Recently, a couple friends, who are also AirBnB hosts, have asked me about leaving negative reviews for their guests.
It's a difficult conundrum. You want to expect the best from people. You expected the best from them (otherwise you wouldn't have accepted their reservation). Even when they are far from the best, you still don't want to harsh on them. But you have a responsibility.
I'd like to tell a little story about one of my guests. I had had a cancelation over NYE for health reasons, so my place was unexpectedly open (had been booked a month prior). I got this request that sounded good, and as I always do, I checked out his reviews. They were ... ok. Nothing horrible, but nothing stellar. If anything, I thought he might be a high maintenance guest, so I made sure to communicate extra clearly about house rules, set expectations properly, etc.
Another thing, the booking came on Christmas Day. Needless to say, I was not so focused on AirBnB and had had several glasses of wine. But AirBnB gives you 24 hours to accept or reject a reservation. Even though something about him didn't seem ideal, there were no major red flags and I was keen to book NYE. Plus, AirBnB has the host guarantee. If a guest does damage, the host guarantee will kick in. I had never used this, or asked a guest to pay for damages (with the exception of my very first AirBnB guest, which a film production company booked, and I never again allowed anyone to book my place for someone not actually staying there.) I treated this guest the way I treat all other guests, giving them information, checking in with them, etc. They were very responsive before they checked in, and afterwards, they went radio silence and did not reply to my infrequent query to make sure they got in, were settled, etc. I didn't stress, because not all guests reply.
However, because I had a strange vibe about the guest, I made sure to get out to my place to personally check it the day they checked out - in case of problems... and yes, there were a lot of problems. Problems that ended up with $1000 in damage to furnishings - which the guest denied and refused to pay.
Thanks to AirBnB's host guarantee, my stuff was replaced. But only after at least a month, documentation, attempting to clean chairs that were ruined, etc. I had to turn down at least 3 AirBnB reservations due to the place not being ready and having ruined items. Oh, and it took another month to order the new stuff and get it out in the dome. (To add insult to injury, this guest added my email address to his business email list - talk about a spammer on top of it all.)
The Emotional Toll
Going through this process took a lot of emotional toll. It took time and energy that I was not compensated. These guests broke my trust, which caused me to distrust ALL other AirBnB guests. (It took a couple months of good guests again to rebuild my trust. And I told all my subsequent guests about the bad guests and my currently on shaky ground with trust. All were awesome and compassionate about this.) I'm really grateful to those great subsequent guests that helped rebuild my trust.
Warning & Reviews
As I went through the AirBnB dispute process, time was running out to write a review for this guest. (You have 14 days to write a review, which you can not see until 1) they write one for you or 2) the 14 days runs out.) I was really worried they would write a bad review and rate me low because they destroyed $1000 of my stuff. A low rating would remove my Superhost status.
Then there was the conundrum of writing them a review. Even though they did $1000 damage to my property, and broke my trust, I was hesitant to give them a bad review. Sure, I was emotionally angry, but there were also the facts (and photographs). I thought long and hard about what to write. I decided to be honest and stick to the facts. I needed to warn other hosts, and give honest feedback to the guest.
This is the advice I gave my friends when reviewing bad guests:
Be honest, stick to the facts. Be as dispassionate as possible and try not to make people read between the lines.
There are other things that need to be considered when writing and reading reviews
- Emotional Aspects: People have different levels of emotional engagement, intelligence and expectations.
- Implicit vs Explicit expectations: In the early days of AirBnB you could be more relaxed about rules set because the community was comprised by people who shared the same values. As AirBnB became more successful, the community grew, and more people who did not implicitly share the AirBnB value set became part of the community. To allow for this, I had to become more explicit about things I could previously gloss over.
- Comparisons: Guests and hosts are not easily compared to each other - and that is a feature, not a bug. Not all places are appropriate for all audiences, and this is a feature, not a bug.
- State the Facts: I am honest about my experience. I add emotional flourishes when I was especially delighted or happy. I am dispassionate and clear when things did not go well. I state my experience and let others learn (or not) from it.
- It's a Learning Process: Everyone: Hosts, Guests and event AirBnB itself is learning from this process. There is no "right way" set in stone. Everyone (including AirBnB) is making it up as they go.
The Bottom Line
You have a responsibility to warn hosts about bad guests. Be clear, honest and to the point. Avoid emotional language and instead state the facts. Allow those reading the review to make their own decision. For example, in the review of my example guest, my review included, "this guest did $1000 worth of damage to my furniture, but refused to take responsibility for it."
Don't dilute your five star guests by giving guests higher ratings than they deserve. In addition, it should not be a bad thing to receive less than 5 stars, if the experience is not 5 star. This whole idea that anything other than a 5 star rating is cause for concern needs to be eliminated. (more on this in another post.)
Allow for Change
The final thing I want to mention is that people change, and this can be a good thing. Reputation and reviews change over time. The FICO score is based on current relevant data. My AirBnB superhost is based on the past 4 months of activity. We need to allow mental space that bad guests learn from their experiences and become better guests. And it would be great to reward good guests for good behavior.
Reputation is based on the context in which it is created. Reputation should be somewhat portable - I would like to use my AirBnB reputation to seed my reputation in other communities. But not all aspects of my AirBnB reputation may be relevant or useful, and that's ok.
Finally, AirBnB doesn't create reputation. People do. AirBnB has created the platform that people use to connect with each other, but reputation data is an abundance byproduct of the financial transaction. That non-financial byproduct is owned by the "commons" and should be freely available for all to use.