top of page
a blog by Chris Barrow

The Power of a Bad Review – a guest post from Suzanne Stolberg

I’m frequently contacted by people who have products and services of relevance to my clients. For over 20+ years I have maintained a policy that I do not accept introducers fees or commissions – I simply broadcast and comment on good ideas.

Every business dreads a bad online review – the disgruntled patient, the unhappy customer, the one who believes that venting their anger on t’interweb is the best form of revenge.

Never more so than in the hospitality business – online reviews can be a double-edged sword. Get it right and the search engines love you; get it wrong and potential guests can easily go elsewhere. Many online booking agencies got wise to the false reviews generated by SEO companies a few years ago and now only let ‘genuine’ guests comment on their sites. But a genuinely unhappy guest can do as much damage to your reputation, if not more.

Just over a year ago I opened up a bed and breakfast barn here in the heart of the Lake District. With thousands of well-established places already going, I knew that the competition would be tough. So using everything I learnt from CB over the years (my husband is a dentist) I applied it to this new venture. I identified my USP, didn’t spend a penny on paid marketing but used word of mouth referrals and my own social media channels, encouraged engagement with guests and delivered a first-class personal service that identified my brand from the first e-mail response right through to the farewell wave as they set off!

And it’s been a much bigger success than I’d ever hoped for – targets smashed, lots of happy guests doing what I call the 3Rs – Raving, Recommending and Returning.

So earlier in the year I had a group of postgraduate marketing students at a local University review my online marketing strategy to see if they could suggest any changes. One of the things that stood out in their report was that my online reviews were simply too perfect. That every guest was saying their stay was faultless. The students’ market research suggested that to a potential guest it just looked a bit suspicious!

As usual, fate intervened and a few weeks ago I had my first unhappy guest. As a brief background she booked months ago, saying she was staying for the weekend to attend a wedding nearby. I did point out that actually we were quite a drive away from the actual venue and a taxi service is pretty much non-existent but she was still keen to book, so who am I to argue?

We live part-time in a lovely cottage next door to the barn, but aren’t always here so we have a key safe for guests to use to gain access. On this particular weekend we were away but the guest had been communicated with and informed that everything would be waiting for her when she arrived.

Within 30 minutes of her arrival on the Friday evening she called me – to say that there was no hot water or heating. I was very surprised to hear this as everything is only a year or so old, so I said I would speak to my plumber and call her back. Which I did, less than 5 minutes later, to say that he would be there within two hours and he was confident that whatever the problem was, it would be something he could fix quickly. Her reply was that she was going out for dinner and needed to shower first, so I offered her the use of our empty home for showering and the promise that it would all be fixed for when she returned.

The guest said this wasn’t good enough and ended the call, so I left it a few minutes and sent a lovely text, explaining that I fully sympathised with her situation, that I had a clear plan in place to sort out the problem within two hours and that I had provided alternative accommodation for her to use during that time. Her response was that she had found somewhere else to stay and was leaving.

The payment for her two nights had already been made through the online agency and I have a ‘no refund if you cancel’ policy as I don’t get any passing trade. I suspected that once she had realised how far away she was from the wedding venue the problem with the heating was a perfect excuse for her to pack up and move to where her friends were.

Five days later I get a message, asking for a full refund. I replied, stating that I wasn’t prepared to as the fault had indeed been fixed that evening (it was a fuse that had blown) and therefore it had been her decision to leave.

She then appealed to the online agency for her refund. They looked into it and said that firstly she should have notified them immediately rather than a week later and secondly I had done everything possible to solve the issue; she was not entitled to a refund.

I received a final message from her – send me the money back or I’ll write a bad review. I didn’t respond to that.

Two days later the review is online, criticising many aspects of her stay. After the first few minutes of terror had passed (and anger that my overall score had dropped from a perfect 10) I realised that actually, this was a great opportunity to market my business even more.

To paraphrase my responses to her complaints:

“The photos are misleading – outside the main window is a car park offering no privacy to guests”

– the only car parked there is your own. Beyond that are the hills and green fells of the Lake District National Park and trust me, the sheeps’ eyesight isn’t that great!

“The owner didn’t communicate well with me”

– whilst trying to speak to you to resolve the issue, you hung up on me. I therefore had to resort to texting you, which isn’t great for anyone.

“I found XXXX hotel down the road instead and it’s much cheaper so I would recommend people go and stay there”

– it’s a great hotel, but you can’t take your dogs there (we’re very pet friendly). And you can’t sit in your own private kitchen having a gorgeous, full Cumbrian breakfast whilst wearing your dressing gown either.

“There was no hot water”

– I offered you alternative facilities next door in which to shower and change. The problem was fixed within 2 hours so by the time you would have got back from dinner, everything would have been perfect.

“There was no heating and the weather was freezing cold”

– it was June, the Met Office reports that the temperature that day was around 15 degrees Celsius and we also have a log burner to keep our guests toasty warm.

“The owner wouldn’t give me a refund”

– you demanded a refund a week after you left. You then threatened to write a bad review if I didn’t give you the money. I won’t respond to guests who behave this way; I’m glad though that you found somewhere that matched your expectations.

A bad review creates interest, discussion, engagement. For my business, I’ve actually seen an increase in bookings since this has gone up – I guess that guests realise that actually, if something does go wrong they can be confident that I’ll fix it for them. As always the measure of a good business is not always getting everything right but doing the right thing when it goes wrong.

So don’t be frightened by a bad review. Think carefully before responding in a positive way but as CB always says, don’t fight with pigs in sh*t. The pigs love it and you just come out smelling of sh*t.

But at Rosie’s Barn, you can be sure of a nice hot shower to wash it off!

11 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page