How to handle malicious/negative reviews on TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor as well as many other accommodation/hospitality review sites are often embraced by users. For businesses however, it can be a bane in their existence if they do not understand how to manage reviews and comments about their organisation.

An extreme example of a business that can’t stand review sites and put in poor policy to handle them, was the Broadway Hotel located in Blackpool, UK. It hit the headlines after it ‘fined’ a couple who produced a damning review on TripAdvisor. The guests called it a ‘rotten stinking hovel’ and later found that they had been charged £100 to their credit card. The small print on the Broadway Hotel’s booking document stated: “For every bad review left on any website, the group organiser will be a charged a maximum £100 per review.” The Blackpool council said it persuaded the hotel to scrap the policy and reimburse the couple.

Charging customers £100 just because of a bad review is obviously a step too far, but the case highlights how nervous hoteliers are about the creation of negative reviews online.

Owners and management of hospitality/accommodation businesses are constantly being threatened with bad reviews on TripAdvisor by customers demanding discounts. Overall, TripAdvisor can be seen as a positive thing because if a B&B receives a good review it can boost their business. But there are problems that come with it, notably that it’s open to abuse, both from the owner and the clients where guests have been known to post malicious reviews.

So what is the best way to handle malicious/negative reviews on sites such as TripAdvisor?

There are five main distinct ways to handle a malicious or negative review.

1) Use the tools in place to report any malicious/negative reviews.
2) Take a deep breath and consider if the reviewer is being fair. Use a balanced response that re-sells the business.
3) Don’t engage with blackmailers.
4) Monitor how often is this happening and if it is overwhelming. You may be targeted by a malicious poster/competitor.
5) Try resolve any problems that arise proactively.

1 – Use the tools in place to report any malicious/negative reviews.

TripAdvisor has the tools in place to report reviews that seem malicious, unfairly negative, from possible associates of the business or competitors. Not always will TripAdvisor act on this feedback, but it’s best to cover all avenues to ensure the review is at least looked at by the moderators.
Below are two snapshots which consider how to report a review:
1. Click on the ‘Report’ button on the review which you would like to be seen be the moderators.

2. Select the appropriate category that would describe the review, and how you would like to be seen by the moderators.

If you find the reporting to TripAdvisor has not been acted upon, you can contact TripAdvisor directly, however often you would just follow the same channels as the review button. So it is always best to handle with the following four points summarised below.

2 – Take a deep breath and consider if the reviewer is being fair. Use a balanced response that re-sells the business.

Whenever you receive a review that you believe to be unfair, use this as an opportunity to showcase the professionalism of your team and management by showing a professional attitude to the review. If a negative review has come through about the service, the venue or the staff, respond by giving the reviewer the opportunity to engage with the business directly and showing the audience that this is most likely a once off.

It’s tempting to respond robustly, but the reader will be on side with the customer, so be sure to keep any responses balanced. Be careful and sympathetic first, without being dismissive.

A great response to a review on terrible service could be:

“Hi ……, we do regret you have experienced this with us. We are always looking to improve our service to our guests and are very proud of our high standard of service. However, I know every now and then, it is possible to have a mishap! I’d like to take this up with you personally and see how we can best rectify the situation with you. Please do not hesitate to contact our customer service management team on ………. and ask for …….. . We look forward to your call.”

This is a response that shows the reviewer, the audience and future guests – that you are humble, professional and proactive in listening to complaints. The business will now be seen as a business that is looking to pragmatically look after it’s guests and customers.

You may or may not receive a call from the reviewer, however if they do call through, it does give you an opportunity to investigate the matter internally and improve systems so there will be less of a chance of the reviewer’s complaint happening again.

This response also handles the reviewer from coming back and responding with an abusive chain, as you have now given them the chance to take it up with your business personally. If they come back on for a ‘rant’ it will immediately discredit the reviewer in the audience’s eyes.

