Archives January 2020

How to save time and energy dealing with bad guests

I’d like to start this article by prefacing it with this statement: I love Airbnb. I love hosting guests and cohosting for owners. It’s a wonderful tool that has opened up doors I could never dream of. 

That being said…sometimes Airbnb really sucks. 

One of the biggest issues that a host can deal with is retaliatory reviews by unhappy guests. As guests are becoming both more cunning and more picky, it’s unfortunately becoming a bigger and bigger issue. 

Often, Airbnb doesn’t do a whole lot to stop this. They say that they will remove a review that violates their terms of service (TOS), but in practice, it’s incredibly difficult to get a review removed once it’s been posted. The few times I’ve had to ask that a review be removed, I’ve had to go through multiple agents over the course of several weeks. Eventually I have to actually tell them word-for-word what part of their own TOS was actually violated. 

I won’t lie. It’s a huge pain. But with Airbnb bookings being so reliant on reviews, it’s worth the effort to get fraudulent or retaliatory reviews removed. 

I’ve learned something important about this process that’s making the whole thing infinitely easier. 

Be the first person they hear from. 

Airbnb reps are, at the end of the day, people just like you and me. And just like you and me, they are going to tend to believe the first person they hear from. 

Most guests who are going to cause you problems in the review have already caused you problems during their stay. A bad review should almost always be something you see coming. So after they check out, if they’ve done things that have legitimately been cause for worry, concern, or stress, call Airbnb and let them know.

This is ESPECIALLY true if you have evidence that they’ve actually threatened you with a bad review if you don’t give them what they want (usually a refund). 

You’re not reporting the guest. They’re not going to get in trouble. You’re simply making a paper trail that Airbnb reps can follow later on. This paper trail is what they’re going to use to make their decision on whether a review should be removed or not. And like most human beings, they’re probably going to side with the person they heard from first. 

I had a guest a few weeks ago who did this. Said they were going to cancel but never did. Several days after their reservation ended, they reached out to me asking where their refund was. When I told them that it wasn’t coming because they never actually canceled, they got all sorts of angry at me. Accused me of fraud, and theft, and told me point blank that they’d leave me a bad review if they didn’t get their money back. 

At this point, I called Airbnb. Told them the story, got the rep to review the thread, and he agreed that the messages were totally against Airbnb’s TOS. He assured me that if the guest did leave a retaliatory review, they would remove it. After our conversation ended, I got him to recap what he’d said in writing. 

And lo and behold, when the guest left a bad review (no surprise there), I was able to have it removed relatively easily. 

Now, I’m no psychologist. I could be totally off-base here. But I’m pretty sure it was so easy because I had gotten my story in first. 

I don’t like playing mind games. I wish as a host you never had to learn these sorts of tricks. But the fact is that they’re a part of the game if you want to be successful. So learn the rules of the game and play by them! Be proactive with Airbnb when you have unpleasant guests. You’ll get much better results in far less time. 

I promise you, in the long run, it’s going to save you so much stress and energy!

How to get good reviews without asking for them

To ask for a review or not to ask? That is the question.

Reviews are the absolute lifeblood of this industry. A host with lots of good reviews has the potential to make a lot more money than a host with few reviews or bad reviews.

So how do you ensure you get plenty of positive reviews? Here are your 4 main options:

1. Ask for a good review in exchange for a discount.

I wish this wasn’t even an option. It’s sleazy and dishonest and totally against Airbnb’s terms of service.

You can try to push your luck and do it anyway, but if a guest reports you, you’re in big trouble.

I had a host make this offer to me when I traveled to New York: $15 off my stay in exchange for a 5-star review. Well frankly, I reported her. It made me uncomfortable and I really didn’t like it at all. She ended up getting kicked off of Airbnb because she violated their terms of use.

So option #1 should really not be an option at all. It’s just bad business practice to bribe people for a good review. Just please, I beg you, don’t do it. It is unethical and we have seen time and again that while playing loose with ethics might bring profits in the short run your business will always suffer in the long run. Instead, focus your energy instead on creating a good experience for your guests so you don’t have to bribe them for a good review.

