Is anything more ego-bruising than a negative review? Those one or two stars on HomeAway or FlipKey might as well be sharp, pointy daggers—right into the heart.
It happens to most owners and managers at some point. Many of them lovely, fastidious, detail-oriented people who throw their souls into giving guests a great experience.
It’s not (always) you. The world is full of opinions…and with online reviews, the voice of the opinionated is louder than ever before.
The good news? Your potential guests know the world is a picky place. Many times, they’ll recognize if a reviewer is being unreasonable, particularly when that review is sandwiched between a bunch of glowing ones…and especially if you handle your response right.
That’s why your negative review response is one of the most important pieces of copy you’ll write for your vacation rental(s).
With a negative review comes an opportunity. Show potential guests how fair, balanced, and dedicated to the guest experience you are. Respond well. Publically. Calmly. And your bad review could actually spur your next booking.
Here’s how to do it.
Put on Your Rational Glasses
First, take a moment (or a day). Do NOT respond to the review right away.
Sleep on it. Go for a jog. Talk to a friend. Strike a few yoga poses. Order a chocolate milkshake at the drive-thru and drink it in the parking lot.
For most people, without a bit of catharsis, approaching the review in a rational way is really difficult. And rationality is absolutely essential to handling this right.
Once you’ve relaxed a bit, take another look.
In order to construct your response, you have to first understand what the review is really saying. Divorce emotion from it and pretend you are a potential guest who stumbled upon your own reviews.
Potential guests have no knowledge of the context or the personality of the guests who burned you. So pretend you don’t, either.
Does the guest have a legitimate point? Are there elements of this review that can be easily fixed today?
Then, look for patterns in the negative review. Some reviews address one big problem: construction noise, a leaky toilet, a noisy upstairs neighbor. Others will hone in on a bunch of tiny details, like crumbs on the counter, a burnt out light bulb, slow WiFi, etc.
Figure out what lies at the heart of the bad review, so you can address those concerns directly.
For example, one owner we know faced a harsh, multi-paragraph review that called her rental a glorified hostel, outlining a whole list of flaws. The client was able to figure out what was at the heart of this: the reviewer expected a resort experience at a not-resort price.
But she didn’t call the reviewer out. Instead, she explained that the experience she offers is kind of like a hostel. She’s different from a resort and all of her marketing aims to convey that her rentals are a basecamp for exploring the vibrant, authentic area and meeting other travelers around the shared swimming pool. For the right people, it’s the perfect rental.
When people looking for a fun, low-key basecamp stumble upon her reviews (which is, after all, what she provides), they’ll feel even more convinced that they’ve found the right place and won’t be deterred by the bad review.
If you take anything from this post, remember this one very important fact: Your review response is NOT for the past guests who left a bad review.
It’s for the future guests, so they can make an informed decision about staying with you.
Your review response is not about “calling out” the reviewers…or making them feel bad (even though I understand why you would want to make them feel bad). Your potential guests do not care about that. They want to know if the reviewer has a valid point and, if they do, that you have done something to fix it.
And you probably don’t need me to tell you that you should do something to fix it—to the extent you can. Look for a new WiFi provider, or spring for a new router. Write up a thorough checklist for your housekeeping staff.
Be clear and specific in your response about the changes you’ve made or plan to make soon.
As a general rule, avoid the exclamation point in your response. Chances are, if you use them, or feel compelled to use them, you haven’t relaxed enough yet to be writing! Take another break.
Here’s a story from a guest’s perspective (my own). Just yesterday, when looking at a potential rental house for my friend’s bachelorette getaway, I came across a review response that punctuated every single sentence with an exclamation point (even worse, it was a 4-star review, with only a few minor gripes!):
Of course the pool isn’t heated in winter! Imagine that! And we spend 3 to 4 hours every day cleaning our rental as it is! Are you suggesting we spend 6 or 7?! Sorry you had a bad time but you are one of hundreds of people who have enjoyed their stay here!!
So much wrong with this response—even beyond the exclamation points. It’s focused on the reviewer (not the issue at hand) and takes an immediate defensive stance.
Imagine that same response, with a different, more measured tone that directly addresses the content of the review:
Like most rentals in this part of California, we don’t heat the pool in winter. Guests most often don’t use it in the colder months, and we would have to offset the cost by charging more per night. We apologize that the level of cleanliness didn’t meet our own high standards. Thanks to your feedback, we’ve created a housekeeping checklist so we can be sure to cover all of the spots we sometimes miss.
What If They Told You The Trip Was Going Great?
Here’s a common and frustrating scenario:
You check in with your guests after they’ve arrived. They tell you they’re having an excellent time. Nope, no problems—everything is perfect! Then, they go home and—with the benefit of distance—really let you have it. Worse, many of the things they mentioned could have easily been addressed on Day One… if only they’d spoken up.
Step into the guests’ minds for a minute. There’s a reason they didn’t call on Day One. Maybe they just wanted their vacation to get started without worrying about WiFi connectivity. Maybe they are shy with strangers, or maybe they didn’t want to hurt your feelings or inconvenience you while they were staying in your home.
So be careful here. Again, it’s not about the past guest but the future guest.
Refrain from lecturing the past guest that they should have been more forthcoming. Instead, frame it this way:
If we somehow seemed unapproachable, we apologize. But we’re here to make your stay better: a quick phone call, and we can fix most problems while you’re out enjoying yourself in the city.
We know it can be difficult to be kind to a problem guest. Especially when they’ve stuck the dagger of a one-star into your heart. But just keep in mind that it’s not about them. It’s about the many other happy guests you’ve hosted in your rental, and—if you handle your response right—the many more happy guests to come.