Just like grief, there are 5 stages we all go through when we receive a bad review. The problem is, if you don’t allow yourself to pass through all of them in order, things can get messy. Using one of our bad reviews as an example, I’ll walk you through all 5 of these stages. At each stage we’ll look at opportunities and identify pitfalls. Finally you’ll learn how to craft a professional response that also speaks to your future guests. In short, I’m going to show you how to turn a negative review into a positive experience in 5 (mostly) easy steps.

We were well received by Paul. He even went with us to the fish market to buy some groceries. It is a huge house with an absolutely spectacular view and a lot of different spaces to hang around. Unfortunately the place is kind of run down. You can see that there are no investments made any more. The Christmas tree was still there end of January. Many appliances don’t work. The washing machine, the ice machine in the fridge and the indoor bike, etc. – 3 stars.

Actual Review from February, 2017

Stage 1 – Denial

Suprise emoji

No. Way. This has to be a mistake, right? Sure, I remember the guests but we never get 3-star reviews. This is a great property with dedicated staff. We inspect the whole place each week to make sure everything is working properly. There is no way they could actually think the property is neglected or run down! Maybe this is what this family likes to do. Maybe they go around leaving bad reviews in hopes of getting a refund. Yeah, that’s gotta be it. Now that I think of it, they did seem a little dodgy to me.

Most of us don’t spend much time here at Denial mostly because it’s kind of a silly place. However, it’s worth taking a closer look before we move on. The most important thing to notice at this stage is the tendency to externalize blame. You have to make sure not to bring any of these knee-jerk reactions forward to your final response. Anyone reading your reply will see any of these excuses for what they really are: feeble attempts to deflect blame away from yourself.

Stage 2 – Anger

Anger emoji

Wait a minute (index finger wagging in an accusatory manner),  I did take that family to the fish market…and the supermarket before that. I translated for them at both places before giving all 5 of them a ride to the property in our personal vehicle. Along the way, I pointed out the sights, answered their questions, helped them unload their baggage all before giving them a 45 minute tour of the property. On said tour, I told them that the ice dispenser wasn’t turned on because it wasn’t connected to potable water and explained that the washing machine had been decommissioned but we had another one on the property. It’s not my fault they weren’t listening! And nobody told me the exercise bike was on their list of  “must do” activities in Nicaragua! I did everything except tuck these people in at night and THIS is the thanks I get?

You can see why they call this stage “anger”, right?

Give or take a couple of expletives, that’s pretty much what was going through my head for the first 15 minutes after reading this review…and that’s okay. It’s only natural to get upset when someone unexpectedly rains on your parade. Where most people go wrong is they don’t recognize that anger is only one of the first steps in the process. They don’t recognize that now is absolutely the worst time to crack open the laptop and start hammering out your response. Instead, you have to recognize your anger for what it is: a natural response to unexpected criticism and a catalyst for disaster if you don’t move past it.

In case you missed it, DO NOT WRITE YOUR RESPONSE YET!

Stage 3 – Acceptance

Sad emoji

If we were following the stages of grief, this is where Bargaining and Depression would make their appearance but that seems a little heavy for a vacation rental review. We all take our jobs seriously but Depression is probably not gonna happen.  Instead, once we’ve calmed down a bit, most of us will hop on the express bus to Acceptance.

Okay (deep breath), I guess I can sort of see their point. We did leave the Christmas decorations up. This was a last minute booking and we had been planning to take the decorations down that week. We all forgot about them as soon as the booking came through. That one’s on us. And…we should have checked to make sure the exercise bike was working properly. Even if nobody ever uses it, if it’s out there for clients to see, it should be operational. AAAAAND…if you’ve already decided to write a bad review, it makes sense to tack on the ice maker and washing machine…even if I totally explained both those issues in detail during the tour 😛

Acceptance is the toughest stage of a bad review and, consequently, the one that gets overlooked the most. However, if you’re not ready to look at things from your guests’ point of view and accept responsibility for your role in the problem, then your response is going to sound dismissive and insincere. Unless you got stuck with some real whack-a-doodles for guests, at least some of it is going to be your fault. It’s better to accept this responsibility than try to avoid it. You’re not going to fool anyone.

