Despite your best efforts managing customer service, you will undoubtedly come across unhappy customers. Although it is impossible to make everyone happy, it is a fact that some businesses have been threatened and blackmailed with threats of receiving bad online reviews if they didn’t refund, or worse, didn’t agree to provide other services on top of the refund.
In the past, a bad review may have only tarnished your reputation locally. However now, anyone can create a public record of what they think of you and influence others’ opinions without them even having to be at your business’s physical presence.
This was the case for the owners of Floating Images, Graeme and Ruth Day. Despite their cancellation policy being clearly outlined in their Terms and Conditions, one customer requested to be compensated with gift vouchers to Coles and Myer for weather conditions affecting their trip, or else they would leave a bad review.
How to deal with negative reviews…
Graeme and Ruth have been members of Tourism Tribe for several years and have given us permission to share their story alongside some helpful tips to help other small tourism businesses minimise the likelihood of this ever occurring by outlining:
- Fail proofs to have in place prior to a customer booking with you
- What to do when your customers cancel or request a refund
- How to tell you’re being blackmailed and what to do
- What you can do to minimise the impact of bad reviews on your business
Fail proofs to have in place prior to a customer booking with you
- Check that your Refund/Cancellation Policy and FAQs are up-to-date – outline what is a real reason to receive a refund and what isn’t. Try to cover your most common cancellation reasons eg weather conditions, road closures, sickness etc.
- Ensure complete transparency and visibility of your terms and conditions as this is what your clients need to agree to prior to booking – does your T&Cs explain what would happen in the event of Force Majeure, name change, failure to disclose health, reduced mobility and any underlying medical conditions/disabilities?
- Check your insurance policy – are you covered for defamation claims?
- Implement a visitor servicing strategy to increase positive reviews to outweigh the negative.
What to do when your customers cancel or request a refund
Graeme clearly outlined everything in his terms and conditions, yet he still had a customer blackmail him.
This is why it is important to follow detailed internal processes, procedures and documentation when these situations arise. This will allow your team to reach a unilateral decision promptly.
For example, create a list of excuses that wouldn’t warrant a refund:
- Cancellations for any reason within 24-hours of the booking
- Issues with connecting/third-party travel arrangements
- Change of mind
- Failure to show
- Illness with no doctors certificate
These details should be stated clearly in your Refund/Cancellation Policy and Terms & Conditions and be accessed easily online on your website for ease of transparency. You and your staff can refer to your policies with the client to review the circumstance and what action to take next.
How to tell you’re being blackmailed and what to do
The above screenshot is an email that was sent to our director threatening to damage her reputation if we do not submit to their demands.
We suspect the review that appeared a few hours later was a follow through on the threat. We responded to them, in a calm and reasonable tone, briefly explaining our side of the story without being condescending or aggressive and advising of our next steps (that we will be working with legal counsel to resolve the dispute).
Always try to recover the situation by talking to the client first.
- Do your best to diffuse the situation. Remain calm and respectful.
- Show that you are listening and empathetic. Whether their complaint is justified or not, it is important that you set aside your personal feelings and defensiveness.
- Be sure you understand the complaint. If you do not understand you will not be able to resolve the situation. Ask for clarification if need be.
- Focus your response on solving the specific complaint as much as possible. Do not try and justify your actions or provide an answer to the situation – provide a solution.
- If you propose a fair solution and they do not accept, do not be afraid to leave it at that and politely express that you cannot come to a suitable agreement.
- If you talk on the phone, always summarise via email and make sure you document the discussion immediately afterwards in your CRM.
- In the email, refer and link back to your FAQs and Terms and Conditions.
- Copy in your tourism organisation, State’s Minister for Parliament, council and anyone else that might get the person bullying you to think that you’re taking this seriously.
If the client further threatens you (e.g. in Graeme’s case)
While most guests do not follow through with their threats, it is imperative that you submit an incident report at the time of the threat BEFORE they post their blackmail review. That way there is a record in the system that supports your case and can get the review removed swiftly.
In the meantime:
- Do not respond to the review immediately – take time to think it through first.
- Take advice from a legal team if possible.
- Ensure you have all evidence.
- Report the blackmail/review as soon as possible.
Here are important links to help you report review blackmail:
- For TripAdvisor, these are their procedures.
- For Google, contact the help centre or remove the review here.
- For Facebook, this is the abuse report centre.
- For Open Table, use this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fortunately, blackmail reviews or threatening behaviour is strictly AGAINST the guidelines on all review site platforms. However, there are a few more things you can do until the review gets reviewed and hopefully removed:
- Contact your business insurance and your professional liability insurance broker. Explain the situation. Is there anything covered by your policy?
- Contact your industry association or other businesses you trust in the industry you could seek advice from?
What you can do now to minimise the impact on your business
Go to step 1 in this article (fail proofs) and ensure you’ve implemented/reviewed everything.
If you want to reach out and seek advice from other Australian tourism operators, join our small tourism help Facebook group!