How to deal with a bad Airbnb review as a host
A bad review or a four-star review. They’re the same thing, and they both feel like a punch to the gut.
You will feel angry and maybe a bit ashamed, but mostly just confused.
It will happen eventually. Some guests just suck, and others have legitimate reasons for leaving less than stellar reviews.
After getting a bad review first look at their feedback. Did they give any specific feedback? If so, note it down and try to understand their view point. Was the bathroom moldy or looked old? Do your blinds not cover the window? Were your dishes not cleaned?
Try and understand their feedback if they gave any.
Then go for a walk to cool off before you write anyone anything.
Personally, I took a ton of pride in getting very nearly only five stars. Some bloke broke my streak of twenty-one five stars in a row, and I was pissed. He didn’t write a review really. Just a short one-liner “good place good location” kind of thing. I thought about all my interactions with the guy and how he was a little off. He broke the toilet and all these other things, but I still gave him a five-star and decent review, thinking karma was a thing.
Immediately I was mad, so I did the best thing to do in those situations: I did nothing. I did nothing because if I wrote a response or sent him an angry message it would do nothing for me, but it could hurt my listing. That’s why you wait to cool off. After you’ve let yourself cool off, you send a direct message to the guest appreciating their candid feedback and would appreciate if they could go into more detail so that you can fix the problem. An example of that message might be:
Thank you for staying at my place this past weekend. I apologize for not exceeding your expectations. I’m focused on creating the best possible experience for my guests. I would really appreciate any feedback you have for how I can improve my place for future guests.
Thank you so much,
Something like that puts a positive spin on the message. It lets the guest know you are serious about hospitality and improving. It also points out that you are a real person and this is your home that you take care of. Even if it’s more than just you, say “I” because it has more impact. This is not some nameless, faceless corporation, this is your business.
About half the time you will never hear a reply. Other times you will get a reply and it will be really useful feedback that you can take action on. I had a guest whose feedback was the shower was moldy. Great! I’ll get the cleaner to bleach the hell out of the shower and scrub it down. Easy peasy.
Sometimes the feedback is hard to implement like one guest complaining the carpet “felt cheap and thin.” In my case I was in an apartment building and had sixty guests already stay in the place with no complaints of it not being a luxury accommodation. In that case, I chose not to take action since I didn’t see the carpet really affecting my future business.
The point is that you take the feedback you get from the guest and see if a) it will meaningfully impact the long-term prospects of your listing or b) is too easy to not do whether or not there is a return on investment (like bleaching the shower).
Sometimes the feedback is simply “the place was great” there’s not much you can do in this case. Some people have different scales and give out five-star reviews very rarely. This is just an unfortunate reality of the world. Those people kind of just suck, but not much you can do about it.
If this guest left you a publicly bad review (which few tend to do) you can reply to that review letting your potential customers know what happened and how you have fixed it. Most hosts I see do this, personally I’ve never received such a bad review that I needed to reply and give it unwarranted attention, but if the review is really, really bad by all means reply to it and calmly positively defend yourself to assuage any future customers. While you’re replying to the bad review, it might be good to reply to the good ones appreciating how good a guest was or thanking them publicly for a note they left for you. This way, the reply to a negative review won’t stand out as much and be as obvious. Replying to positive reviews also has the benefit of making the host seem more welcoming if you’re able to write gushing praise of the guests or maybe talk about a conversation you had with them. Again, I did not do this. I think some hosts reply to reviews very well and I’m sure it helps them, but I never met my guests for the most part so it seemed a bit disingenuous to make things up.
Next we’ll tackle the dark art of predicting a bad review so you can protect your business before bad guests strike.
Now I don’t want to make you paranoid when reading all your messages with your guests, but sometimes there are just key indicators the guest will not be giving a good review. Like how they frame things. You can’t always predict it, but about 75 percent of the time I get it right.
What you are looking for in the messages is just a kind of reticence. Like they are holding back. A lot of one-liners. And very slow to communicate. It’s hard to describe. Here is an excerpt from a chat I had with a guest that gave me a more concrete impression I was about to be nuked in the reviews.
“All out… Thanks again”
“Perfect. Have a safe drive down.”
“We left a good bottle of wine for party Saturday in frig [sic]. Could we stop by office to borrow key right now or we could stop by noon tomorrow”
“I’m free now, meet at the building.”
“Headed there. Tx. Extra stars for you!!!”
Why did this tip me off they were unhappy with their stay?
The most obvious part is that she said, “Extra stars for you!!!” so she wasn’t planning to give five stars. Right off the bat, I know I’m shot.
So I meet her husband to let him into the apartment to get the bottle. He doesn’t really make eye contact like I’m a dog about to be shot. He says a gruff hello. We go into the place. He gets his bottle. As I’m locking the apartment door, he bolts down the hallway and out the door, never to be seen again. Two indications it was kind of obvious I was not going to get a good review.
Unfortunately, there are also demographic data based on my experience. I know that, of the 250+ reservations I’ve had and the 100+ reviews, I know that white females over the age of about thirty tend to give the worst reviews in fact. Nine out of my twenty less-than-five-star reviews are from white women over thirty. That means that of the twenty-three white women over thirty who stayed with me, 39 percent left lower than a five-star review — the highest of any demographic. This, unfortunately, makes me shy to accept white women over thirty. They often are using Airbnb for the first time and expect a hotel experience when in fact it is more of just staying at a friend’s house kind of experience.
So what do you do when you suspect a guest is going to slay you?
Be extra nice to them is really the only preventative action you can do. Communicate more give them some excellent recommendations for places to eat and things to see if they get a chance. Don’t chat them up too much if they stop replying, but just let them feel you care about them and want them to have a great experience.
I normally say something like,
Hope you’re having a wonderful time in beautiful Ann Arbor.
If you get a chance tonight, there is a band performing on the Diag and the pop-up bars there are extending their happy hour, It should be a nice event.
Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you or there is something you’d like to see.
Innocent little quick recommendation, but it improves engagement and interaction with the guest. At scale, this gets harder to do and is a big reason why it is difficult to maintain your quality as you grow into additional Airbnb properties, but the more you can communicate with your guests the more you can do for them and prevent bad reviews.
- Bad reviews feel awful mentally and physically, but they are often have helpful feedback behind them. Take a day or two to cool off, yelling at a guest won’t help, but writing a nice message to them to learn more could help you avoid the same negative reviews in the future.
- Bad reviews are often not public, they are often in the private comments on the space or in the star breakdown a guest writes. Be sure to look into their specific private feedback so you know what can be improved and ask guests to elaborate on that when you message them.
- Predicting bad reviews is tough, that’s why communicating with guests often and giving them helpful recommendations to make them feel more comfortable talking with you can help head off any problems your guests may have but would not otherwise tell you about.
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