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Sabah Karimi

Major brands and corporations invest a significant amount of their marketing and operations budgets towards online reputation management. And even if you don't have millions to spend as a small business owner working in the tourism industry, you may may want to take a page from their book.

The need to monitor your online presence becomes abundantly clear when considering the stats: almost 90 percent of travelers are already surfing the web for signs of negative traveler experiences and low ratings, according to Statista. Results of a 2013 survey reveal that 86% of respondents in the United States confirmed that they "sometimes or always read online travel reviews before traveling." And, as experts at Alpen-Adria-Universität found, “negative reviews were regarded as being more trustworthy and more useful than positive reviews."

As a tour and activities operator, it is your responsibility to make sure those reviews are not hurting potential business. So to help you ward off negative reviews and resolve a situation before it turns into a full-fledged crisis, here are some of the best practices when handling negative reviews online.

Handling Negative Feedback on Online Review Sites

If your company is listed on business listing and review sites, you have the option of communicating with an irate customer directly or posting a response to their review or comments right on the site.

Your first course of action, though, is to respond to the commenter privately. Keep things professional by introducing yourself, acknowledging the commenter's concern, and providing a possible solution. In some cases, it makes sense to publicly acknowledge the situation and offer a solution that you know will benefit the customer. This approach tells prospective customers that the business cares about their customers and is more than willing to take steps to remedy the situation.

Another strategy for handling negative reviews on these sites—especially if you're receiving baseless reviews or attacks from an anonymous customer—is to encourage delighted customers to post on the same site, according to Inc.com. You could ask a customer to post a review before they leave for the day, hand out comment cards or a business card with information on where to post reviews, or simply send a follow-up email with a direct link to a review site you want to appear on. Encouraging happy customers to post positive reviews at every opportunity can enhance your online presence and negate some of the impact of negative reviews.

Managing Complaints via Twitter

Twitter allows an open channel of communication with current customers, prospective customers, complementary businesses, and industry professionals. But it's also an open channel for negative comments and feedback. Anybody can attach any message—whether it is based on a real experience or is posted to get your attention—with your Twitter handle and this will appear across multiple Twitter feeds and in basic search results.

If you are the target of negative feedback on Twitter, do what you can to respond to the sender privately. This may require "following" the individual first so that you can send a direct message through the Twitter platform and make an attempt to remedy the situation. If this doesn't work—or you are tagged in a series of negative comments—you may need to disengage altogether. Vertical Response recommends ignoring hostile comments but taking the time to respond to legitimate concerns. If a customer is simply berating the business or an employee without explaining what happened or requesting contact from management, they may just need to vent. If a customer talks in detail about a negative experience and requests a solution, this is your cue to step in and remedy the situation.

Don't be afraid to acknowledge that they are being heard and ask them for contact information—or provide them with a customer service phone number of email address—where you can address the issue privately. This will take communication out of the public feed and give both parties a chance to resolve the situation professionally.

Handling Negative Feedback on Facebook

If you maintain a Facebook Page for your business, encourage customers to post a rating and review of their experience shortly after their tour or activity experience. This helps to boost your ratings score when a prospective customer first "likes" your Facebook page. A series of positive reviews and high-star ratings may even deter some people from posting negative reviews since they will stand out among all the positive commenters.

If you do end up receiving a very poor star rating or someone posts a negative review directly on your Facebook Wall, you have three options: ignore them completely, delete the comment, or respond professionally privately and/or publicly.

Take a look at how Zappos, an online retailer, addressed a negative comment on Facebook. They responded to an angry customer with genuine concern and offered to do something to rectify the situation. This is one example of managing negative Facebook comments effectively. You can also "flip the script", as Shama Kabani, author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group, explains in an article published on Forbes: “Turn the comment around by highlighting your strengths", she says. This means you could simply apologize and highlight the fact that you have been providing highly-rated tours and activities for several years.

If you decide to delete the comment or ignore the comment, consider following up with the individual with a private message so they do not retaliate with more comments or point out that they are being ignored—a major snafu that could damage your online reputation.

If more than three-quarters of the traveling population is turning to online reviews before making a reservation, it's imperative that you monitor reviews and make sure your tour and activity business is presented in the best possible light. You need a strategy to handle any negative reviews or publicly-published complaints on review websites, as well as on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Use these tips to protect your online reputation and increase the chances of more bookings each season.

About ZOZI

ZOZI Advance® is the fastest growing web-based bookings, payments and customer management software for tour, activity, rental, and event businesses. Thousands of businesses across 50 countries trust ZOZI Advance to power their passions. These businesses have access to ZOZI's member base of nearly 5 million customers who visit ZOZI.com® to discover and book local activities and travel getaways. The company was recently named #17 on Forbes' Most Promising Companies in America list of 2015, one of Entrepreneur Magazine's “100 Brilliant Companies" and one of America's Best Places to Work for four years in a row.

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