We thought we ought to let everyone know the most frequently commented-upon failings amongst the thousands of reviews our moderators see every month. It may help you and your staff avoid the avoidable and develop strategies to manage the unavoidable...
- Room size: approximately half of all the hotel stock in London is made up of Victorian housing converted to hotel use after WW2, most of which is listed grade 2. The rooms below ground floor or above the second floor were originally servants quarters, but try explaining that to guests used to purpose-built US hotels. Solution: Again, privately offer the guest a larger room when they return (you may want to make this conditional - on dates or advance booking, for example) or even an upgrade. Note: in a subcategory of this complaint come the following: lack of hanging space, small bathroom, no space for luggage etc.
- Car parking and parking charges: Bad in major European cities, worse in London, hotels need to make sure that guests arriving by car know the limitations for their property. We have one client lucky enough to have parking for 30 guests, but they have 90% occupancy of over 120 rooms, so not all guests always get a space. The hotel charges, reasonably (from a commercial point-of-view) explaining (to us) that they would rather earn £X from a significant proportion of their guests than have to provide free parking and still have some disappointed guests. Solution: It's a question of communication. If you make everything clear on your website and then tactfully refer to this most guests will retract their complaint.
- No 'room with a view' (or a room with a view: of the air-conditioning plant). One of the less-publicised effects of the move away from direct booking is the reduced communication between guest and hotel that that imposes. The guest assumes they're going to get a perfect room (just like the one on the hotel's website) when we all know that there's an enormous variety of rooms in almost every hotel (one of our directors regularly stays in a 60 room hotel in Paris with an awful online reputation because he always books direct to ensure that he has one of their rooms that doesn't face the street - market sets up at 5 am five days a week - and is well-away from their conference centre that consistently blights two whole floors until 1 am). Solution: encourage direct booking 'next time' and, in order to head off similar complaints, encourage direct booking on your website (it stuns us that so few hotels do this)
- Renovations: it's a brave hotel that 'does a Savoy' and closes completely for renovations. But we have yet to see a hotel website that warns guests that a team of Polish builders will be renovating the room next door to the honeymoon suite at 8 a m sharp! Solution: here's another example of where a private communication works for both parties (you're never going to offer free nights on TripAdvisor), simply offer an upgrade (away from the renovations) on the guest's next stay
- Charging for wi-fi: we understand that you signed that contract that still has 18 months to run, but this causes more complaints than any other single thing, across all our clients who still charge extra for wi-fi. Solution: this is a great example of where addressing a complaint in private enables you to offer a solution you wouldn't want to publish on TripAdvisor: a refund (ask yourself whether you would rather retain that guest's custom and deflect a negative review).
- Star Ratings: universally misunderstood by the overwhelming majority of guests. Many complaints focus on star ratings, along the lines of "simply not what we expected from a four star hotel". It's unsurprising, given that the hotel industry has never universally agreed what constitutes an X star hotel. Star ratings are often viewed as an indicator of service standards when they relate to facilities. Solution: Explain the star rating in your response.
- Unfulfilled promises: one of the most frequent 'low level' complaints, which simply refer to 'I asked the front desk for...(and was ignored)' or 'I was promised an upgrade (and didn't get it)'. This complaint easily escalates into what we call a 'loaded review' where the guest then finds fault with everything from the bath plug to the colour of the wallpaper. Solution: Unreserved apology, it's as simple as that. Again, easy in private, and it avoids the only other option: apologising in public (or using the old 'please contact me at your convenience' message we see so often on TA)
- Cancellation (Not reading T&Cs): No better guarantee of a 1 star review. No-one reads the small print on OTA websites when they book, and the vitriol that flows when they don't get a full refund is a sight to behold. Solution: Every case ought to be considered on its merits; many hotels suffered during the Icelandic 'ash cloud' in 2010, but did one really have to enforce cancellation charges on someone who couldn't make his daughter's wedding? Treat every case on its merits and be wary of enforcing a blanket 'no refunds' policy - it will stand out in reviews
- The disappointed regular: They didn't get their favourite room, a member of staff didn't recognise them on check-in. Solution: Unreserved apology, and a promise of future upgrade every time.
- Not matching the website: a difficult one this, sometimes the guest has a valid point: the room(s) on the website show a sea view and are huge, the room allocated looked out over the refuse cans and was tiny; sometimes hairs are split. But, yet again, the question has to be: do you want to deflect a negative and retain the guest's future custom. If the answer is yes, then the Solution has to be to apologise, and depending on the scale of the (perceived) disparity, offer an incentive on their next stay
It's so important to note that, while you might rightly assume that your potential guest can 'read through' the majority of published negatives, that the impact on your ranking (TA) or rating (Booking.com) will be the exactly the same for a trivial complaint as a major one - a 1 star is a 1 star, whatever the nature. Dialogue is so successful at deflecting those negatives (it would almost certainly have enabled the hotel to privately manage at least 8 out of the 10 shown here), for everyone's benefit; it's one of its features we are most proud of.