Let’s face it. Bad reviews suck.
They are every vacation rental host’s worst nightmare. Imagine believing you have done everything within your power to give a guest the best experience of their life, only for them to check out and, out of nowhere, your notification rings and bam! — it’s a bad review.
At this point, you are probably wondering what you did wrong. Or what a nasty person that guest must be. Your anger seethes. You see the review as a direct assault on your real estate investment and, of course, your ego. And you can’t quit pondering on what nasty words to use in a counterattack.
Okay, calm down. Let’s back up a bit and think about this.
Guest reviews on Airbnb, HomeAway, Booking.com, and the likes can sometimes seem downright ruthless. Some are lies from aggrieved guests. But can we all agree that whether or not it’s a lie or not, there’s always a trigger behind every bad review? I mean, a bad review just doesn’t fall out of the sky.
Let’s break bad reviews down to four types, shall we?
The genuine bad reviews
I’m sorry to say this, but reviews like this are usually deserved. You neglected your responsibilities and they are the consequence. For instance, when multiple guests complain about your place not being clean, they all can’t be lying now, can they?
The near-miss good reviews
These are bad reviews that could have easily be good if only you had stepped up your game just a little bit. For instance, by having you or another human receive your guest at check-in or quickly acting on issues guests point out.
Reviews of things outside your control
We have all got this one. One guest complaining that your place is too far from downtown. Another whining about the weather as if you are a rainmaker. Still, truth be told, there are things you can do to avoid reviews like this. For instance being very forthcoming in your listing description and by installing a better heating and cooling system.
The vengeful reviews
With this type of reviews, you can only do your best and hope for the best. Remember that guest who demanded a refund, a discount, or to check out late? And when you declined, they threatened you with a bad review? You could try to reason with such a person, but that’s all you can really do.
Now, the big question you have been waiting for.
How do you deal with bad guest reviews?
Avoid them in the first place
Well, that’s the best advice anyone can give you, which is very tricky, given that no vacation rental host goes courting bad reviews. But you get the drift. More on how to avoid bad reviews of your vacation rental shortly.
Don’t miss the silver lining
Instead of going all vendetta against guests that give your property a bad review, you might want to consider their reviews an opportunity to improve your hosting skills. So first simmer down, then sift through the content of the reviews, identify how you can be a better host, and then implement changes.
Leave a well meaning reply
As I mentioned earlier, don’t quarrel with guests that leave you bad reviews. Don’t leave them equally nasty reviews simply because you are hurt or pissed. No. That would only present a much worse public perception of your property and you as a host.
Instead, resign to the decency that accompanies professionalism. In a reply to each review, thank the guest for staying at your place, apologize for the bad experience, and leave it at that. This might, in a way, undermine the bad review. It might also communicate to prospective guests that you are a decent person who is willing to learn.
Now, let’s talk about how to avoid bad reviews
Airbnb, booking.com, HomeAway, and other vacation rental booking sites use guest reviews to make their communities strong, transparent, and credible. It’s all about your safety and that of your guests. I mean, just as guests can review their stay, hosts too can review guests. Hence, just as prospective guests might avoid a listing because it’s plastered with bad reviews, so can hosts reject a guest because their profile is riddled with bad reviews.
So it goes both ways. A system set up to protect you and your guests.
But then, how do you keep your ratings high?
Be upfront with guests
There’s this natural human tendency to conceal stuff they believe can be damaging to their reputation. When it comes to vacation rental hosting, you could very well be inviting bad reviews by hiding stuff.
Instead of hiding issues and circumstances — whether existing or unforeseen — decisively informing your guests upfront, perhaps before their arrival, might save you a lot of headaches. For instance, we discovered at Helot that whenever it seemed like a guest would arrive before our client’s property has been spruced up, informing the guest beforehand typically makes them more understanding and less likely to complain. In fact, many of such guests have gone ahead to leave our clients great reviews.
Therefore, if your cleaner is running late, if there are defects you think guests might complain about, if guests are supposed to make their own bed on arrival, if guests are supposed to clean up after themselves, if there is any problem at all, inform your guests before they arrive. And let them know what you are doing to fix that problem.
Be forthcoming in your listing description
A great listing description should be coherent, concise, and forthcoming. While it naturally should focus on the unique features of your place and its neighborhood, you might also want to point out any shortcomings too. That way, guests will know what to expect.
For instance, if you only clean once a week, point that out. If guests in one section of the house will be using the same entryway as guests in another section, also make that clear. These are some of the tiny things that guests might complain about in their reviews. Give them a reason not to. Put that info in your listing description and let prospective guests decide if they would want to stay at your place under the presented conditions.
Have a human receive your guest
This is very important. I say this from experience. Guests are less likely to leave a bad review when they are welcomed in person. Of course, a smart lock and an automated check-in process are great, but they only help you offer your guests the convenience of checking in or going and coming when they want.
But welcoming your guests in person or having a co-host do that for you can go a long way in giving the impression that you value your guests enough to come around and will be available to attend to any issues that might come up during their stay. It might also compel guests to make their review more about their experience with you than about their stay at your place. That human factor cannot be neglected.
Address Guests’ Issues Promptly
I can’t chime this enough. When a guest complains about a problem, make tangible efforts to address the problem. It doesn’t matter if you succeed in fixing the problem or not — okay, it actually does matter. But it also matters that your guest knows that you are actively making genuine efforts to take care of the issue. Don’t just apologize and promise to fix it, only to do absolutely nothing throughout the guest’s stay. Otherwise, trust me, you’d basically be asking for it.
