Five Steps to Building and Protecting an Online Reputation

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When I worked for Marriott’s Hotel Division in the 80’s, I used to read and process thousands of customer comment cards submitted by hotel guests. These were the usual check-off cards with questions about every aspect of the guest’s stay and boxes to rate from excellent to poor. There was also a section to write a comment in detail. Part of my job was to respond personally, on behalf of Mr. Marriott, to anyone who rated one of the hotels “fair” or “poor” or wrote a negative comment.

Customers had a lot to say, and we worked very hard to turn them around so they felt good about the Marriott brand in the end. It was an effective tool for feedback and it was anonymous—for the customer and the hotel. The cards were shared only with the hotel’s executive committee. Those were the days when there was some control over opinion and information—before cell phones, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The days of privacy and discretion seem to have vanished with social networking, the Internet, cell phones with cameras and video capability. What is said or done in one moment can be broadcast around the world in the next. A hotel can no longer control its image and reputation through discreet communications with a disgruntled customer or a slick marketing program. With online sites like, customers have found their voice and are able to write their comments for the entire world to see.

It has been reported that 97% of all people who purchase goods or services first do research online. That means a high percentage of potential hotel guests are looking for comments or reviews on a property before they make a reservation. Once a review is posted, it is out there. Here are five ways a hotel can protect its online reputation or repair it once it is tarnished.

1. It’s true that more people are motivated by a negative experience, so the best defense is a good offense. Delivering exceptional service in a well-maintained property will give guests little to complain about.
2. Ask for feedback at checkout. Some guests won’t complain, but if asked about their stay they may share something that fell short. You then have an opportunity to correct a situation and send them home happy.
3. Encourage happy guests to post positive comments, provide them with the URLs of review sites, and track those guests who give positive reviews.
4. Respond to each negative review online, and customize the response. Just posting the same canned “we’re sorry” every time does more harm than good.
5. Share online reviews regularly with your executive team and staff. Look for trends and make improvements in your property or service to prevent future negative comments.

Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR, is a consultant, blogger, motivational speaker and freelance writer for Based in Savannah, GA, her work has appeared in Training magazine, Training & Development magazine, Supervision, BiS Magazine and The Savannah Morning News. When she’s not writing, she enjoys singing Alto II with the Savannah Philharmonic Chorus and helping clients discover what they love and spend their life on it. You can read more of her blogs at and view additional job postings on Nexxt.

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