Like it or not, online customer reviews can make or break a business’s reputation. Ski areas are no exception. Once upon a time, a customer who had a disappointing experience on your mountain might rant to a couple of friends upon returning home. These days, however, disgruntled guests have the ability to spread vitriol to tens of thousands of people with just one tweet, Facebook post, or TripAdvisor review. The result? Loss of revenue and a tarnished character, if left unchecked.
Online reviews have become deeply entrenched in today’s digital landscape. According to travel industry research firm Phocuswright, 93 percent of tourists worldwide make vacation bookings based on information obtained from online reviews. And consumers put a lot of faith in their fellow travelers’ commentary—according to research by marketing software firm BrightLocal, more than 8 in 10 trust online reviews as much as they do personal recommendations from friends or neighbors. What’s more, potential customers read an average of 10 reviews before they feel they can trust a business.
Though it may seem daunting, you don’t have to sit back and let customers drive your resort’s reputation. By paying attention to, and participating in, discussions taking place on review sites and social media, resorts can shape public perception in a way that both builds business and bolsters character.
Reputation Management 101
So what is “reputation management,” anyway? It’s the sum of all the parts, says Andy Beal, CEO of Reputation Refinery, an online reputation management service provider. “Your online reputation is the sum of all conversations, reviews, feedback, complaints, likes, and shares that appear online,” says Beal. “Managing that reputation requires persistence and consistency, and involves monitoring, reporting, and reacting to that narrative.”
You don’t want your resort’s online reputation to be incongruent with its real-life awesomeness. And the best way to avoid that is by responding to negative feedback promptly and professionally, making sure that the voice of the resort is heard loud and clear above the public feedback loop.
Where to Begin?
Overseeing your ski area’s “e-rep” can be an overwhelming task. According to Kelsey Tonner, founder of the Online Tourism Academy and Be a Better Guide Project—both online training regimes for tour companies—the first order of business is to claim your resort’s profiles across digital platforms by registering as a representative of your business. This includes Google My Business, the most oft-overlooked review area.
Registering as a business representative on review sites allows you to put your best foot forward, curating the information and media content potential customers see when they search for your resort. It also enables you to receive notifications when reviews are posted so that you can stay on top of things. And perhaps most importantly, it allows you to post a public response, which can quickly turn a negative review positive. Tonner suggests focusing on sites on which your resort consistently receives reviews. If the bulk of your feedback is coming from TripAdvisor, for example, don’t waste a lot of time on Yelp.
Another way to maximize your time and resources is to understand your target audience. For example, 69 percent of Snapchat users are age 13-17, while 78 percent of Facebook users are age 30-49. “Not every target audience is found in the same place,” says Beal. “Know the customers you want to attract, learn where they’re spending their time online, and maintain a presence on those sites and social channels. It’s good to have accounts on all the major social platforms, but that doesn’t mean you always need to be actively promoting yourself there.”
Pick Your Team
It’s essential that you designate a staff member or team to field online reviews and social media commentary. How many people fulfill this role will likely depend on the size of your resort, but having a system in place in which specific staff monitors various internet conversations makes a big difference. Be sure that person or people understand your ski area’s core values, so responses to digital feedback clearly convey brand messaging.
Jessica Jacobi, director of digital marketing at Aspen Ski Company, outlined Skico’s strategy for doing exactly that. Jacobi says her entire team goes through brand guideline training when they start out. “For general feedback and comments, our entire team knows how to respond,” says Jacobi. “But when comments get to be operation specific, that’s when we’ll contact [the appropriate] department and ask for feedback on how to respond. We work together to be sure we’re responding the right way.”
At Utah’s Snowbasin, which has a robust online presence, communications and events specialist Megan Collins is the spokesperson for the resort’s brand and is also responsible for monitoring its digital reputation. The latter required some reps before Collins earned autonomy. “When I first started out responding to reviews, my manager actually approved them before I sent them out,” she says. “But at this point, four years in, my supervisors trust that I will respond from the brand.”
At smaller resorts with fewer staff, management often wears multiple hats, which sometimes include monitoring reviews. Case in point is Vermont’s Magic Mountain, where on any given day, ski area president Geoff Hatheway might be overseeing the repair of a snowmaking pipe, drafting the mountain’s alpine update, and making time to check on social media and review sites.
Hatheway’s strategy focuses on using advance communication to prevent disappointment: If bad weather or other issues are going to negatively impact operations and/or the guest experience, Magic uses its online channels to give everyone a heads-up so they know what to expect. “It’s a hard task for a small area to stay on top of,” says Hatheway. “We’re not perfect here, and we don’t pretend to be perfect, but if you’re open and honest, people have a better understanding about things ahead of them.”
