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How to respond to a negative review about your bed and breakfast

marketing a bed and breakfast running a bed and breakfast Oct 28, 2021

If you prefer you can listen to this post on the podcast --> How to respond to a negative review podcast

I always used to feel slightly nauseous whenever the “You have a new review” email arrived in my inbox. My impostor syndrome chimp the one that’s been saying “Right, now they’re going to find you out” for many years, starts getting all excited.

To find out more about your B&B chimp --> Are you letting your chimp run your B&B?

Luckily, most of those reviews were positive, and the chimp could go back to chilling. But very occasionally THAT review pinged into my email.

I remember my first negative review - the demanding guest, who I went above and beyond with all weekend, but had to ask to leave 1.5 hours past check out time because I needed to go out - gosh she wasn’t happy.

I did a lot to avoid poor reviews; worked hard to attract my ideal B&B guest, tried to exceed guest expectations, recognised when things go wrong and did my best to make it better…

But luck comes into it too. No matter how hard you work, there’s always going to be that ONE guest. The one who gives you โ…– for location because he actually needed to be in a town 40 miles away or the ones that gives you โ…— because the “rubber duck wasn’t to our taste”

Taking reviews personally

You may have heard people say that "you shouldn't take it personally" when you receive a less than glowing review.

But, as a bed and breakfast owner, you've probably poured your heart and soul into your business and work very hard to maintain your standards. So when you do get a bad review it's going to hurt.

It's also quite unique as a business because it's very difficult to get away from it. Unless you actually leave the building and go on holiday.

When you're working away from home and you've had a bad day, you can at least leave the work place at the end of the day, go home, pour yourself a G&T and create some degree of separation. But it's more difficult to do that when your business is also your home.

I wish I had the magic answer to help B&B owners not take things so personally but there isn't one. 

I think it helps, when that negative voice in your head won't shut up, to take a deep breath, be aware of it and try not to engage it in conversation. Just being aware of the route that inner chimp is going to take you down is the first ( and great ) starting point.

The 5 x 5 Rule

Another trick that could help is the 5x5 rule.

Pause and ask yourself if what you're worried/cross about will matter to you in 5 years time ( or even 5 hours, 5 days, 5 weeks, 5 months ) and if the answer is no, then give yourself 5 minutes to worry about it, then move on.

The types of bed and breakfast reviews

In my experience there are 3 main types of B&B reviews:

Positive, glowing "this is the best B&B I've ever stayed at" review

These are the reviews we all want, and 95% of the time, if you're meeting and/or exceeding guests' expectations, these are the ones you'll get.

I recommend members of my Bed and Breakfast Marketing Community create a "Smile FIle", where you put all of the positive reviews you get; those online, in a guest book or given to you in person. 

The Smile File has a 2 fold purpose.

  1. You can refer back to it whenever you are feeling a bit fed up after receiving a negative review. Remind Yourself how lovely 95% of your guests are
  2. It's a great source of information when you're looking for inspiration for blog post or social media content ideas. You can look at the sort of language your guests tend to use and what they enjoyed about your stay

Constructive feedback reviews

These are review that guests leave that contain feedback from guests about how their stay could have been better, because something really wasn't up to scratch or something went wrong. Or didn't meet their expectations.

It's quite natural for us to get defensive when you get a bad review or feedback or a complaint. But it's important to take a deep breath and a step back.

Once you've taken a deep breath, it's worth looking through these reviews and seeing if there is anything of value in them.

  • Did something actually go wrong or does something need improving in your business?
  • Does your marketing message - in your website, blog, social media - need reviewing to ensure your guests expectations are in line with what you're offering?

Maybe the answer to these questions is no and the guest just has unreasonable expectations.

One of my favourite guests comments reviews was the one that said

"There were more flies in the room than we'd expect from a 5 star B&B"

I wondered aloud to my husband "If we'd been a 4 star B&B, do you think the number of flies would have been acceptable?" whilst also sarcastically remarking that it was mid summer, they'd had the window wide open over the field below which was filled with cows.

It's impossible to be the perfect B&B and the perfect B&B owners for everyone.

Vindictive "punishment" reviews

This is are the nasty reviews you can receive if a guest feels slighted by something. They're quite often inaccurate and quite often plain nasty.

My example right at the start was one of these. I'd had to ask the guests to leave and she was very cross with me - feedback from them up till that point had been glowing.

Other people in our Facebook group have received similar when they've had to ask guests to leave due to unreasonable behaviour such as smoking in the rooms.

There's not much you can do with these reviews. If there are inaccuracies in the review then you can calmly correct them but I think it's really important not to get into an online argument with those people.

They are not your ideal guest, they won't be back, move on...

Should you ever go back and challenge a guest about a review 

This is question I see raised quite often. 

"the guest only gave me 7/10 for cleanliness. The room was immaculate and I'd spent 2 hours cleaning it prior to their review. Should I contact them and ask what was wrong?"