Proper documentation can spare you a bad review
When a guest shows signs of becoming vengeful, start consciously documenting your conversation with them. This can spare you a bad review waiting to happen.
For instance, we once had a guest who, having stayed in our client’s place before, initiated contact once again and insisted that we must give him a discount and also accept cash. We kept trying to explain to him that circumstances have changed and that we can not fulfill his wishes. Immediately, he threatened us with a bad review. Not once or twice.
So what did we do? We grabbed screenshots of the conversation and filed them. Then as we anticipated, the guest went on booking.com and left us a very nasty review. We acted quickly, forwarding booking.com the messages compiled as a PDF document. After a few days, booking.com apologized on his behalf and removed the review.
I don’t know if this is possible with booking channels like Airbnb and HomeAway. But we have been able to get booking.com to remove two nasty reviews of our clients’ listings by presenting compelling, well-documented cases.
Host a well-stocked pantry or refrigerator
I know what’s probably going through your mind right now. This sounds like it’s going to eat into my rental income. Yes, it’s going to do just that. In the beginning, it would be nothing more than a nick. But in the long run, it will earn you more favorable reviews and improve your occupancy rate, which means more money.
For starters, stock up your pantry or refrigerator with snacks and soft drinks. You can also add cooking ingredients like spices and oil. With time, you will discover that you don’t even need to buy these things yourself, as guests come with all sorts of eatables and leave some behind in the kitchen or refrigerator. It’s up to you to sort these things and store the ones you can for other guests. Many of your guests might not even touch the snacks and drinks. But just knowing you left them something, such a nice gesture, can compel them to leave good reviews.
Give guests a welcome gift
Some hosts welcome their guests with a gift. Could be a bottled water. Could also be cookies. It all depends on you and where your imagination takes you. It’s a kind gesture targeted at appeasing guests up front. That way, whatever happens during their stay, the way you received them will always stick with them. Even if they still go on and leave a bad review, there will most likely be touches of good stuff about you and your place in the review.
Hire a highly professional cleaner
There’s nothing guests despise more than a messy house. This is probably the No. 1 reason hosts receive bad reviews. That filth, that bad smell… it sticks with guests long after they have checked out. And when they are writing you a review, it will probably be the first, if not the only, thought on their mind.
The only solution here to hire a professional clean. One that is very attentive to hygiene, that knows how to make the bed, that follows instructions properly… If you prefer to do the cleaning yourself, then be prepared to be as diligent as you would want a professional cleaner to be.
Do regular house-wide inspection and fixes
Don’t wait for problems to develop and then escalate. Do a regular house-wide inspection. If possible, have your cleaner check for defects and damages every time they go in to clean. That way, you would be able to detect any issue with your place and fix it before guests discover them and consequently leave you bad reviews.
Upgrade your vacation rental home with gadgets
Some weeks back, I wrote a post about smart upgrades for improving guest experiences in your place. In that article, I mentioned upgrades like smart locks, smart TV, smart thermostat, video doorbell, and so on. These gadgets will make your place look super cool and leave your guests impressed. They can present a perception of a good experience and even help guests turn a blind eye to flaws in your place.
Maintain regular communication all through
Communication is key to a great guest experience. Don’t leave your guests hanging. They are human beings with emotions. Talk to them. Make them feel at home all through their stay. Always ask how their stay is going and what you can do to improve it, even if you are not physically present.
Here’s how ‘many of our clients at Helot approach this’.
- Send check-in instructions three days to check-in and on the days of the guest’s arrival.
- After check-in, contact guest, asking if they settled in well and to let you know if they need anything.
- At the middle of their stay, reach out to the guest, asking how their stay is going and what you can do to improve it.
- On check-out day, thank the guest for staying at your place and ask them to rate their experience. Their reply will give you a hint of the type of review to expect form them. If it’s favorable, then you have nothing to worry about. If it’s not, then you have a chance to reason with and appease the guest before they post their review online.
Make your guestbook and house manual accessible
Certainly, you have a guestbook and house manual. Typically, many hosts just print them and put them somewhere easily accessible to guests. That works.
However, you could also publish your guestbook and house manual to your property website. If you don’t have a website for your property, it’s time to create one. Once published, you can include links to the guestbook and house manual in your check-in instructions.
I’m also assuming you have wifi installed on your property so guests can easily visit your website to read the guestbook and house manual on their devices whenever they want and depending on the info they are looking for.
When information about your house and its neighborhood is readily available, you spare your guests some frustration and your listing some bad reviews.
Make extra linens, toilet paper, and stuff accessible
The last thing you want is your guests using their money to buy essentials and toiletries. They are most certainly going to complain about it. If not to you, then to the support staff of the site where they booked, or even in a review. The best you can do is always have extra linens, toilet paper, soap, and other stuff ready and placed where guests can easily access them.
Do this and save yourself a lot of bad reviews.
In conclusion, can we all admit here that everyone loves to be heard? We all have grievances we want to air. Bad reviews are basically your guests’ way of making sure they are heard.
Anyway, the tips above aren’t for everyone. Some may work for you. Some may not. In fact, after all is said and done, bad reviews will always come. It’s up to you to decide how frequently you want to get them.
This article originally appeared in Macaulay Gidado Medium publication.