November 29th, 2016 by Shawn Kerr
Last month, I published a general blog post on how to deal with negative reviews from online sources. This month I am focusing on a specific type of negative review, or, rather, the threat of one being submitted. Learning how to deal with review blackmail (aka review extortion) is becoming more crucial in the distinctive lodging markets for B&B inns, dude ranches and boutique hotels as this phenomenon continues to grow.
What Is “Review Blackmail”?
Simply put, review blackmail or extortion is any objectively unethical or unreasonable demand from a customer in exchange for their agreement not to publish or post a negative review. For the purposes of this article, we will be looking at review extortion for InsideOut’s client base in the B&B inn, dude ranch, boutique hotel and related hospitality markets.
Review blackmailers use extortionist tactics to leverage refunds or “freebies” out of their guest experience.
Learn How to Deal with Review Blackmail or Extortion
Fortunately, there are ways to fight back against the threat of a negative review.
When the Threat of a Negative Review Is Made
It is important to take any threat of a negative seriously. A well written and seemingly reasonable negative review showing up online isn’t the end of the world, but it can harm your business reputation. Motivated blackmailers will actually look at other less-than-stellar reviews of your business and add agreeing comments to them and/or use those complaints to add ammunition to their own review. If that happens, then the casual reader will tend to assume that there is a pattern of poor service.
These threats, if acted upon by the guest, are serious, but don’t allow your emotional reactions to take over when they are made. Remaining calm and professional is a challenge, but doing so ensures that you will be better able to find a solution.
Heat of the Moment – The Verbal Threat of a Negative Review
This type of review blackmail is the most difficult to manage simply because the complaint, demand and threat are real-time. Worse, they can also be “in your face” when the message is delivered in-person rather than over a phone. A guest willing to confront you with a problem and deliver it with an ultimatum for a refund or upgrade to avoid a negative review can come as a shock, especially when intimidation tactics are used.
It is, therefore, crucial to set aside your reactive feelings. No one likes being yelled at or aggressively accused of something, whether the complaint has merit or not. It is vital that you, as the public face of the business, keep your head clear and appear attentive, empathetic and reasonable as you deal with the immediacy of the situation.
- Listen carefully, because your recollection of the event may become critical if the situation cannot be resolved during the conversation. If possible, take notes during the discussion to record the details for future reference If you can’t take notes at the time, be sure to write them down immediately afterward.
- Be sure you understand the complaint, asking for more detail from the guest as needed. Without a firm grasp of the problem you will never be able to find a solution.
- Focus your responses on resolution of the complaint as much as possible. For example: if the demand is objectively inappropriate to the complaint, your response should include reasonable alternatives.
- If your proposed resolution is rejected, express your regret that an agreement cannot be found and leave it at that.
How to Deal with Review Blackmail When It Cannot Be Resolved “Off-line” at the Time
You greatly reduce the potential of the guest’s threat of a negative review by following the steps above, but that’s no guarantee. When a guest does post a review that misrepresents the situation or the in-person attempts at resolution it is essential that you follow best practices, which you can read about in my previous post: How to Deal with Negative Reviews of Your Business Online. It important to note that you should not mention the blackmail threat in any responses you make “in public” on the website.
It is also critical to act immediately if you believe the guest will go through with their threat. You can report potential review blackmail at:
How Do You (Plan) to Deal with Review Blackmail?
Has your B&B, dude ranch, boutique hotel or related lodging business been the victim of review extortion? If not, it’s probably just a matter of time.
Please leave a comment about what you did or plan to do to with the complaint-demand-threat cycle so that other owners may learn more on how to deal with review blackmail.