One of the inherent challenges to vacation rental success is that you become vulnerable to numbers: the more guests you host, the more potential there is for a negative review.
There is no successful or sustainable company on this planet that hasn't needed to deal with an unhappy client. This is a fact. And frankly, you most likely defied all odds by getting to this point without one, so take pride in your ultra high standards and know that being concerned is a trait of the best owners and managers. You rock!
That said, the moment has come and you've gotten the dreaded alert and you need to act.
The sub-5-star review whose sheer existence makes your blood boil. You haven't even read it yet and you want to reach through the computer screen and wring its beady little neck!
In some cases, the negative review is delusional:
A guest who either lied, deceived, manipulated, or just confounded you with stupidity.
In other cases, the unjust review is from a semi-normal yet unrealistic human:
Someone who thought your super comfy bed was too hard. Someone with prohibitively high expectations for chinaware.
No matter the type, you're stuck. You're freaking out. And you need to know what to do next. Follow these four steps and add value to your vacation rental business in the long haul:
The biggest mistake most newbies make when getting their first negative review is responding right away with a knee-jerk reaction, thus letting your emotions get the best of you. But here's the problem: your response will be immortalized in time. And the way you handle adversity (in the eyes of future guests) can either add value to or detract from your character. So relax! Commit to waiting at least three days before you respond. Feel free to vent your feelings in MSWord, trash talk about the guest to your spouse...etc. But promise not publish anything for at least 72 hours. Deal?
You're sure to be outraged by the negative review because you know you run a tip-top shop. But because you are biased, it's valuable to reference the unjust review to a third party judge. Someone who's familiar with vacation rentals and has a good moral compass. They will most likely agree with you -- that the review is not cool. But they may also say, "You know what Matt, I see where you're coming from, but the guest is kinda right. I stayed in that room and it is kinda dark." Come to consensus here because it will be your judgement on public display. Whoever you use for vetting, make sure they are trustworthy and have a good grasp on the vacation rental game. (Shameless Plug: The Inner Circle is an ideal community to consult on these matters).
The best way to confront negative feedback is head on, but with technique. In a contest of strength versus strength, someone always loses (and at this point, it's most likely going to be you). So look to work WITH the culprit, not against them by reaching out to the guest -- ideally via phone, but email works too -- and do so with an appreciative tone. One that says, "thank you for helping me improve my vacation rental for others" and not "how dare you disrespect my baby?!?!" The goal of this conversation is duo-fold:
Note: I have gotten three negative reviews taken down in my vacation rental business using these steps. The fourth one still remains to this day. And I look at it every now and then with a strange sense of kinship: the little lesson that taught me something or the scar that reminds me to be cautious when putting your finger inside a beer can.
If you cannot get the review taken down, recognize that responding to the review (most platforms allow for an owner or manager response) is your big chance (!!!) but it's also on the public stage...so do a few drafts privately before you copy/paste the final version and hit publish. Like Inner Circle member Jan Stevens says, "Consider your response an ad for future guests."
Make sure to be short and to the point. Use a mixture of confidence, respect, and appreciation, peppered with some humblebrags. For instance, state the amount of guests (specifically, do a body count to hammer home your point) you've hosted without said issue. And consider addressing the specific issues within reason: one cool angle is to use anecdote about a time in your life when you went to a famous restaurant/city/hotel and weren't all that impressed...state that even the nicest places cannot please 100% of it's clients...but that the best places sure can try!
Definitely avoid writing too much because rants are associated with being crazy. Avoid getting defensive and don't make anything personal. Fight the urge to make a dig at their character. And don't get too wordy: always say less than necessary...
When you are trying to impress people with words, the more you say, the more common you appear, and the less in control. Even if you are saying something banal, it will seem original if you make it vague, open-ended, and sphinxlike. Powerful people impress by saying less. The more you say, the more likely you are to say something foolish.
A negative review was bound to happen one day: so it's not the end of the world. Think of it as a builder of character. A dose of democracy to your pretty one-sided guest reviews.
Sure, it's a personal jab at your integrity! But you're also running a business and the longer you're in operation, the more increasing the odds are that someone will leave dissatisfied.
Accept that it happens to the best of us. And prepare for more.
The greatest vacation rental professionals in the world handle adversity with style.
And now you do too.
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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