The purpose and beauty of customer-written reviews is to share their honest experiences with others who are looking into the same experience. Really, any business people interact with can (and should) be reviewed in order to give potential customers information before they commit to one. Reviews written by all types of people about all types of customer service experiences is a modern-day tool that can not only educate customers but give great free publicity and marketing to business that receives positive feedback.
Reviews, totally in the hands of customers and their satisfaction, can potentially be a great boost for business. Recently, however, a small boutique hotel in Hudson, New York tried to turn the table on its guests. On its website, the Union Street Guest House (USGH) had announced:
“If you have booked the Inn for a wedding or other type of event anywhere in the region and given us a deposit of any kind for guests to stay at USGH there will be a $500 fine that will be deducted from your deposit for every negative review of USGH placed on any Internet site by anyone in your party and/or attending your wedding event.”
This message leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Threatening to charge customers a ridiculous amount of money for writing and sharing negative reviews seems to be the wrong way to ensure positive ones. Judging from the message, Union Street Guest House’s attitude towards guests can easily be interpreted as domineering and arrogant.
The policy of fining negative reviews backfired rather tremendously on the hotel. After news broke about the $500 fine and began circulating online, people flocked to sites like Yelp, Facebook and Google reviews to post scathing reviews (the majority of which being written by people who have never even visited the inn) about Union Street Guest House and its quality of accommodation and service. Some of these reviews written about the hotel are actually quite creative and worth a read (many contain language that won’t show up here, though!) if you have the time.
Here are a few examples of some of the tamer reviews:
“I hear they charge $500 for writing bad reviews, which means either they hate the First Amendment or they don’t want people exposing them for their unethical behavior. Charging people exorbitant sums of money to exercise their constitutional right to free speech is not how one should run a business.”
“I’ve never stayed here, but they will charge $500 for bad reviews from you or your guests on your credit card. I’ve noticed many bad reviews for the same reason and I’m glad people stand up for the constitutional right of free speech. Horrible policy and hopefully this business will learn its lesson.”
“Just try to make me pay the $500!”
“Worst place ever. Don’t go, it’s a mistake. The people are rude, the decor is old, the food sucks and the $500 fine for leaving negative reviews shows how unprofessional this business is. Enjoy bankruptcy, jerks.”
Trying to deter honest feedback from guests is not what people want from their hotels, and in today’s Internet-powered age people are going to let that be known. The backlash surrounding the Union Street Guest House is a perfect example of why business owners need to understand that anything they do, from personal interaction with customers to what they write online, has a resounding effect on audiences at large. Studies have shown that people are far more likely to write about their negative experiences with a business. This knowledge should certainly keep business owners on their toes. Another important consideration is social media, which is the most popular way for customers to check out businesses and is an outlet for customers to communicate with business and each other. It’s not the same old business model of a decade ago, and customer input matters.
The question is how is the Union Street Guest House going to recover from this? Their online reviews currently hover around one-and-a-half stars. The owner, Chris Wagoner, issued an apology, saying, “Union Street Guest House went viral for all the wrong reasons.” His apology tries to explain that the threat to fine guests was a joke: “That’s not the type of business that we run. It was a case of a joke gone very, very bad.” Just a joke? Past guest are claiming that the hotel actually did try to enforce the fine. Wagoner stated that the hotel is offering a 10 percent discount for future guests at his inn.
Is any press good press? Time will reveal the impact of this situation on Union Street Guest House’s reputation. Wagoner cited his unfamiliarity with online communication, but now hopefully he’s learned that, along with customer service, online reviews really are important for small businesses
Photo credit: Gawker.com