A sign of respect

The word has got out that reviews on online portals play a big part in bookings. That makes it all the more important to deal actively with this feedback. Marcus Fränkle from the design hotel Der Blaue Reiter in Karlsruhe (southern Germany) responds to all comments in detail. However, he doesn't take everything personally.

text: Astrid Schwamberger  //  photography: Daniel Schreiber

Marcus Fränkle likes critical guests. His favourites are those who tell him face to face what they liked or what is currently bothering them. "Then we have a chance to sort it out straight away and find a remedy." Often a solution can be found in next to no time, he says, such as when the heating is making a rushing sound. "Then we're happy to be judged on our quick solution."

However, the manager of the design hotel Der Blaue Reiter is also grateful for every comment left online by his guests. He and two colleagues trained by him and acting on his behalf respond to these reviews that go beyond simply grading individual criteria like staff, cleanliness and value for money. "We reply to every guest review," Fränkle stresses. He sees this as "a sign of respect" for guests who have taken the trouble to share their experience of his hotel.

Very often what he reads in the comments is very positive. Guests praise the facilities in the 83 individually designed rooms and suites at his four-star superior establishment, for example. Breakfast and service also come off well. What can you say to that? "Most of our answers here are very short," Fränkle admits. "We thank them and tell them we're looking forward to their next visit."

His responses do not reveal what awaits guests who give free rein to their enthusiasm. A note is made about the customer and if they make another booking they are assigned a particularly nice room if possible. What's much more important than such an upgrade, however, is "that we thank them again in person. That goes down well."

Valid criticism as an opportunity for development

However, guests also appreciate the open and honest way that critical or angry comments are dealt with at Der Blaue Reiter. Fränkle believes that valid criticism offers an opportunity for development. "We respond directly," he says, "and say how we intend to improve and what this guest can expect the next time." For example, hooks in the bathroom. One guest felt that these should be provided and commented accordingly. Fränkle received this suggestion with thanks, brought it up at the staff meeting and had additional hooks fitted during renovation work. The new dim-out curtains were also suggested by a guest. Fränkle passed the ball back and gave the guest one of the freshly renovated rooms.

Don't put up with everything

However, Fränkle's tone changes somewhat when guests specifically look for something to grumble about. He and his colleagues remain polite and address the guests by name if possible or with "Dear Guest". But he sees no reason to give in or apologise. Instead, his approach is to retaliate. Fränkle stands firm: when there are thirty items in the mini-bar, a guest must understand if a specific drink isn't there – and that's that. Defending his point of view "goes down very well with guests, who say that I shouldn't have to put up with everything."

A zero tolerance approach is taken to guests who threaten to give the hotel a bad review in order to get what they want. Like when a traveller recently demanded a full breakfast buffet at 6.15 am at the weekend and rejected all the compromises proposed by the reception staff. "If someone threatens us like that again, we won't check them in, or we'll make them leave the hotel immediately if they already have a room," says Fränkle, pointing out that a single dismal rating is enough to drag down an excellent recommendation rate. The worst thing about it is that there is no way to counter such an unjustified outlier. The only way to neutralise it is for a whole lot more guests to award full scores in all areas.

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