3 – Don’t engage with blackmailers

Something to be very wary about is not to engage with blackmailers or to succumb to threats. If a customer demands a discount or they will write a bad review, this is equal to blackmail. TripAdvisor themselves recommend not meeting the demands of the person who is threatening you. A spokeswoman for TripAdvisor says “Report the threat immediately to us with any additional information you may have about the reviewer.”

Any response to such threats must be very on-policy, and you must give the blackmailers the discussion of “We can’t enter into discussion about this and we will give you what we give to all our guests.”

4 – Monitor how often is this happening and if it is overwhelming. You may be targeted by a malicious poster/competitor.

While a lot in the industry want a fair marketplace to conduct their trade in the accommodation and hospitality industry, there is no denying that there are certain operators who are quite antagonistic to competition. If you are receiving reviews that seem to be odd, are happening often and through investigation in your operations, you can’t find anything, you are perhaps being targeted by a malicious poster who wants to bring down your business.

These malicious posters have often been:

  • Past employees
  • Past guests who have some sort of continual gripe with the organisation
  • Or most commonly, other businesses in your industry who have an interest in bringing down your organisation

The best way to handle this is to report directly to TripAdvisor or any other review site about the guest repeatedly placing malicious reviews on your organisation. Also monitor their account and see if they are only posting about your organisation, as a lot of these malicious posters, would set up a fake account to just create negative reviews on your organisation.  Often malicious posters will create multiple fake accounts, posting one review to your organisation under each account.

You can often see the amount of reviews they have placed previously, and the helpfulness of those reviews to other reviews under their avatar. See image below for an example, where the reviewers score is highlighted in yellow.

If you have a strong suspicion that the reviewer is malicious, it is best to be diplomatic in your response to them online.

Always give the response example that was given under point 2, and leave your reviewer with the choice to bring it up with your business personally. Also, if the reviews continue to come through, you could give a response similar to below:

“Hi ………., thank you for your review. We have recently been receiving reviews to our page by fake accounts on TripAdvisor. This matter is currently being taken up and investigated with TripAdvisor. As you currently have no solid profile with TripAdvisor, we suggest you contact us personally, so we can help you with your situation in the fullest. We only want our guests to experience the very best in services when they stay with us. We look forward to your contact!”

This will normally be enough to discourage the malicious poster from continuing as you haven’t poured any further coals on their flames, and answered professionally as well as diplomatically. You have also brought to their attention that you are onto them and that TripAdvisor is shortly going to be onto them also. This would make the malicious poster feel their threat to your business is really not creating the effect they intended.

5 – Try to resolve any problems that arise proactively

When dealing with issues that have arisen from reviews left on review sites such as TripAdvisor, it is best to be proactive about it internally. Having the correct policy in place is crucial to success in this area.

If a negative review has been left, ensure the following:

  • The response to the reviewer has a point of contact in the organisation they can speak to, that is responsible for the area of concern, and that there is a procedure in place to rectify the situation. For example, if the reviewer does contact and there is a valid reason for their complaint, you could offer incentive for the reviewer to try your business again and see that it is not always this way.
  • Then investigate the matter internally – and this you MUST! Always find out why this condition happened in the first place, and review and fix the situation at hand, so it doesn’t create this scenario again.

A proactively online policy as well as internal policy around negative reviews, will give your organisation the beef it needs to handle any situation which arises.

In summary, review sites such as TripAdvisor are a great way for a well operated business to gain recognition and can be a great marketing tool for the business. Ideally you would like 100% of your guests to be fully satisfied when with your business. However, if the case arises that one isn’t it is always best to have an understanding on handling that guest before they get to a review site. And if they get to a review site and leave a review, how to handle the situation from that point on is critical. So often hotel/hospitality operators will respond defensively, and their defensiveness as well as their customers review is on the internet for the life of TripAdvisor, which ultimately reflects poorly on the professionalism of the business. Stay professional and balanced and you will survive the review chaos!