How to Manage Review Blackmail

Reknown Travel Marketing, Daniel Edward Craig I’ve written about Social Media Coercion and Social Media Ambush in the past, and it continues to be a hot topic.

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. 

Reknown Travel Marketing, Daniel Edward Craig 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 judgment. 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.

Have you experienced a threat to write a bad review—or made a threat yourself? Post a comment to share it here. 

New TripAdvisor’s Master Classes! See you in San Francisco and Seattle next month?

Posted by Daniel Edward Craig. Photo courtesy of Maplewood Farm and sign-maker Cameron Stewart, DNV.org.

 

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20 Responses to “How to Manage Review Blackmail”

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  1. Vic B. says:

    Great Article, and advice on how to take appropriate actions against irrational customers.

  2. James Young says:

    I have been through that scenario. A guest vomited all over a room, said nothing when checking out 3 hours late. She was charged the cost of having carpet cleaners come in, and of course was very upset by the chaarge on her credit card. Called and said that if I didn’t reverse it she would post bad reviews. I said “I’m sorry, but I’m not prepared to do that.” She had booked through Booking.com, and I did call them and let them know. They basically said “Don’t worry about it, there are so many good reviews it won’t matter”. She did post a review tehre that has literally no effect. She also posted on Tripadvisor (of course), and I was thrilled because as the hotel manager, I get the last say. I explained in my response that I was glad she posted the review, that we take cleanlness seriously, and that anyone leaving a similar mess should expect to be charged also so that the other guests don’t end up paying those costs. I also mention that I do not fall for the “review blackmail” approach. Personally, I think it was a win for us, and I don’t really care if she has even seen my response.

  3. Are Morch says:

    Hi Daniel.

    Great insight here on how to manage Review BlackMails.

    There are puff, fluff and gauging reviews. And it is not that long since TripAdvisor had to remove the ‘reviews you can trust’.

    Have you written some articles on the aspect of Review Gauging? Can’t recall the exact term of it, but this is where ‘professional reviewers’ more or less demand special treatment due to their authority as a reviewer.

    I strongly support the path you suggest through your Reputation Management approach. Though a lot of the Social Media is real time, I think is not realistic to provide proper response in all cases in real time. We have to do some Social Media segmentation to distinguish which type of response we should provide.

    Now I am a big fan of collaboration, so for me I would loved to seen a Champion Advocate come in a respond when concerns is raised. But we still have some roadblocks to pass before we are there.. Though that is one of my pet peeves 😉

    Cheers..

    Are Morch
    Hotel Blogger

    • Daniel Edward Craig says:

      Are, have you heard about the “Review Card”? Check this article out. Move over, Amex Platinum! Seriously, I don’t think it will fly, it’s just too distasteful a concept, but it does show how some consumers feel about their social media might. http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lazarus-20130122,0,1425487.column

      • Are Morch says:

        Hi Daniel.

        A little late reply here. But did read the article about ReviewCard.

        No doubt it is interesting to observe that there actually exist this types of concepts out there. So we need to have them on our radar to understand their thinking.

        I saw on first page where it indicated that there is $100 fee for the ReviewCard. And on next page I saw how he had used this on a 400 Euro room. “I took out my card and asked if I could pay 200 euros,” Newman said. “In return, I would write a great review on TripAdvisor. The woman at the hotell immediately said yes. It was a win-win for both of us.”

        That is where he totally lost me.. :)’

        Cheers..

        Are Morch
        Hotel Blogger

  4. Jane says:

    And what if the shoe is on the other foot?? I booked a self-catering cottage in Ireland recently, through a booking agency, and when i arrived, the place was so unbelievably cold and damp, it was uninhabitable. The newspaper intended to start a fire wouldn’t even catch fire against a match–it would only smolder. The place was also not very clean, there was ketchup spilled in the cutlery drawer, etc., etc. ad nauseum. I was clearly owed a refund, and the company blew me off until I expressed an honest opinion that in the day and age of social media, when information is so quickly disseminated, I was shocked that they would have so little integrity and refuse to do the right thing.

    After a number of exchanges, during which I made no further mention of social media, by the way, I finally got an e-mail offering a refund ONLY with the agreement that nothing would be said on social media! In this case, people deserve to know that the place is uninhabitable–and I found out after the fact (from the locals) that this has happened before with the same cottage. Another young family with an asthmatic child had to leave for the same reasons: frigid cold and damp.

    I confess to finding this article very one-sided, and imagine the writer caters to businesses. Nonetheless, honor and integrity should still matter, and I’m rather stunned to learn that Trip Advisor gives the last word to the business. The deck appears to be stacked, and as a consumer, I don’t like it. Not one bit.

    • Daniel Edward Craig says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jane. Indeed, this article is deliberately one-sided as my website is intended for businesses, not for consumers – although it’s always good to hear from consumers. I’m sorry to hear about your experience in Ireland. It sounds dreadful, and I certainly hope you wrote a review about it. From the perspective of hotels and travel businesses, social media has empowered consumers, and a small minority use this to their advantage. Much like there are countless incidents of travellers being misled by travel businesses, there are many incidents of travel businesses being abused by travellers. There are many resources and options for mistreated travellers. This article is intended for businesses, to counsel them on their options in such circumstances. I trust this makes sense. – With best regards, Daniel

      • carrie says:

        I, for one, am relieved to finally see some support for the business side of things. The reality is that there are consumers who behave badly, just as there are businesses who do the same. But the internet is incredibly biased in favour of consumers, often leaving businesses with no choice but to suffer the effects of an (unjustified) bad reputation. I’m really glad to see TripAdvisor is getting involved in the support of businesses who deal fairly and ethically, and yet who are still extorted by consumers behaving badly.

