Monthly Archives: February 2010

Dealing with negative feedback and reviews

It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. What we need to ask is what led to this customer’s perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way.

The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer’s point of view. Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you’ve made if appropriate.

Whatever the feedback you receive, listen and learn from it.  Keep your objectivity and don’t take things personally. Use the feedback to identify your strengths, so you can capitalise on these.  And make sure you share these with your team.   Then use the less positive feedback to identify root causes and what changes are needed, and remember to involve your team in the process.

So next time someone wants to give some feedback, look forward to it. It’s the businesses that embrace feedback that will succeed.

Do you dread reading your online reviews?

Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they’ve a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many of your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.

Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.

It’s considered unethical to offer incentives, such as room discounts, in exchange for positive reviews. But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notification. A quick thank you in acknowledgement might be all you need for a positive review or feedback.

With negative feedback it’s important to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. By asking them to phone you provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation.

Don’t be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests.

Watch out too for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can respond accordingly.

Caroline Cooper

Download the full article on Making the Most of your Feedback and Reviews and other free articles

How to ask for feedback

Make it easy for your customers to give you the feedback you need.

Ask direct open questions

Making statements such as “I hope you enjoyed your meal” or “was everything all right for you?” is not likely to get the customer to open up. We need to ask specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example how would you rate …, how could we improve on …, what did you like most about …

Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don’t agree with feedback you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem.

Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except maybe when they’re really unhappy about something. Questionnaires can help you rectify your mistakes, but they often dwell on negatives rather than positives. Although face to face will always be preferably some people will always be reluctant to feedback first hand so don’t dismiss them altogether.

Visitors Books on the other hand are another good way of capturing general feedback.  Although they may not go into specifics, they provide a great record for other to see and people will often write things that they would not say directly to you.

Make the best of the positive comments you receive and ask your guest if they would be happy to use these as testimonials in your marketing – prospective customers like to see social proof.

Also take note of the language your guests use to describe what they like. Capitalise on this information and use the same language it in your marketing.

Talk to your guests

Simply relying on questionnaires or a visitor’s book when your guests leave is not only impersonal, but is  leaving it a bit too late to get feedback if things weren’t perfect.  You need to talk to your guests throughout their stay.

Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective and ideally we need to get feedback before it’s too late to do something about it. If what you have provided fails to meet expectations you’d rather know about it before the guest leaves so you can resolve it, rather than waiting for them to put their comments on TripAdvisor.

As well is asking at the end of each course, the meal or their stay, be observant and look out for signs that things aren’t right or that someone wants to get your attention. For example if a diner has hardly touched their steak but eaten everything else that might suggest there was a problem with the steak. Or you hear a guest complaining about the temperature of their room to others in their party; this probably suggests something that needs investigating.

Being visible in your hotel or restaurant, and making contact with your guests builds rapport and trust. Once you’ve gained this you’re in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand.  The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your guests. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with feedback – good or bad – in a positive way.

Bare in mind your guests will tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your staff, and vice versa.  So ask your staff what feedback they have received, and listen to their ideas on how to make improvements and how to capitalise on positive feedback and your strengths.

Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to ask for feedback. Or download the full article here (log in or sign up required)

Why listening to customer feedback is key to your business

Do you look forward to reading your online reviews, or does the very idea that someone has felt compelled to post a review fill you with dread?

Getting feedback from your guests is essential to gauge whether or not what you’re offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not it is key to your success.

So why is it then that so many businesses seem to ignore this fact?

Maybe part of it (in Britain at least) is that customers are often reserved about giving direct feedback. They take the view that it’s not worth making a fuss, or why should they bother, when they can vote with their feet and just not come back again. Others by pass you, but still want to be heard and post a comment on line.

Unless we get people’s feedback we can’t do anything about it.

What feedback do we need?