Keep Your Eye on the Ball
If your ski area has a great reputation, it’s easy to think you can coast. But left unchecked, negative reviews can snowball quickly.
Here’s a scenario: A disgruntled guest voices a complaint on Twitter while on-mountain, but because no one was monitoring the resort’s Twitter feed, the guest didn’t receive a response. Upon returning home, your frustrated guest turns to TripAdvisor and writes a long-winded, negative review about the same incident. Then the guest leaves the same post on Google. People respond to the guest’s comments on these various platforms, and the conversation blows up. Before you know it, a journalist catches wind of the discussion and the story is on the five o’clock news.
What’s the lesson here? Resorts need to be paying attention. Something that would have been a quick fix had it been dealt with promptly becomes much more difficult to rectify after the situation goes rogue.
Let’s back up a bit further. Why did this unhappy guest turn to Twitter in the first place? “Most of the time the reason for that is because there was no on-site mechanism in place to lodge a complaint,” says Beal. “There was no employee around or concierge to reach via text.” Because of this, the issue couldn’t be resolved quickly on site before it made its way onto social media. An ounce of prevention can go a long way…but that’s a different article.
Respond, Respond, Respond
Prompt replies to reviews and social comments demonstrate that resort management cares about the experiences of both their current and future guests. According to Phocuswright, 84 percent of review site users feel that an appropriate management response to a bad review improves their view of the business.
Additionally, the more engaged your team is, the more likely it is that consumers will trust your resort and book a ski trip. According to a TripAdvisor study, properties that respond to 50 percent of their reviews increase the likelihood of receiving a booking inquiry by 24 percent.
“You want to think of management responses as another touchpoint between you and your guests,” says Tonner. “Remember, you’re not only responding to the guest who wrote the review. You’re responding to the thousands of potential customers who are using that review—and your response to it—to help them decide whether or not to visit your resort.”
Aspen’s Jacobi agrees. “People need to remember that being responsive is really important,” she says. “If someone says something negative in a review or on social media and you don’t respond, that’s almost as bad as responding unprofessionally. Customers are really looking for those one-to-one interactions.”
You’ve claimed your profiles, designated staff, and established a digital presence. Your ski area has begun to garner a slew of online reviews. Some of those are negative. Some seem unwarranted. Others sound reasonable. But what are the key components of an appropriate, effective response?
Take a positive approach. First and foremost, thank the reviewer for their feedback, and let them know that you’re genuinely sorry that their experience didn’t meet expectations. Then, highlight any positives that might have been mentioned in the review. Doing so shows future guests that despite the unsatisfactory review, the situation wasn’t all bad, and helps begin to repair your reputation.
Be apologetic. Acknowledging what went wrong and apologizing for the situation comes next. For example, “We’re so sorry to hear that your experience at our rental shop wasn’t up to our usual high standards.” Follow that by expressing your desire to make the situation right and offer to take the conversation offline, providing the email address or phone number of a specific person with whom the guest can discuss the experience further. This step is essential. It reassures potential customers that you care about your guests and work to fix issues so others won’t have a similar experience. Plus, the last thing you want to do is lose control of the discussion by continuing it on a public review forum.
Stay calm. In the midst of all of this, keep emotion out of the conversation. Take a breather and remember, again, that your response isn’t only for this one disappointed guest, but for the potentially thousands of future guests who are going to read that review.
In that vein, never be snarky or passive aggressive. “‘I’m sorry you misunderstood our refund policy,’ isn’t a great apology,” says Tonner. Instead, he continues, “It can be something as simple as, ‘Hey, we’re super disappointed you had this experience. Here’s my email. We’d like to make this right for you.’”
Be human. Tonner also emphasizes the importance of personalizing your replies, avoiding generic cut-and-paste phrasing and canned prose. “We often use the concept of responding using a ‘friend filter’—like you’re speaking to the reviewer in person,” he says. “You wouldn’t use a bunch of corporate-sounding jargon in a personal interaction. That type of language can be off-putting.”
Make it personal. Finally, signing off using your actual name and title further personalizes the conversation. “The goal,” says Beal, “is to do something that swings the pendulum the other way. When you make an unhappy customer happy again, they tell far more people than when they were unhappy to begin with.”
Still, no matter how diligent you are about auditing your resort’s image, don’t expect to engineer a glowing online reputation if that isn’t true in reality. Thoughtful, timely responses to the online boo-birds won’t fix persistent issues on the ground.
“Your online reputation is just a reflection of your resort’s character,” says Beal. “So it’s really important for ski resorts to understand that their reputation is never going to be better than the actual character of the resort. This is made of facilities, lodging, staff, pricing, you name it. All of that goes toward your character, and your reputation is a reflection of that.”