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Responding to negative guest reviews

A bad review of your property doesn’t have to be the end of a good day. Tackle negative reviews speedily, productively and gracefully with this straightforward, six-step process

Reviews are among the top three decision-making factors for guests on Booking.com, along with location and price. In a survey, guests told us they prioritise reviews from other travellers over reviews from journalists, travel bloggers - even family and friends. 

Reviews are so important that not having any reviews for a property can be a problem. “Guests actually prefer lower-rated properties over properties with no reviews,” notes Apoorv Singhal, Junior Product Manager at Booking.com. “The majority of bookings on our platform are for properties that have at least one review.” But, of course, not all reviews are positive. 

Negative reviews may be painful to contemplate, but responding to them can be a valuable learning opportunity. They can help you develop a better overall guest experience. When deciding whether or not to respond to a negative review, a good practice is to respond to reviews that delve into details you can control. 

1. Commit to responding quickly 

If they posted a negative review, they almost certainly wanted to get your attention. When you respond quickly, you’re signalling to them that they have, in fact, piqued your attention. Once you’ve committed to responding, act quickly by getting into a customer service mindset. If it helps, set a timer on your phone and allot five or 10 minutes to formulate a response. 

2. Thank them

Show you take their feedback seriously by responding with empathy and thank them for bringing the issue to your attention, by first name if possible. Guests can choose to leave an anonymous review, but if they use their first name, it makes sense to respond to them in a personal way. 

3. Acknowledge their experience

Focus on addressing their specific concern(s). You don’t have to speak to every detail of a complaint, but you should at least acknowledge that something went wrong. Take their word for it, even if you’re sceptical. It is extremely tempting to publicly question the validity of the details of a review, but if you approach this issue as if it were a legal argument, you may end up looking suspicious or even paranoid to outside observers. Take them at their word, and make sure that attitude comes through in your response. 

4. If appropriate, apologise

Benjamin Franklin, an American Founding Father who was known for giving a lot of good advice, said: “Never ruin an apology with an excuse”. If he were alive in the age of the internet, he might be compelled to expand this proverb to take into account the phenomenon of the “non-apology apology”. If you write, “I’m sorry *if* you were offended,” you have just written a non-apology apology. Don’t add language to your apology that redirects the focus on the guest. Your goal is to be empathetic and sincere and to accept responsibility, not deflect criticism. 

A simple rule of thumb to follow: sincere apologies contain the phrase “I’m sorry” and then simply state what occurred. Again, take them at face value and honour their stated experience. 

5. Show action 

Explain what you are doing to mitigate the issue, if possible. If the problem has no clear solution, at the very least let them know how you are investigating their complaint to make sure other guests will not have the same experience. But - and this is very important - your true goal here is to back up your words with action.

“From user research, we know that users are willing to ignore negative comments in reviews if they see a partner response indicating acknowledgement or action,” notes Singhal.

If you can answer positively to report you have fixed the problem, that is ideal. If you have made an upgrade to the property based on this or other complaints, now is the time to mention it. Show that you genuinely care about improving your property and making guests happy. 

6. Personally invite them back 

Make it clear you want the guest to return and that you’re open to hearing from them personally - unless you don’t truly feel that way. It’s up to you to decide exactly how to close your communication with an unhappy guest, but it’s important to realise that you are the one who will be getting the last word in. Do it with positivity and grace. 

 

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Takeaway
  • Before responding, decide whether or not to respond - not all reviews require a response
  • Respond quickly and set a timer if you need extra motivation
  • Thank them and be empathetic about what happened without questioning a guest’s motivation or stated experience
  • Issue an apology if needed, but make certain you avoid the pitfall of the “non-apology apology”
  • Show concrete steps you’re taking to solve the problem, and invite them back to your property