  5. We received the following e-mail last evening. It’s a different approach from a blackmailer. In this case, he want’s to be “compensated for his time”. Read it below. I did notify TripAdvisor as they requested. We will not respond to the blackmailer’s threat. Local inns in our association received the same e-mail.

    “Grant,

    I work for an American manufacturer and one of my colleagues mentioned this week that after a non satisfying stay at your guesthouse, that he intends to write crappy reviews on as many complaint sites as possible.
    I have seen your website and it does appear you have a beautiful guesthouse and your rates are competitive. Nonetheless, bad reviews will amount to guaranteed income loss. So what I propose is that I get involved and convince my colleague not to write anything about you publicly. To compensate me for my time; I’ll charge you the equivalent of a 2 nights stay at your guesthouse ($200USD total seems fair). I can send you a PayPal invoice today. I believe this arrangement is in both our best interests. Thank you.
    Harry”

    • Daniel Edward Craig says:

      Wow Grant, what blatant, shameless extortion! “$200 seems fair.” Yeah, right. Sounds like you’re taking the right approach. Let me know if I can help.

  6. Peggy Bendel says:

    VERY helpful article, Daniel! A colleague was threatened yesterday with such blackmail by a client after a lengthy trip (which included some courtesy freebies and upgrades, as he was a new customer), during which the complainer had stolen several things from the guest room(s) and had at least once reportedly bragged to fellow guests that this was his modus operandi for getting money back when he traveled. I’ve just sent my colleague links to this article and to the TripAdvisor page, and forwarded both to another colleague who had a somewhat similar situation earlier this year. In that case, they did eventually resolve the situation, and their customer removed and/or posted to that effect everywhere she had been (extremely!) negative – but Ripoff Report would NOT allow her to do so. Apparently, their business model involves their own “extortion” of fees from named companies for removing the complaints!!! I write and provide counseling about crisis communications: I’ll be producing my soft-cover “It’s a crisis! NOW what?” as an e-book in the next year, and will be back in touch for a possible case study from you.

    • Daniel Edward Craig says:

      Glad the post helped, Peggy. And I’m happy to hear your colleagues have had success fighting this type of behavior. By all accounts RipOff Report is aptly named, and there are other sites with a similar model gaining traction, which is disturbing to say the least. All the more reason for businesses to work on developing a strong reputation across the board. If you’re running a good business, a few bad reviews aren’t likely to deter travelers, though they can wreak emotional havoc among business owners!

      • Viet Nguyen says:

        Hello there,

        This article is so helpful for me right now. Currently Im mangaging a website http://internetcapquang.vn/ and a lots of my competitors they just trying to do review blackmail to my website.
        That’s the reason why I dont want to put comment or review to my website, but actually I really want to make a small community out of my website. But these thing happen all the time.. Do you have any idea how can I prevent this from my competitors ?

  7. Kieu Nguyen says:

    Very helpful article but I had reported a customer’s blackmail attempt 2 months back and the customer did a poor review 5 days back.

    I was quite disappointed that Tripadvisor posted the review despite me sending email evidences that this person was blackmailing me and was constantly threatening me with a bad review.
    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g298082-d2086730-r222847916-Wall_Street_Tailors-Hoi_An_Quang_Nam_Province.html#REVIEWS

    Basically, this customer was very happy when he purchased a suit from my shop and when he returned to his country, he grew bigger and wanted me to give him a brand new suit. When I gave him an option of a full refund or rebate of his alteration costs, he flatly denied and argued for 3 months that we should give him a free suit or he will do a bad review. I ended up giving him a full refund for his suit because he kept harassing me so much via email and phone calls it affected my state of mind.

    however, he posted a review which was very untrue, looked genuine and many self-crafted ‘facts’. The most untrue statement was “Unfortunately I was very disappointed with the end product of the suit and ended up getting a refund. ” I mean if he was unhappy, he wouldn’t have argued with us for 3 months to try to get a free suit which I didn’t agree to.

    i would like to seek your advice on how to get Tripadvisor to speed up on their ‘investigation’ and whats steps to take because it is unfair that this review is posted without even being investigated in the first place.

    Cheers,
    Kieu Nguyen

  8. Pamela Peitzman says:

    Who does one write to when a business owner threatens a customer (who has written a bad review) with physical harm unless that customer/consumer takes down the review?

    I was threatened after writing an honest review (unsatifactory) with a phone call from the owner, saying that he has my license plate number and knows how to find me. I took down the review, but noticed that he has NO bad reviews… I fear that this is not the first time he may have threatened someone.

    • Daniel Edward Craig says:

      Hi Pamela, This doesn’t sound good! Normally, if a business is abusing the system I recommend reporting it to the host site. In your case, where threats of violence are involved, I would contact the local authorities too. Good luck.

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