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Online Conversations – Navigating the Digital Jungle Without Getting Mud on your Boots

Written By: Amber Miller, Director of Digital Learning and Development –


The power of online reviews is undeniable. According to Hootsuite, “Forty percent of digital consumers use social networks to research new brands or products.” Before you upgrade your phone, visit a new restaurant, or hire a company to replace your roof, you head online to read reviews and research what other people have said… the good and the bad. This is also true for people searching for their next bucket list vacation, family cruise, or destination wedding. So how do you manage your reviews, and how do you make sure that you put your best foot forward when managing comments online?


Keep complaints public

Our first reaction when seeing a negative comment is to shift the conversation to an email or private messaging… or just delete it altogether. Don’t do it. Resolving the issue where everyone can see will work to your benefit. It demonstrates to all your clients—frustrated, current, and potential—that you care and are invested in their opinions and ultimately making their experience top-notch. Since unhappy customers are inevitable, why not use the situation to your advantage?


Recognize fake reviews

Most reviews and comments you receive will be legitimate. However, a fake review may show up from people inventing trips they never took or spamming your review section with non-relevant posts. Most review sites will allow you to report these types of posts, but there is no guarantee for removal. When that happens, you have a couple of options. If they don’t seem genuine, ask for more information. Point out that you don’t have any records with the poster’s name and need additional details. The best-case scenario is that they have the wrong agency—this is usually the case. If they are trying to discredit you, asking for more information will call them out in a non-aggressive manner and give you the opportunity to end the conversation with a positive spin.


Recognize valid complaints

You need to know the difference between a client with a legitimate complaint and one who wants to bait you with a rant. If someone posts a comment like, “this person will steal from you” or “this agent ruined my vacation and my life” it’s wise to ignore this, as this is most likely a “hit job” and they have no interest in actually resolving the conflict. Other readers will be able to tell the difference between people making valid complaints and ones looking to start a fight.


Manage reviews carefully

Handling post-travel reviews differs than other sales reviews because they come after the transaction is final. If you were selling sunglasses, you could just send them another pair, but you’re not going to send them on another trip just to make them happier, right? If you receive a negative review, relax. The occasional negative review is not going to destroy you, and it isn’t possible to make everyone happy,
all the time.


Gather enough information

Be sure you understand what went wrong. Were their expectations reasonable or not? Were services that were promised not provided? Could something have been done to avoid the issue? Spend some time finding out what happened so that the solution can be positive for you and your client. Even if you determine the problem was outside your control, be empathetic. People often just want to be heard and told that it’s ok to feel the way they feel. Whatever the reason and whatever the cause, nobody likes to come away from a vacation feeling shortchanged.


Take action

Now that you’ve acknowledged your client’s frustration and tried to clear up any miscommunication, try to fix things. Is there anything at all you can do? If so, keep your client in the loop with details about your progress, tell them you are working on a solution, and you will be back to them soon. Give them frequent updates, even if the update is “I’m still working on this.” That alone can often turn the tide in your favor. When you demonstrate you’re in their corner, clients will trust you more.


Be responsive

It’s important to respond promptly to online reviews, usually within 24-hours, to show clients that you take complaints seriously. In your responses, give clients a realistic timeline for resolutions and stick to it. If you need to extend that time, keep clients updated. Also, remember a 24-hour response isn’t just for complaints. Make sure you are quick to respond to general questions and praise, too.


Respond to brand threats

Most online conflicts will be resolved uneventfully. However, in rare instances, complaints escalate. If the client follows threatens to blast you on social media or file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau or your state’s Attorney General even after seeking a resolution to their complaint, the best response is to offer once again to help reach a resolution. At this point, it’s ok to remind them that it is always your goal to satisfy every client and to do everything in your power to help. Most importantly, when you respond, remember to put the focus on them and their feelings, not yours.


