2018 was a strong year for tourism in Vienna.

International arrivals totaled around 7.5 million, hotel revenues rose 12 percent in 11 months, and 94 percent of Viennese reported a positive attitude toward visitors.

But in this season, the Vienna Tourist Board tackled a new difficulty: negative reviews. While many firms are split on whether to confront or ignore public complaints, Vienna chose a lighthearted tactic, turning so-called “flaws” into strengths by highlighting them in gorgeous photo-based advertising campaigns.

In a series of ads mounted in the London underground and in digital bus stops, the Vienna Tourist Board portrayed five fun and beautiful Viennese moments overlaid with mean comments and poor ratings. In one ad, a romantic picture of a couple cuddled in a boat on the serene Danube was captioned “Boooring!” and given zero stars.

To highlight how polarizing comments can drag an experience down, the “See Vienna, not #Vienna” ads challenged readers: “Who decides what you like? Discover your own Vienna.”

Simple Strategies for Responding to Your Critics

Responding to negative reviews is difficult.

Bad reviews hurt, and sometimes they are dishonest and downright cruel. But Vienna was right to address them. Stats show that 95% percent of holidaymakers read at least seven reviews before booking a trip. And consumers share perspective. Ninety-four percent say that a bad review has convinced them to avoid a business, and 88% of people read reviews to determine the quality of a business.

Want to turn the tide of negativity? Here are a few simple strategies:

1. Personalize the Response

 

Reviews come from real people, so whenever possible, use the name of the individual you’re addressing.

2. Say Thanks

 

Critics occasionally bring to light something you’ve missed.

Even if you disagree with their opinion, show positivity, like “I appreciate you bringing this to our attention,” or “Thank you for taking the time to let us know.”

3. Sympathize

 

Apologizing may not right a wrong, but it is a powerful demonstration of your humility and care for customers.

Express regret that your service did not satisfy, that an experience did not match expectations, or for rude behavior or botched communication.

4. Take Responsibility or Offer Alternatives

 

Whenever possible, own your mistakes and avoid excuses.

Phrases like “we are so sorry for missing the mark,” “that’s on us,” “that never should have happened,” or “this is certainly not the standard our clients deserve” can go a long way toward defusing resentment.

If you’re able to offer compensation, go the extra mile to satisfy a disgruntled customer. If not, publicly pledge to do better next time.

5. Embrace Your Critics

 

Like the Vienna Tourist Board, you may choose to make light of bad reviews or welcome them in some way.

This may be as simple as letting them exist alongside other (positive or average) reviews, which exemplifies transparency and demonstrates a spectrum of customer experiences.

And some reviews can be leveraged with humor or irony, like the Snowbird Ski Resort, which highlighted negative skier reviews to boost its elite, high-caliber appeal (“What’s ‘Too Advanced’ for Greg might be just right for you”). With humor, you can harness the empathy and understanding of customers who roll their eyes at the more absurd comments.

6. Make Peace with Criticism

 

Fault-finders come and go, but they don’t have to be the downfall of your reputation.

Reviews are a great way to build personal connections, to engage the general public, or to learn from blind spots.

By embracing negative reviews, your company can even benefit from the empathy of others, boosting a positive response from readers at large.

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