The ‘Clap Back’: how a one-star review can be your most valuable

It is hardly news that a professional review can make or break a hospitality business’s reputation. However, the continued rise of platforms like TripAdvisor and, more broadly speaking, social media has completely changed the game.  Now, everyone is a potential reviewer.

I have myself publicly posted far from complimentary reviews of rancid crab cakes, among other things, and regularly tweet my rage at various train companies, so it’s fair to say I have some experience in online customer relations outside of work.

Customer experience should be the standard by which any establishment is judged so, from a consumer stand point, the crowd-sourcing of reviews makes sense. It has however launched the genre of the ‘bad TripAdvisor review’ and its inevitable successor (a close relative of the viral Twitter clap back) ‘the bad TripAdvisor review response’ to a seemingly insatiable public audience.

So how much can a bad review hurt your business, and is there a right way to deal with it? The response tool for businesses on review platforms allows you to provide a thought through and carefully crafted answer, a luxury not previously afforded to those on the painful end of a scathing review.

Negative reviews are inevitable, but it’s the way you respond that’s crucial. Take the below review, for example, which at first read presents a very bad image of the hotel concerned:

From a PR standpoint, this places the hotel in a precarious situation. From a reader’s perspective it stands out from the other 4.5 star ratings pretty distinctly. Ignoring the review is not an option when the chance to respond is available, because to a casual reader leaving such criticism unaddressed is akin to admitting its validity.

It is important to keep replies polite and personal: the pro forma ‘please email so and so, who’ll be pleased never to respond’ is a shoddy and transparent way of ducking your responsibilities, and doesn’t give you a chance to publicly address or counter any claims made against your establishment.

Now for the response from the hotel:

This is a perfect example of a seemingly terrible experience being given its flip side, and exposing it as a subjective, and perhaps extreme, point of view.  The response doesn’t actually address the issue at hand, because it doesn’t need to. The original complaint is now far less compelling in the eyes of potential customers.

It should be said that Twitter is a playground for more risqué responses, but be wary. A poorly worded joke highlighted by someone with a large following can have the absolute opposite of the intended effect, leaving a bad taste in the mouth before a potential customer has even tried the food.

Cultivating an online persona, or engaging a specialist firm to do so on your behalf, is key to retaining an exemplary reputation and attracting new customers. Reviews are the new shopfront – make sure your display looks as it should or risk would-be customers walking right past.

Google your own establishment and see: the link to your TripAdvisor reviews often sits just below, or sometimes even above, your own website in Google’s search results.

The internet is information and entertainment combined and, let’s be honest, we all check the bad reviews first.

By Fred Hay, consultant at specialist PR and social media firm Uprise PR

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