Blackmail in the Internet Age

Last week a link to the web page on the left was sent around the office. My immediate reaction was, “Ouch – how humiliating for the business.” As a marketer, I immediately identified more with Fitness SF than with the Web shop seeking to be paid, although I also understand the frustration of not being paid for services rendered. The damage didn’t end on the Fitness SF site. In fact, many people took to review sites to continue the harassment, giving the gym a 1 star rating and explaining that it doesn’t pay its bills. As of today, the gym has an average rating of two stars. Prior to the Web page controversy, the gym regularly received four and five stars for great service and equipment.

What this example highlights is the power that the Web gives anyone to damage the reputation of a person or a business. Hoteliers are not impervious to internet blackmail. In fact, there is the potential of blackmail every time a guest has an issue and leaves unhappy, although for most, morals will overide the need for vengeance.

As we reported last month, TripAdvisor recently announced that it is stepping in and helping hoteliers who think they might be the victim of blackmail. Hoteliers who fear that a guest is going to write a bad review as payback for not giving him something for free, for example, can log into the owners center and use the ‘report blackmail’ form to explain the situation. By providing as many details as possible about the guest, TripAdvisor will be on alert for the review and will not post anything from that guest.

Obviously, the best way to avoid internet blackmail is to try to resolve guests’ issues before they leave the property. If a guest has a legitimate grievance, make sure that you apologize, both when speaking to him and again via a card sent to his room. Most people recognize that everyone makes mistakes and a sincere apology can go a long way. If not, use your discretion with providing more.

Create a policy for grievances, detailing every issue that you can think of and what you can offer as remediation as a first step and then as a final step if the guest doesn’t accept the first offer. Perhaps a free breakfast or drinks would help. Or maybe you can move him to an upgraded room. Then, make sure to ask if he is satisfied with your action. Once the guest says that he is satisfied, you can assume that he won’t take it further. If he says that he is not satisfied, ask him what will satisfy him. Most people are too embarrassed to ask for more than they deserve.

But, if the guest does shoot for the stars, you can respond that you really want to ensure that he leaves happy, but you need to make sure that the hotel’s response is in line with the seriousness of the grievance and there are policies in place to ensure that guests don’t take advantage of the customer-service policy. If this is a repeat visitor or loyalty member with a legitimate issue, you might want to cave a bit more than a first-time guest. But if you sense that this guest will never be happy, report him to TripAdvisor and actively monitor your reviews across all review sites and OTAs in case it pops up. If it does appear on a different review site or OTA, respond to the review, if allowed by the site, apologizing again for not meeting his expectations and explaining that you did everything to try to meet his needs on site and regret that there was nothing you could do to satisfy him, short of giving him a free stay. Others reading the response will be smart enough to understand the situation. Then, make sure that you receive a flurry of great new reviews to push this one down the page.

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