  • What things customers like – so you can keep doing them
  • What are the things that disappoint, irritate, or annoy them – so you can correct them
  • What are the things that make them choose to stay, dine or drink with you rather than your competitors – so you can use this as a selling point to differentiate yourselves
  • What are the things that are their biggest priority or they value the most – so you can promote them
  • How do they think you could improve – so you can make those improvements
  • What factors would encourage them to come again

Tomorrow we’ll discuss when to ask for feedback, so you get in time to do something about it and before you see it posted online . Or download the full article here (log in or sign up required)

When the cheque isn’t in the post ~

Ten Top Tips To Beat Late Payment

If you have business customers you will often be expected to invoice rather than taking payment at the time of their visit. Late payment is a problem for any business and in the current economic downturn there is a worsening climate of late payments and bad debts, and the associated impact on cash flow. How many times have we been told “The cheque’s in the post”?  It is reported that 59% of small and medium sized enterprises encounter difficulties with outstanding debts, with 33% claiming that customers’ failure to pay on time risks the survival of their business.  Despite the fact that you have a right to charge interest for late payment at 8% above the Bank of England’s reference rate, do we really want it to get to this stage?  Here are a few things you can do to avoid getting to this:

Credit check your customers

Check out their ability to pay before you confirm big bookings, or agree to credit. Speak to your accountant about th best ways to do this, which might include via their bank, credit reference agencies, or some of their existing suppliers.  Further financial information may be obtained from Companies House or the Institute of Credit Management.  Consider bi-annual checks for existing customers.

Diversify your customer base

Having all your eggs in one basket can be risky.  If this one customer runs into difficulties or fails to pay, this will have a far bigger impact on you than if your business is spread over a number of customers.

Agree payment terms in advance

Ensure you discuss payment terms at the outset, and record the agreed payment schedules.  If invoicing for any of the services or expenditure up front, ensure you set a precedent and ask for this before you start work or deliver.  Then ensure that payment dates are clear on each and every invoice.

Split invoices

When you have supplying over and above what was included in your original quote (e.g. extra covers, or additional bar bills), invoice the two amounts separately.  This means that if any amounts are then in dispute, the main invoice (which should match your quote) will not be held up, only the variations.

Invoice on time

Your customers won’t pay until they receive the invoice.  If payment terms are for example 14 days from invoice, it stands to reason, the longer you leave it to send the invoice the longer you will need to wait to be paid.  But there are other reasons to invoice promptly.  The longer the time gap between providing the service and receiving the invoice, the more likely the customer will forget the value they have received and the more likely they are to question or challenge items.  It also reflects the professionalism of your business – if you don’t take the effort to invoice on time what message does this send the customer about the importance of being paid promptly?  Make sure you have a system in place to ensure invoices are sent within days of completion, or for on going business on the specified day each month.

Put controls in place

Set up a system, which ensures you know at any one time what is due in this week, and what is outstanding.   I come from a sector of the industry where everyone’s performance was measured by ‘debtor days’ – the number of days’ debt outstanding at any one time.  This was published to all client managers on a daily basis, and it was their job to ensure that anyone who had not paid in 30 days (our specified payment terms) was followed up immediately.  It doesn’t need to be anything complicated, just a spreadsheet, which someone has a responsibility to monitor daily.

Make payment simple

Ensure that payment methods are simple.  If you encourage payment on line how easy is it for customers to set up a payment.  I have had a number of different suppliers recently who have either failed to give bank details, or who use a third party to monitor payments, where it is not clear what details to put into the payee section.  If paying by cheque, is it clear who to make the cheque out to, and where to send the cheque?  And how easy is it for you to monitor your bank account to check who has paid, and which invoice this relates to?

Communicate with customers

If payment is due, speak to the customer!  We complain to everyone that so and so has not paid, but have we actually asked for the money?  Sometimes it is a genuine over sight, and other times they are just putting it off to help their own cash flow, but rest assured if we don’t chase your invoice will be bottom of the pile.   This does not need to be done in an aggressive way, simply pick up the phone and ask the question “I noticed that you have not yet paid your invoice, which was due yesterday.  Can you tell me when we will receive payment?”  Be prepared for any ‘excuses’ and have your response ready; remain polite, but firm.   Identify who holds the purse strings and initiates payments, and build rapport with them.  Note I have said to phone – it’s far harder to ignore than a letter or e-mail, and you know for certain that they have received the message.  Better still, call in if they are local.  If you are worried about damaging your relationship, get someone else to call, who can be detached and objective.

Spot potential problems early

Don’t rest on your laurels.  Just because you have called once, keep checking for payment and keep calling.

If the theme of late payment continues try phoning them before the date it is due – “Hello, Jo, I just wanted to remind you that your invoice is due this week.  To help me monitor my cash flow, it would be useful to know which day I will receive your cheque”, or something along these lines. – This just acts as a reminder and lets them know you are monitoring it.  It is also implied that payment is only a day or two away, not weeks.

