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No Swans on the River - Reflections of a Reluctant Landlady

Updated: Apr 17

In the hospitality industry, the power of customer feedback cannot be overstated. TripAdvisor, in particular, has been a pivotal platform where guests share their experiences, and savvy businesses showcase their response to feedback. When it is going well, it is great, but when it isn’t, it can cause massive reputational damage and impact on bookings/revenue.

However, there are lots of different platforms where feedback can be left,, Trustpilot, Google reviews etc and it is impossible to keep up with them all.

I quickly learnt that you had to grow a thick skin and not to take any negative reviews personally.  95% of reviews were great, we even got a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor, but we did get some negative ones, ranging from nit-picking to brutal. My favourite of all was “there were no swans on the river” – our first venue was called the Swan.  It was a shame there weren’t at the time of the guest’s visit as sometimes we had up to 20 but apart from tethering a couple, I don’t know what I could have done about it.  Mind you, the pub down the round was called the Pelican……..

Another review called our pub a death trap because they had rather naughtily looked in our fuse cupboard (which gives the Spaghetti Junction a run for its money but had been upgraded and certified as safe) and the housekeeper had propped open a fire door whilst she dragged laundry bags in and out. They also complained to the Fire Service who rang me to inform me, but also told me they were more than satisfied with our approach to fire safety from previous visits and would not take it any further, joking the guest was probably a frustrated wannabe fire officer. Reviews/complaints like that can leave a horrible taste.

Although I did not have time to respond to every review, I made time to respond to Trip Advisor and as these were our main sources of bookings.  In fact, one customer told me that they booked because of my review responses, showing that we cared about our reputation and our customer experience.

There are good and bad ways to respond to reviews, however, and here are some do's and don'ts: -

Do Ask Trip Advisor (or other) to Expunge Previous Reviews.  When you take on a business, it is imperative that you inform Trip Advisor who can give you a clean slate to work for, particularly important when previous reviews were dire.

Do Ask Review Sites to Remove Vexatious Reviews.  Whilst they may not always oblige, I managed to get some reviews taken down which we believed had been written by a competitor or were personally aimed a member of staff by a disgruntled ex.

Do Acknowledge Every Review on Platforms that Matter. Whether positive or negative, every review is an opportunity to show that you value feedback.

Do Show Empathy and Understanding. Acknowledging their feelings and showing understanding was crucial in turning negative reviews into positive future expectations.

Don't Ignore Negative Reviews. It signals to potential guests that their concerns might be overlooked and might give you insights in how to improve.

Do Offer Concrete Solutions. Responding with a generic apology was never enough. We aimed to offer specific solutions to the issues raised.

Don't Make Excuses. It was tempting to explain away a guest's bad experience by citing extenuating circumstances. However, we learned that excuses often made the business seem unaccountable.

Don't Be Defensive. Defensiveness in responses is a pitfall. It can escalate situations instead of calming them. Sometimes less is a more and an apology about how they feel can be more conducive than answering every point.

Do Personalise Responses. We demonstrated that we valued their feedback and had taken the time to understand their experience fully.

Don't Rely Solely on Templates. While templates can streamline the response process, over-reliance on them can make your replies seem insincere. We found a balance, using templates as a base but always personalizing to fit the specific feedback. I wish I had ChatGPT in those days!

Take the time to respond to key reviews as people will use them when deciding whether to book a meal/overnight stay with you.  However, I would not advise following in the footsteps of an Italian restaurant who found fame in the national press a year or two back after putting a rather sassy large chalk board outside their venue – it read “Come in and try the worst coffee one woman on TripAdvisor had in her life”.  Whilst it highlighted the plight of busy business owners dealing with often petty or unfounded complaints, and gave them their 15 minutes of fame, sarcasm is probably not the most effective long-term strategy!

If you need help in turning a hospitality business around, please get in touch to find out how Catalyst Coaches can help make a difference to your bottom line.

A drawing of a couple enjoying a glass of wine in front of a river, with a pelican and a swan hiding in the branches.


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