Respond to personal threats

Threatening to sue you or do physical harm are non-starters. Let customers know they have stepped over the line and end the conversation. This may mean banning them from your Facebook group, or in the case of an online discussion, telling them that you are not responding to any further comments. How you handle this depends on the situation, so use your best judgment. Clients may attempt to re-engage you after taking some time to calm down. Tread carefully before opening up this discussion again, and consider the history and value of your relationship with them.


Practice empathy

Customers often view businesses as soulless giants, “out to get the little guy.” The best way to combat this is to remind your clients that you’re a person, too. Tell them you would have been upset in their situation, also, and then focus on their feelings. Choose words that show you understand their feelings—‘That must have been so frustrating for you,’ ‘That sounds so difficult,’ ‘I know how stressful traveling can be.’ By just putting your clients’ emotions first, you can quickly convert a negative situation into a positive opportunity.


Embrace the power of the apology

Apologizing feels as if you’re opening yourself up to liability, especially in the business arena. However, accepting the fault when it is yours is part of running a successful business and doing the right thing. Just think of how many times you have seen a company try to avoid blame…you can see right through it. If the complaint is due to a mistake on your part, own it. Even a frustrated client will appreciate that you’re being honest. Explain what you’re doing to fix the mistake, the more detail, the better. Adding some of that empathy we talked about will go a long way, too.


Remove your emotion

I feel’ statements are a great way to build communication in personal relationships, but not in business. In business, the only person in the room who has the privilege of being emotional is the client, and when that happens, bite your tongue! Hearing “Our trip was ruined!” and “We are devastated!” is difficult, but acknowledging their frustrations, learning the facts, and developing a solution will help your clients (and you) far more than reacting emotionally. They will respond to your calmness. Remind them you can’t change what happened, but you can help find a resolution. Your goal should be a happy client, not having the last word. A satisfied client in every case is a victory for you.


Although the social media arena is known for its casual atmosphere, clients do expect and deserve professionalism. Whether you’re venturing online for the first time or you’re a #SocialSavant, it’s always smart to practice good manners. Here are some general guidelines to consider for your digital interactions.


Use proper grammar

In a world where grammar and spell checkers are just a few clicks away, there is no excuse for spelling, punctuation, or grammar mistakes. Every time you post online, you are reinforcing your brand. Don’t associate that brand with lousy grammar or unfortunate spelling mistakes; both make you look lazy. And a particular pet peeve of mine…never use all caps to communicate. Nobody LIKES TO BE YELLED AT.


Stay on topic

Be thoughtful and stay on topic. Your posts should provide value and showcase your brand. Irrelevant material is clutter that will take away from that. Make sure the content you share fits the social channel you’re using, too—save the infographics for Pinterest and pictures of the office Christmas party for Instagram. Before posting, always ask yourself if what you’re sharing is going to help you sell more travel.


Avoid hashtag overload

#Oftenyouhear that you should use #AlltheHashtags to #makesure #everyoneseesyourposts. This is a breach of social media etiquette. Overload is as annoying online as it is everywhere else. Instead, use five to seven relevant hashtags, at the most, including one or two that are unique to your company, so that your content is viewed by people who actually want to see it.


Post consistently

Just like you follow a calendar for your traditional marketing, you should establish one for your social posts as well. You’ve already learned through previous sales that regularity and consistency are keys to success. The same is true when posting online.


Invest your time wisely

Having a presence on every social channel isn’t necessary, and posting on too many social sites is time that you could spend marketing other ways. Start with the channels your clients use most. Don’t have any clients? Then start with the channels you’re most comfortable using.


Give credit

Sharing content from other sites is perfectly acceptable, but make sure to give credit to those who create it. It’s the right thing to do, and if you don’t, you may find yourself with some unwanted trouble.


Be authentic

People know when you’re faking it. Polishing your presence and message is fine, but make sure your voice and personality are still yours. Eventually, you will likely make contact with your clients beyond the Internet. If you’re not the same person they’ve come to know online, they’ll feel deceived.


Have fun! People are online to play and relax, so meet them there and enjoy forming a digital relationship! Social media isn’t the place for a hard sell, it’s a place for connecting.


Remember when I said give credit to your sources?