Keep any eye on customers’ behaviour – are they acting differently?  Are they suddenly difficult to get hold of?  Are they sending post-dated cheques?  Remember, prevention is better than cure.

How it impacts them

Let them know the implications of late payment.  We may not want to resort to threats, but make customers aware that failure to pay you may mean that you can’t hold their rooms or confirm their next booking until they are up to date with their payments.  If you say this you need to be prepared to carry out.  Their late payment could also potentially mean that you are unable to pay suppliers or your staff, which in turn could have a knock on effect on the quality of service they receive.  Letting them know how it will affect them is sometimes enough to prompt some action.

Look at options

If a customer is struggling themselves and simply cannot pay you in full consider the options.  If this a long term agreement you may not want to take the risk, but it is better to have some money than none, so discuss what they can give you now and when they will be able to pay the balance.

How prepared are you for an emergency?

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a Project Argus for hotels event.

Project Argus Hotels is a counter terrorism training workshop designed by the National Counter Terrorism Security Office and the Hotel Industry and provides information and advice to assist you in planning for and dealing with a terrorist or other catastrophic event.  The training is targeted at General/Duty Managers, Chief Engineers, Restaurant Managers, House Keeping Managers and their deputies.

Although the focus is around minimising the risk and the handling of terrorist attacks I felt there were many salient points covered during the session which would make generally good practice for any hotel, restaurant, bar or conference centre.

We all put systems in place for cleaning, cashing up, what to do in the event of fire, but how many of us go beyond the fire evacuation procedure? Would any of us know what do or have the resources in place to deal with something such as an explosion (terrorist or otherwise), a serious road accident outside the premises, a robbery, or even a power cut at seven o’clock on a busy February morning. (We heard from one hotel manager who had experiences an armed robbery at the end of a busy Saturday night – scary stuff!)

Okay, I admit that these might all call that different actions, but there were a number of ways we can prepare for these events which at the very least might give you a bit less stress should they occur, and may help to minimise the impact on our customers.

Obviously I am far from qualified to write about counter terrorism, but here are some of the things I picked out from the workshop that could be of benefit to any site in an emergency situation.

Emergency kit/grab bag(s)

Keep an emergency kit or grab bag behind reception, or somewhere where it can be accessed by anyone at any time in an emergency and can be found easily even if you have no lighting. Contents of the bag might include such things as:

  • Windup radio (unless it regularly used batteries may go flat or corrode)
  • Torch (windup)
  • Bottled water
  • High visibility jacket
  • Space blanket

Incident management plan

This might include such sections as:

  • Roles and responsibilities detailing specific tasks for team members
  • Emergency contacts list
  • Non emergency contact numbers e.g. local police station
  • Utility Companies
  • Suppliers who may assist
  • Key staff
  • Business partners

Staff training

It’s one thing having procedures written down but staff need to know the procedures: how to raise the alarm if necessary, who to contact first, where information and emergency resources can be found. Your guests or customers will look to you and your team for direction and information.

As with your fire drill, run refresher training on a regular basis.

The aftershock

Depending on the circumstances be prepared for:

  • Staff absenteeism through injury or shock
  • Is there a need for counselling (I have first hand experience here from a near fatal accident when a member of our team tried to prevent a car theft from the car park – several people – myself included were stunned by the event. The KP in question was off for 12 months, and was very lucky to have pulled through.)
  • Reputation – word travels fast, so how you handle the event can have an impact on your reputation as an employer, as well as with customers and suppliers
  • Communicate after the event with anyone who may be affected e.g. suppliers, future bookings, etc

Prevention is better than cure

  • Be vigilant – report anything suspicious, and take staff or customers’ reports seriously
  • Don’t invite crime by sloppy security or poor asset management
  • Have set security procedures in place which might include checking of identity cards for maintenance contractors, records of vehicle registration numbers of suppliers, keeping unoccupied offices and rooms, and unattended entrances locked, tamper proof seals on maintenance hatches, keeping surveillance views clear from barriers and vegetation
  • Good housekeeping as well as improving the appearance of premises, reduces the risk of accidents, fire and opportunities for placing suspicious items, so helping to cut down on false alarms and hoaxes

Contact your local police force and ask for the Counter Terrorism Security Officer for more information.