Whether engaging in a bit of harmless social media strong-arming or outright blackmail, it seems that more consumers these days are flexing their social media muscle to exact special treatment from businesses.
If the customer is being mistreated, then fair game. I’ve done it myself. When a client wasn’t paying a bill, after months of chasing and broken promises I warned him that if he didn’t pay up I’d feel obliged to share the experience in a review. Ironically, I had helped his company with a reputation problem, and this certainly wasn’t going to help his cause. Like magic, payment arrived by PayPal within hours.
Social media has empowered consumers, and that’s a good thing. But what if the customer is making an unreasonable, unethical or just plain sleazy demand? Given the adverse effects negative reviews can have on a business, should employees allow themselves to be held hostage to such threats in order to preserve the peace and protect reputation? Do we really want to reward such behavior?
The good news is, we’re far from helpless. There are ways to combat review blackmail and to mitigate the fallout. For starters, TripAdvisor for Business recently launched a feature that allows businesses to alert them of blackmail before or after the review is posted. Defining review blackmail as “when a guest threatens to write a negative review unless a demand for a refund, upgrade, or other request is met”, the company states that such activity “is strictly against our guidelines and may also be illegal in many locations.”
If your business receives such a threat, you’re advised to submit a report as soon as possible by logging in to the Management Center. For step-by-step instructions see Reporting Potential Blackmail to TripAdvisor.
So that’s what you can do after the incident. But what about when the guest is in front of you, snarling and lashing out? Every situation will call for different measures, but here are my suggestions for managing the situation:
How to handle a threat to write a bad review
1. Take the threat seriously, but don’t allow it to cloud your judgement. Handle it like any other complaint: remain calm and professional, offer options, and do everything within reason to find a solution.
2. If you feel the need to acknowledge the threat, say, “We would prefer you didn’t write a negative review. How can we resolve this situation to your satisfaction?” If the answer is, “Comp my charges!”, say you’re sorry but you’re not at liberty to do that. Then say what you can do.
3. Record all details for future reference.
4. Most people won’t follow through with the threat once calmer heads prevail, especially if you handled the situation with empathy and professionalism. If the guest does post a review and it’s false and damaging, dispute it with the host site.
5. The reviewer might be a lost cause, but you may want to reassure other travelers by posting a response. For example, you might say, “Our recollection of this incident is quite different from how it is described here. We feel we acted reasonably under the circumstances, and while we wish the outcome had been different, we stand by the decision.”
5. Be respectful in your response, and avoid “he said, she said” banter. Don’t saying anything that might provoke the reviewer to take the grievance to other review sites and social networks.
6. If the reviewer comes across as unreasonable or irrational in the review, you might decide to remain silent and let readers draw their own conclusions. If your reputation is otherwise solid, travelers aren’t likely to be deterred.
7. Write guidelines into your Social Media Policy so that employees have the confidence of knowing where they stand in such situations, the options they have, and that upper management will support their decisions.
8. Afterward, debrief with staff and discuss how you might prevent a future recurrence. Take comfort in having done your best, and move on. There’s too much positive and constructive feedback out there to waste an inordinate amount of time on these unscrupulous types.
Daniel Edward Craig is a former hotel general manager and the founder of Reknown, a consultancy specializing in social media strategy and online reputation management. Visit www.reknown.com.
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