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What drives people to complain online?

Last Updated: October 21, 2022|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |2.9 min read|

Last month, MIT published a really interesting article called When Unhappy Customers Strike Back on the Internet that looks at why people turn to the internet to voice their complaints. In addition to explaining why people complain about companies, the article also helps brands understand how they should respond.

In a nutshell, the authors find that “customers go online because (1) they are victims of a “double deviation”; and (2) they feel betrayed.” A “double deviation” is defined as a product or service failure, followed by a series of failed resolution attempts. A whopping 96% of online complaints follow a double deviation. (Note: I don’t think a negative review on TripAdvisor and an online complaint is the same thing since travelers are trained to share both positive and negative hotel experiences on review sites. In this context, an online complaint is one that is posted on a complaint site such as or

A double deviation, in hotelier terms, likely means that there was an issue during the stay that wasn’t resolved adequately by the manager. (Interestingly, a few months ago we published an interesting stat on TNooz that the word ‘manager’ is 4.2 times more likely to appear in a negative review than a positive review.) Disgruntled hotel guests often post negative reviews on TripAdvisor and other review sites, tweet, and share their experiences as Facebook status updates.

As I mentioned in my last post on transparency, the most important thing you can do to avoid bad reviews and being flamed on Twitter, is to be proactive in resolving issues while the guest is still on site. Taking care of issues immediately will allow customers to avoid the dreaded ‘twice violated’ feeling that the article discusses. “First, the company deviated from acceptable practice, and then it deviated again by not satisfactorily addressing the problem. Such “double deviations” can provoke, in effect, a moment of truth for the customer, when the individual concludes that the company does not care about his or her patronage.”

So how do the authors suggest companies deal with the complaints? First, all customers are not created equally so the response needs to be tailored. While the article suggests that action needs to occur within four weeks, I think this is too long for hotels given the importance of reviews and recommendations for bookings. To gauge your response, the authors suggest looking at the customer and its relationship to you. For example, is the customer a member of your loyalty program? Does the customer book group business?  For these customers, you must admit wrongdoing and apologize sincerely. These folks care more about the relationship than a monetary award. Casual customers typically just want financial repayment so you must decide if it is worth paying them to go away. Obviously the risk is that paying them sends the message that complaining leads to rewards. It’s a tough call.

There is so much great information packed into this short article that I really think it’s worth a read for anyone that deals with customer service. It is so easy for your customers to take to the internet with their complaints that having a program in place for monitoring your brand and responding is incredible important.


Learn about what’s trending, review response metrics, and a look forward at hospitality reputation in our 2018 Reputation Benchmark Report. Available free for download.

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