, like positive reviews, should be responded to in a positive manner, suggests Kay. 

"Each review is a window into the guest experience at your property. Was a guest's room not cleaned thoroughly? Discuss it with your housekeeping staff and provide additional staff training if needed. Consideration, communication and implementation are how you turn feedback into a better experience for all future guests, which can have a significant influence on your TripAdvisor ratings and subsequently, your TripAdvisor ranking," he says.

Address customer concerns

Even if the review is negative, giving a positive response and addressing concerns will help the business's reputation. According to research by PhoCusWright, 87 per cent of TripAdvisor users agreed that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their impression of the hotel and 62 per cent of users agree that seeing hotel management responses to reviews makes them more likely to book the hotel.  

Kay says: "This is the business owner’s chance to explain what has been done to address problems so that the reviewer and potential guests are reassured that concerns are taken seriously, and that the property is willing to resolve problems. If there was a miscommunication during the guest’s stay, the Management Response is the operator’s chance to address the issue and clarify what may have caused the problem. However, it’s important not to take a defensive tone – responses should remain polite and professional." 

Integrate social media into your staff training

The power of social media should not be underestimated, says Fewell who believes that all members of staff within a business should be trained in how to use it. "In the past interaction would be just between a customer and a member of staff, but now we have social media that interaction, including any problems, can end up on social," she says. 

"What hospitality businesses are not very good at doing is training their whole team in how to use it. In the early days, a business might give it to a young person to look after because they get it, or they do it on top of their job, but there should really be more resource behind it.

"I don't think enough restaurants train their staff that all their actions can end up on social, so not only do they have to think about what they've said to customers on-site, but also about how any negativity is very likely to end up on social. Unfortunately too many hospitality businesses keep the idea of social away from staff instead of making it part of every day life."

Fewell recommends businesses follow the lead of The Ritz where the hotel's Twitter feed is on display to staff in the kitchens.  

"It's very forward-thinking, all staff see what's being said and can have a really positive impact as it can be used as an incentive as well as a training tool," she says. 

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