The sometimes-gratifying sometimes-stressful process of soliciting and managing vacation rental guest reviews has been a part of my daily life now for the better part of a decade.
As my buddy John Amato points out, it started with eBay, then Amazon, and now reviews have arrived to the world of vacation rentals.
I get as pumped up and excited about a glowing review as I get depressed and all disappointed when that occasional negative apple comes rolling in.
But in compiling my best practices, I was kinda disappointed to find that pretty much every single article online explains the exact same set of obvious techniques:
Ask for review when guest leaves, respond to all reviews good and bad, maintain professional tone in response…blah blah blah.
So I polled my Inner Circle asking for their most innovative and effective techniques.
I then combined their suggestions with some of my own less-obvious tips to form what I hope will give everyone a new perspective on an art form that is quickly taking over the way people buy things online.
If you’ve ever seen Jimmy Fallon, you’ve probably seen his segment “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets.” If not, it’s this hilarious juxtaposition when celebrities like Julia Roberts read – in front of a camera – some of the meanest, most absurd rants about themselves (by random haters) that you can imagine.
Similarly, there’s a pizza shop in San Francisco’s Mission District that actual prints t-shirts with their most ridiculous customer reviews, my favorite being the one that says, “The pizza was soooo greasy. I am assuming this was in part due to the pig fat.”
What’s so great about these retorts is that they treat the outlandish review as what it is: outlandish.
And if applied to vacation rental marketing, I have to think that 99% of guests who’d come across an owner or manager with the confidence to confront one or two dubious reviews publicly and with gusto would be nothing if not drawn to the rental’s sense of humor.
CONTEST: Submit your worst/funniest guest review quote in the comments section below and I will choose the best one and print it on a shirt for you and me (shipping included).
If you read My Biggest Breakthrough Of 2014, it should be no secret that video connects with guests than any other medium.
So armed with an inexpensive webcam, try posting sincere video responses to your most unruly reviews.
Check out this café owner (right) who uses video to turn his negative reviewers into lifelong customers.
Or this Domino’s Pizza apology that makes you feel nothing but supportive of poor little Ernesto.
Video allows you to convey a sincerity that’s just not possible with text.
I don’t think any of us get a lot of negative reviews or customer complaints. But when we do, they are almost always from a) a seriously critical guest with 5-star standards or b) some deranged person who you can’t please no matter what.
Which is to say, you gotta learn to deal with ridiculous reviews like these (thanks Kalli Holmes for the link).
And in the case of addressing those bad apples, I try to change the terms of the playing field by drawing attention to my rentals’ otherwise bulletproof reputation.
In my review response, I might say something like, “I’m really sorry you didn’t feel our rentals offered a good value for the price you paid. We’ve been in business for 10 years and having hosted more than 800 guests, our team likes to use the very rare incidents like this one to re-oil our operations so that the dissatisfaction never happens again.”
A response like this is a good way to frame your business while still making the guest feel acknowledged.
One of my awesome Inner Circle Members, Bill Miller with Cooperstown Luxury, takes a similar approach for both good and bad reviews:
“We make use of the reviews by responding with a post to each of them with further info about our homes or to further describe some of the amenities that may have been mentioned in the review. I’m not convinced reviews are as powerful as we like to think they are…to some degree, it’s a situation where, the other rentals have reviews so we gotta have reviews.”
Earning reviews is a game of ones.
You shouldn’t expect to get 50 positive reviews in one month. And accordingly you definitely should not ask every single guest (blindly) for a public review.
But you should be working your best to avoid that one negative review. As the saying goes, “A happy guest tells one friend. An unhappy guest tells five.”
So when soliciting reviews, target only the crème of the guest crop. If you sense any negativity or less-than-satisfactory feedback, take the conversation off-line and figure out how to remedy the situation (I have been known to refund just about anyone — no matter how much of an idiot — to preserve our reputation. I simply see it as a cost of doing business.)
To plant the seed for an organic positive review, take a page out of Inner Circle Member David Angotti’s book from SmokyMountains.com:
“The best solicitations are indirect and subtle. For example, when we leave a box of cupcakes in the unit we know we are more likely to get a review (positive too!)”
“We also send each guest a gift post-departure, which helps us obtain many more reviews. These boxes (two branded coffee mugs, a bag of branded coffee, mints, jellybeans, and a thank you note) go out to every guest and are in no way incentivizing the review process, but they remind the guest of their time with us and produce reviews naturally.”
Sure, it’s a ‘best practice’ to respond to all reviews.
But our response to negative reviews are much more sensitive and emotionally charged than the positive ones.
Another of my awesome Inner Circle Members, Glenn Cooley of Airbnb Comments Section Fame, gave some great input on how to deal with the dreaded negative review:
“I come from the theater. When an actor starts going on and on after being given a corrective action from the director or stage manger, very often the actor’s peers will interrupt the diatribe by saying, “Just take the note and move on.”
“That’s exactly what goes through my head when I read a overly long response to a review from a Host trying to explain their way out of a situation. It just looks bad, and really it’s too late for excuses or reasons why something happened. We want to see that you took the criticism to heart, remedied the situation, and moved on with your life.”
No one cares why now; we just want to know you fixed it. When a Guest reads a bad review, I’m convinced they imagine themselves in a similar situation with you as the Host. So when answering a bad review, write it with your future guests in mind.”
We’re all very proud people and negative feedback is oftentimes hard to accept (much less put into action).
One of my longest-existing Inner Circle Members, Donna Martinez of Sea Ranch Abalone Bay, got a negative review lately and here was here decision:
“I’m one of those high achievers and it was like a stab in the heart. I could live with the 4 – but the “Does Not Recommend” part killed me. The review itself was truthful. And I ultimately did nothing more with regard to the review. What I did do was immediately upped the amenities even more (added bathrobes, water carafes, local coffee to the wine on the tray, offer gift certificate to dinner if I learn its a special occasion) and held my breath. Luckily it didn’t slow the market and we remained booked with great reviews.”
Look at a negative review as an opportunity – in other words, if someone says the curtains were too thin and that too much light came in, and you use this opportunity to buy thicker curtains so that no light can ever come in – each comment acts like a chance to make more perfect your rental.
Work with this mentality for long enough and your potential for negative feedback gets smaller and smaller by the day.[wpsharely id=”12183″]
Now, this is not something that I do myself but I am thinking about implementing it.
Many owners and managers wonder how to ask for the review and where to ask for the review (listing site, website, reviews site…etc.) and I came across the following idea which is pretty gorgeous…
Forward all potential review guests to one page on your website, which then gives them the various courses of action:
Flood Masters is a company that restores flood damage and I really like the way they use this testimonial’s page to drive clients to review (in order of importance).
In another variation, Quality Mitsubishi uses this sleek yet simple little interface to either request feedback or prompt the third-party review site link.
Of course, these tips require that you have your own website.[/wpsharely]
So there you have it!
If you have experienced any successes (or failures) within the guest reviews realm, will you please use the comments section below to help us all learn from the experience?
Image credit by James Yang http://www.jamesyang.com
Matt Landau is the Founder of the VRMB and the Inner Circle, two online resources dedicated to helping vacation rental owners and managers generate more bookings.
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