2. Ask for a good review in exchange for nothing.

This is a legitimate option. Lots of hosts do this. They’ll say something along the lines of this: “Hi <<guest>>! You’ve been a great guest, thanks for staying, yada yada yada. We’re going to give you a 5 star review and I hope you do the same for us!”

The problem I have with this approach is that while it may not be outright bribery, it still feels like coercion, or at the very least manipulation. What guest is going to want to give an honest negative review if they know they’re going to get a positive review in exchange? The tit-for-tat mentality is very strong in the Airbnb world, as I’ve written about before.

It’s just not totally above-board, and I don’t think honest and good hosts should employ this tactic.

3. Say nothing.

Another option you have is to say nothing and hope that guests will leave you a good review.

The problem with this approach is that many guests don’t understand how Airbnb’s rating system is different from hotel rating systems. With a hotel, the stars indicate the level of luxury. A 3-star hotel is a perfectly adequate hotel, but nothing particularly fancy. Based on hotel ratings, most Airbnbs would probably fall in the 2- or 3-star range.

But Airbnb’s rating system is completely different. The stars on Airbnb indicate the level of service, not luxury. A tiny private room in a shared home could easily garner 5 stars if the host was attentive to the guest during their stay. In fact, if you consistently get reviews of 4 stars or less, you could be in danger of your entire host account being disabled because of inadequate service.

So if you say nothing at all, it’s likely that you’ll get guests who rave about the quality of the service and attentiveness they received during their stay…and then give you 3 stars. This is no good. Guests need to be educated on how the rating system is different than most hotels.

That’s why I advocate for the fourth option:

4. Remind guests that a bad review will hurt you as a host, but don’t actually ask for a good review

This is the tactic I have employed in all of my listings for several years now, with really astonishing results.

I say something like, “Hey, <<guest>>, I hope you’ve had a great stay! Many guests don’t know this, but on Airbnb anything less than a 5-star review – even 4 stars – will hurt hosts. If you’ve had any issues during your stay that would cause you to have anything less than a 5-star experience, please let me know before you write a review so that I can do my best to rectify them.”

It’s amazing what this simple little message has done! I’ve had guests who have told me they didn’t have a 5-star experience, so they just wouldn’t leave a review so it wouldn’t hurt me. I’ve had guests say they didn’t realize that, so they would adjust their review from the 4 stars that they were planning on giving up to 5. I’ve even had guests who had legitimately awful experiences with me give good reviews!

I continue to be amazed at how effective this little message is.

I’ve had hundreds of guests leave reviews since I started using it. I can count on one hand the number of them that were less than 5 stars. It really does work! Who says you can’t be both ethical and successful? Give this tactic a try today! 

The tragic snowball effect of retaliatory reviews

I’m in a lot of Facebook groups for hosts only. In many of them, there’s this disturbing theme I’ve noticed going around lately.

Basically, it goes something like this.

Something negative happens during the guest’s stay. Either an obvious issue, or the guest seems to be complaining a lot, overly needy, etc. So the host assumes that if the guest writes a review after their stay ends, it will be negative and “retaliatory.” The host, therefore, simply hopes that a review is not left. If, however, they see that the guest did leave a review, the host then goes ahead and leaves a negative review for the guest to “get back” at them for the negative review they’re sure to have left.

There’s a few obvious problems with this approach.

One of the biggest of them being that reviews on Airbnb are a double-blind system. You don’t know what the other party has written about you until you’ve both filled out the review (or the review window has closed). So it’s really not fair to write a negative review simply because you think that the other party also wrote a negative review.

Another really big problem with this approach is that reviews are supposed to be honest. If your guest had a bad experience, but you had a good one (or vice-versa), those should both be legitimate reviews. This whole tit-for-assumed-tat thing is really harming the system of trust and peer review that the entire Airbnb platform is built on.

Here’s a personal example to prove my point.

I recently had one of the worst guest experiences ever. Actually, the guest herself was fine, but a minor misunderstanding snowballed to the point where the homeowner whose home she was in was no longer comfortable with the reservation, and asked me to cancel it. I really didn’t want to, but at the end of the day it wasn’t my house, so I proceeded with initiating the cancellation.