I would always ask myself what I wanted to achieve by contacting a guest and asking this sort of question?

Am I asking because I genuinely want to know where I can make improvements?

Or am I asking because I want them to admit they were wrong and change their review?

Responding to review

TripAdvisor tells us guests will be more likely to stay at a B&B with a bad review when the owner responds constructively.

And personally, I took the approach of responding to all of my Tripadvisor reviews. I felt that if people had taken the time to leave a positive review they deserved as much, if not more, of my time than those who left a negative review.

It can take quite a bit of mindset work, but, after letting my chimp out to swear a bit, I always tried to see a bad review as a marketing opportunity.

Read my 10 steps to responding to a negative review below ๐Ÿ‘‡

The 10 steps to responding to a negative review

Step 1 - Move away from the PC/Phone/Tablet

The crucial first step when responding to a negative review about your business, is to disconnect yourself from the internet.

It’s really important that you don’t reply straight away and end up writing something you are going to regret.

Step 2 - Acknowledge your feelings

If you don’t have some sort of emotional reaction to receiving a negative review about your business, then you are probably super man/woman. And I take my hat off to you.

It’s very difficult not to take it personally - as a B&B owner you are probably responsible for all aspects of the B&B. So it's going to hurt when someone criticises some aspect of it.

Step 3 - Write the response you’d really like to write

With the internet still disconnected, get a piece of paper and a pen and write the response you’d really like to write to the reviewer. Go all out, enjoy it, get all of your thoughts and feelings out.

Feel any better? Good - now destroy that piece of paper. Burn it or shred it.

Step 4 - Ready to write your response?

Rather than seeing the review as something negative, try and see it as a marketing opportunity; a way to show yourself and your B&B in a good light.

I’d give it 24 hours before you actually sit down to write the response that you’re going to make public.

And then I recommend you open a Google Doc or a Word file and write your first drafts in there. Don’t write it directly into TripAdvisor or wherever the review is. There’s always the risk you might accidentally publish it before you’re completely happy with it.

This will give you the opportunity to write, review and update it.

Step 5 - Remember who you’re writing your reply to

You aren’t writing your response to that person who left the review.

You're writing to all of the hundreds of potential guests who are reading your response and deciding whether you’re the sort of B&B owner they want to stay with.

Imagine your ideal B&B guest and the sort of reply they want to see. If they have a problem when they’re staying with you, they’ll want to see that you’ll act swiftly and with grace! Write your response as if you’re talking to them.

Step 6 - Keep it short

Over the years, I’ve helped a lot of B&B owners edit their review response. And, without exception, the first draft of their response is ALWAYS TOO long.

They try to address every single point in the review. I suggest keeping it to half a page; a couple of paragraphs at most. Look through and see which points it’s vital to address.

Step 7 - Acknowledge that the guest’s expectations weren’t met

Even if you disagree completely with what the person has written, something has gone wrong somewhere for them to write a negative review.

It might be in your marketing - the guest has expected something that you don't offer. It might be your marketing is appealing to the wrong sort of person. 

It may have nothing to do with you at all or something you have no control over. In which case you could use your response to emphasise your policies or a service you offer.

For example, if someone has complained that there were no pubs within walking distance. You could say something like:

“There are no pubs within walking distance, but we offer a choice of platters for guests to enjoy in their rooms” or “it’s possible to get a bus/train/taxi to avoid using the car”

I would never mention any compensation offered in a review. It may open the floodgates to people booking and complaining just to get a freebie. 

If it's a one of those vindictive reviews that I mentioned at the start, I would try not to go into the counter attack. I would correct any major, damaging inaccuracies, but I wouldn't sa something along the lines of "we had to throw you out"

Whilst it was very tempting for me to respond to my negative review with "well you went back to bed after breakfast and I had to ask you to leave" I didn't!

Step 8 - Be honest with yourself

It’s easy to get defensive when faced with negative feedback, but try and take a step back and look at it with neutral eyes. Did something actually go wrong or do you need to be doing something differently in the way you run your business?

For example, If you have no pubs within walking distance, is that absolutely clear on your website and other marketing?

A bit of honesty in a review will be looked on favourably by future guests:
“We’re very sorry you didn’t have enough hot water for a shower. We’d had a power cut that week and had forgotten to reset the timers. From now on we’ll be checking the hot water timer before each new guest arrival”

Step 9 - Before you post your response

Send it to someone who is in the B&B business, but not directly involved with your business, and ask them to review and suggest edits. And make sure it’s someone who will be honest with you!

Even when you know all of the theory of writing a good response, it’s still difficult to take the emotion out of it. I speak from personal experience. I will always get someone else to review my own responses.

 Step 10 - Post your response

Reread your review for the final time, then hit the submit button.

If you haven't already got one, I suggest you compile a smile file. This is a document filled with all of the good reviews guests have left, positive comments from your guests books and nice things people have said to you.

If you're continuing to ruminate on the bad review, reading your smile file will really help! 

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