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How the Four Seasons Hotel Maintains Top TripAdvisor Ratings


When deciding where to stay on the next family vacation or business trip, many flock to TripAdvisor for its user-generated reviews. The website’s ranking system, the Popularity Index, is based on quantity, quality and recency of customer reviews, so the marketing goal becomes obvious for hotels: get more, better and up-to-date reviews, which studies show impart the most powerful sense of value for consumers.

The Four Seasons Hotel in Austin has developed a winning strategy toward this end. The management actively responds to reviews to show they value feedback. But responses also entice others to write their own reviews, and it works; the hotel jumped 26 spots on TripAdvisor to become the highest-rated hotel in the city in less than three years.

The Four Seasons brand has a reputation for quality worldwide, and exceptional customer service will always be the best way to gain positive reviews. But, General Manager Rob Hagelberg says, engaging reviewers is a major factor keeping the Austin hotel on top.

Here we present the processes and best practices the Four Seasons management follows when responding to TripAdvisor reviews.

Leverage Listening Technology to Identify New Reviews

The Austin Four Seasons’ effort to respond to reviews started about two and a half years ago, when the hotel dropped from 20th to 27th on TripAdvisor’s Popularity Index for Austin hotels. In response, the management team began monitoring social media mentions, adding more links to TripAdvisor in emails to elicit reviews and most importantly, responding to reviews.

However, Hagelberg needed a means for surfacing new mentions. So, he subscribed to Revinate.

Revinate is designed to track and notify hotel managers whenever their brand is mentioned across Twitter, Facebook and TripAdvisor (among other sites). It also shows daily reports on reviews, compares reviews with competitors’ and offers metrics like rate of response.

Kerri Holden, senior director of public relations, can view a monthly scorecard on Revinate that shows how many reviews the hotel has received, how many responses they’ve posted, number of Facebook “likes,” Google “+1s” and new Twitter followers with percentage changes.

Tracking and comparing reviews with Revinate

Using these tools to instantly track reviews and mentions on social media gives management the extra time to draft a response before the 24-hour deadline the corporate office put in place.

Enforce a Deadline for Responding to Negative Reviews

Four Seasons’ corporate office encourages managers to respond to a negative review of three stars or less within 24 hours of its posting. This mitigates the possibility that other customers will see an unanswered review.

Holden says she gets daily review reports from Revinate or TripAdvisor in the morning, and upon receiving a review, she immediately consults with Hagelberg if he is on-site. Using details provided in the review, they gather any employees who are responsible for the departments that received complaints. This helps them track down more details about the guest and their complaint.

“Many of the reviews give great feedback with lots of detail. Let’s say the review mentions poor pool service, for example. I’ll forward the alert to the general manager or hotel manager and the pool supervisor,” Holden says. “The more information we have and if we can find out who the guest is, those things help us to be able to understand the situation better.”

In one example (shown below), a guest complains of waiting 55 minutes for food poolside during her stay at the hotel and not getting what was ordered when it finally arrived. Holden explains that the response included Hagelberg and the pool supervisor, who noted that the guest stayed during the transition period from spring to summer, which could have attributed to the delay in service.

TripAdvisor Pool Review

With that information, Holden says the management looked into when and how they could better transition into the summer season without affecting service. By identifying details of the problem, Hagelberg was able to address the issue in a response to the review and begin improvements.

By gathering the details of every negative experience, the staff is able to evaluate procedures and offerings and identify areas where training is needed to ensure guests are more likely to leave a positive review.

Devise a Specific Content Structure for Your Response

Hagelberg has worked in various positions in the hotel management industry for 30 years. He remembers responding to negative reviews before the Internet, and says the philosophy is the same whether it’s on a computer or a handwritten comment card. The only difference now is that the reviews are public, so acknowledging feedback is more important than ever.

His replies to less-than-stellar TripAdvisor reviews follow a distinct structure that both apologizes for disappointing the customer, and proves the Four Seasons management taking specific steps to rectify the problem. This ensures that there is consistency across all of their responses. This structure includes the following elements:

  1. Thank the customer for their time writing a review
  2. Acknowledge any positive comments
  3. Apologize for the specific complaint or issue
  4. Explain a specific, forward-looking plan of how the hotel will fix the problem
  5. Invite the customer to come back

Let’s look at a recent example:

Negative TripAdvisor Review

Above, you can see Hagelberg thanks the customer for the feedback and acknowledges that the customer was impressed by the staff, the view from the hotel and the food. He then offers his apologies for the unmet expectations in the room and bathroom.

He then quickly targets his response toward the customer’s specific complaints—they say the room was small and obstructive. Hagelberg explains that upcoming renovations will make the rooms spacious and more functional. Responding with this format allows Hagelberg to engage the guest in a conversational but effective way that keeps the message casual and addresses the customer’s specific issues.

“Feedback comes in a lot of different forms and is critical in refining our operations or in changing a procedure or practice because something isn’t as effective as it could be,” Hagelberg says.

Often, he will also include an invitation for the customer to call him and discuss the matter further. While only about one or two people take him up on the offer each month, Hagelberg says it’s another way to demonstrate that the hotel is committed to constant improvement.

Respond to Positive Reviews With a Personalized Message

Responding to the positive reviews can be invaluable as well. Corporate doesn’t ask individual Four Seasons hotel managers to respond to positive reviews, but Hagelberg chooses to, and potential customers have shown they’re more likely to stay at a hotel with managerial responses.

When determining which positive review to reply to, he picks one that compliments his employees or simply one that makes him smile.

“Or maybe one where we’ve gone out of our way to do something special, like one staff member who picked up on something that makes the stay special,” he says.

In his response to positive reviews, such as the one shown below, Hagelberg takes a similar approach as with the negative review. He thanks the guest for the review and reiterates the value he finds in feedback. Next, he provides a personal touch—wishing the reviewer a happy belated birthday and relating to a favorite Austin-specific activitywhich he says is the key to a great hotel experience.

Positive TripAdvisor Review

Even though the review is very positive, to finish out the response, Hagelberg pinpoints a complaint about the guest not having a coffee maker in the room and offers to provide one when the guest returns. This is just another way he creates a sense of consideration important in attracting new customers.

Create a Memorable Experience from the Beginning

Positive reviews don’t come without hard work to make a customer’s stay as comfortable and accommodating as possible. Most positive comments about the hotel, Hagelberg says, mention an emotional connection the staff was able to establish through consideration and responsiveness to the customer.

“The best tip is to think like the guest, put on their shoes, and respond positively,” he says.

Image created by Andrew Hyde.

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Taylor Short

About the Author

Taylor Short has worked as a reporter and writer for six years, focusing on local coverage of city governments, businesses, schools and police. Taylor tutored students in English and writing at Austin Community College and freelanced for Reuters News Agency before joining Software Advice in Fall 2013.

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