But then the homeowners changed their minds. And all hell broke loose.

I was already 3 hours into the cancellation (had to talk to multiple Airbnb reps to get it done). So we had 6 different voices (mine, the guest’s, the homeowner’s, and the 3 Airbnb reps) all telling different stories. It was chaos. So confusing.

Obviously, frustrations and tensions were extremely high. We all said some things we regretted. Eventually, we got through it, but it was an awful day.

I fully acknowledge the part I played in the confusion. If I had been the guest, I would have ripped the host apart in the review. So obviously, as a host, I sat back quietly hoping she would not leave a review.

I almost made it.

But then, 2 hours before the deadline, I got an email from Airbnb. “Your guest has left you a review! Write a review for them to see what they said.”

There is was. The dreaded retaliatory review.

I have to admit, I was so tempted to respond in kind.

It was such an awful experience all around…how could she possibly have said anything expect horrible things? Right??

But I finally realized that, as tempting as it was to do the whole “quid pro quo” thing, it wasn’t right. She had been a perfectly fine guest. Honestly, she had been overly nice and understanding. She’d been a great guest and I would have welcomed her back at any of my properties. So that’s what I had to write in the review.

After my review posted, I got to read hers.

And it was…really nice. Shockingly so.

“The place was clean, Lauren was a good and communicative host,” it said. That was it. No rants, no accusations, not even telling the whole ugly truth of the mess that had gone down. Just simple, kind, and to the point.

Can you imagine how I would have felt if I had written a bad review for her just because I assumed she had written a bad one for me? Oh my word, I would have felt like absolute scum.

But more so than that. If I had written a bad review for her when it wasn’t warranted, I would have made Airbnb a little less safe for everyone. I would have tarnished a good guest and made it harder for her to book elsewhere, harder for good hosts to be able to see that they have nothing to worry about in renting to her. Maybe she would also have changed, perhaps being less kind and understanding than she was with me because my treatment of her had jaded her.

This is the tragic snowball effect that happens when you write a review based on assumptions as to what the other review contains.

Listen, we all want to “get even.” That’s human nature. But you can’t get even if someone hasn’t done something yet. And until you’ve read the review, you don’t know what they have or haven’t done.

But beyond that…you are in the hospitality industry. That’s a service industry. That means it’s your job to put up with all sorts of crap with a smile. (That really is part of your job.) So please, can we all just act like grown-ups and stop lashing out like petulant children? Can we just learn to treat people with respect and dignity? Can we just be honest about our experience, without worrying if it jives with the experience of the other party?

It seems to me that if hosts could get that right it would fix a lot of our Airbnb platform woes.

2020: the year of kindness

If you’re in this business for any length of time, you’ll end up talking with Airbnb support a lot.

I recently got an email from an Airbnb agent closing a thread we’d had going back and forth for a few days. Her message said simply, “Thank you for your response. I really appreciate you being so kind.”

This one hit me right in the gut. I kinda felt like I’d been sucker-punched.

Because the thing is, I had not been “so kind.” I hadn’t even been marginally kind. This was one of the interactions with Airbnb that I can’t say I was particularly proud of how I’d handled.

That’s why her message hit me so hard. Even though I had been rude and reacted in the heat of the moment, she continued to be kind. Isn’t that the definition of the hospitality industry?

As hosts, that’s what we need to do with our guests every day. Be kind…period. Even if they’re rude to us. Even if they make unreasonable requests. It’s easy to assume they’re trying to be rude, but that’s rarely if ever the case. They may just be having a bad day, like I was. It’s our job to be kind, anyway.

(We should do that with everyone we interact with, but obviously sometimes we’re going to blow it, like I did with the Airbnb rep)

This is the start of a new year – a new decade, even. A perfect time for new beginnings. If this is something you’ve struggled with in the past – whether it be with guests, friends and family, strangers, or all of the above – I encourage you to make 2020 the year you turn over a new leaf.

Give yourself grace, of course, because you will mess up…but make this the year you focus on treating all people you interact with with grace, dignity, and kindness…regardless of whether you feel that they deserve it or not.