Chocolate Pillow | Handling TripAdvisor Blackmail Threats
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Handling TripAdvisor Blackmail Threats

16 May Handling TripAdvisor Blackmail Threats

It is beyond doubt that TripAdvisor is the behemoth of hotel and restaurant reviews, but how do you handle the few cases where people blackmail your business with a bad review?

Let me just disclaim myself here – there are few people who will deliberately blackmail with TripAdvisor reviews but they are becoming more and more common as the power held by TripAdvisor reviews is more and more realised by consumers – it is no longer an insignificant site that can be read with cynicism of some degree; instead it is a pre-purchase tool used by many companies and individuals when deciding on a hotel to use.  TripAdvisor forms a part of many different companies social media strategies and is undoubtedly a major influence on hotel reputation and business performance.

So what do you do when your business is faced with the threat of a poor TripAdvisor review?  Here is my 3-step plan.

  1. Don’t immediately relinquish control and give in!  It is all too easy to receive a threat of a poor TA review and simply give in, providing someone exactly what they want.  This is exactly what people threatening this action want to achieve (see step 2 for further information on why this happens).  The key here is negotiation and not having an immediate reaction to the threat of a TripAdvisor review.  My immediate response to this scenario is always ‘I appreciate your concerns and will do what I can to resolve them.  If you then wish to review us on TripAdvisor, that it entirely your decision and I cannot change that, but all I ask is the chance to resolve everything to the best of my ability’.  The key here is acknowledging that the guest is entitled to write a review if they wish (instead of having a knee-jerk panicked reaction) but asserting clearly that you do need the opportunity to resolve the issues first.  This dictates fairness across parties – it is a bit of give and take; they allow you the chance to resolve issues, and they will (on a psychological level) retain their right to express their opinion.  This also states that you acknowledged their comments and their threat but that you are not going to have your decision or resolution influenced by it.  By neutralising the threat (by normalising the situation and reducing the threat to little more than an acknowledged comment), you are in fact aiding your complaint resolution.  By stating that you want to resolve things, you are telling them that you want them to be satisfied whilst also acknowledging that they have not been satisfied so far.  Under no circumstances should you dismiss or refuse to acknowledge the review threat but you should also not have an immediate reaction that suddenly changes what is offered (otherwise the guest will always threaten TA when they have even the most minor issue!).  Importantly, do not become defensive or aggressive about the threat; treat it with the same attitude you would if someone were being welcomed to the hotel or being served at the bar!
  2. Review whats happened and respond appropriately!  This is not just about reviewing the events leading to the complaint and the threat, but also about reviewing why the guest felt they had to resort to this threat in the first place.  Usually these will fall in to one of two reasons – they either felt it was a last resort to get a reaction and have the issues dealt with, or they are one of the rare people who actually use this as a tool to be compensated above and beyond what is usually expected.  The people who target hotels and complain specifically to get free food or free stays etc, are actually few and far between; their existence is almost myth-like in the grand scheme of things – remember that if you have a 300 bedroom hotel and receive 2 complaints a day, you can often become dis-jointed and begin to add more weight to these complaints than necessary.  Often you forget that you had 298 bedrooms that didn’t complain and loved it, so perspective is a good thing to always remind yourself of.  The guests who ‘complain for the sake of complaining’ are harder to overcome – they have a predetermined strategy and often push your limits as much as possible.  Dealing with these is difficult but see my post on professional complainers and social complainers for more details.  For those people who are threatening because it is a last resort (usually the exasperated guest who throws TA in to the mix in the midst of a heated discussion), you need to really analyse why they feel it is the only way to get a response.  Many hotels fail to do this and end up hearing exasperated threats of TA reviews more and more often, missing the main point that their customer service and complaint handling is far from adequate.  Make adequate offers that are in line with the issues – if someone has many issues with their bedroom, offer an alternate room (even if it is an upgraded room or the penthouse suite – remember that if you are upgrading because of a bedroom complaint at 9pm, it is unlikely for most hotels that they would sell that upgraded room at full rate anyway, so nothing is really lost!)
  3. Report it! This is a last resort and is only after the review has been posted on TripAdvisor (Laterooms actually allows you to dispute a review prior to publication, which is highly recommended!).  Simply report the review as blackmail (you are best to do this pro-actively as stated in TA guidelines here. You can report after the review has been posted, but be aware that you need to be as specific and as non-emotional as possible – it is far too easy to rant bout how rude someone was or similar, but be careful that this does not make you appear as the aggrieved party with a vendetta!  If the review is not removed (allow a few days for this) then submit a management response (ideally do this as soon as the review appears on TA, even if you have reported it).  This response should be professional and simple.  Ideally something similar to “Dear Reviewer, thank you for taking the time to write a review of our property.  We are all disappointed that you did not enjoy your time with us and please rest assured that we will always do everything within our power to resolve any issues that are brought to our attention.  Please accept our apologies that you feel the stay was unsatisfactory and that these issues were not fully resolved to your satisfaction as this is not the experience we wish for guests to have.  We hope that we may welcome you back in future however if you do have any concerns or issues that you wish to discuss further, please do not hesitate us directly at the hotel.”

Whilst tripadvisor blackmail is never a nice thing to be held to, the main thing is to remember that after that poor review, having another 10 great reviews will push the bad review down, and push your score back up – if all else fails, just increase your service standards a bit more to make every review afterwards an amazing one!

Do you have stories of review blackmail or any further advice to add?  Tell us in the comments!

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Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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