It’s almost time to start writing that reply but there’s still one more thing you need to do before you commit your thoughts to the all-remembering intertubes. You need to figure out what you actually learned from the experience.

Stage 4 – Learning

Confused emoji

An apology is always better received when accompanied by an explanation of where you went wrong and how you’ll avoid making the same mistake in the future.

~ Lessons from 18 years of marriage

So, what did we learn? The most important thing we learned was that everything a guest can see or touch needs to be working properly. We also learned that we needed to do a better job at inspecting the properties we manage. Everything that can be turned on needs to be turned on. Everything that can be pushed, pulled, spun, ignited, watched, ridden, surfed, driven or sat on has to have those things happen to them at least once a week to ensure they are functioning properly.

We also learned (and not for the first time) that you can’t have anything in your vacation rental home that your guests can’t use. No matter how much explaining you do, guests will always feel they are receiving slightly less value for their money if they can see something but can’t use it. No amount of reasonable explanations or excuses is going to change that.

Finally, we learned that Christmas decorations are stupid…no…wait, that’s not right. We learned that leaving the Christmas decorations up too long makes us look stupid. Yeah, that sounds more like it. The internet seems to think that Christmas decorations need to be left up until after the 12 days of Christmas (the Epiphany) which happens on the 6th of January. At our house, we put away the “Jo Jo Jo” pillow (Spanish for Ho Ho Ho) as soon as we get sick of seeing it. However, if you are looking for a rule of thumb, then any time during the first week of January is a good time to shove those decorations back under the stairs.

Stage Five – The Response

Happy emoji

Your pulse has returned to normal. You’ve accepted that most of it was probably your fault and you’ve even learned from your mistakes. It’s time to write your reply…almost.

The last thing you need to consider is who your audience is. Of course you are responding to the person who wrote the review but they aren’t the only people who’ll be reading it. In fact, we would argue that they aren’t even the most important person who’ll be reading your response. Whenever we respond to a review, we try to and remember that our largest and most important audience will be all the potential guests browsing our reviews before deciding whether or not to hit the “Book it Now” button.

With this outcome in mind, we try and make sure our responses accomplish all of the following: 1. Acknowledge all concerns and thank the reviewer for their feedback. 2. Correct any misconceptions or misunderstandings WITHOUT BLAMING THE REVIEWER. 3. Acknowledge responsibility for everything that was our fault. 4. Outline the steps we have taken to fix any problems so future guests understand the issues have been resolved.

It’s been a few hundred reviews since we responded to this less than stellar evaluation and I dare say we’ve refined our approach a bit over the years. So, with all of the above in mind, here is how we would respond if we received this review today. If you want, you can stop here and try crafting your own response before reading ours.

Hello [Guest],

We are very sorry that your stay with us fell short of your expectations. We the managers, the owners and staff all take great pride in the level of service we provide our guests but it appears we fell short of our goals on this occasion.

All of us were disappointed to hear that you left with the impression the house has fallen into disrepair. The ice maker is purposely disconnected to protect our guests from drinking non-potable water and the washing machine in the master bedroom has been decommissioned because we have newer machines on the property. I should have done a better job of explaining this during check-in and take full responsibility for the misunderstanding.

Thank you very much for letting us know the stationary bike wasn’t working properly. We have pulled it from service and will have it repaired. I’m sorry we didn’t notice this prior to your arrival. Apparently we all need to get more exercise!

Finally, we’d like to thank you for taking the time to bring these issues to our attention. While we obviously missed the opportunity to impress you during your stay, your feedback here allows us to set things right for our next guests.

Please accept our sincere apologies and I hope we get the chance to make it up to you the next time you are in San Juan del Sur.


Mango Vacation Rentals

So there you have it. The five stages of receiving a bad review and a fairly straightforward recipe for dealing with bad reviews when they happen. Nobody plans to get a bad review but I guarantee you’ll be glad you have a plan to follow the next time someone takes issue with your christmas decorations.

Happy rentals!