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Why writing a good ‘bad’ review can help everyone

 

As a host, I’ve always found writing a bad review about a guest difficult – and something that I’ve avoided. Jennifer Wirth is one of GUARDHOG’s first hosts and so when I asked her some advice we got chatting about those dreaded negative reviews. She convinced me that the worst thing to do is nothing, especially when you’re trying to create a trusted community. I asked Jennifer to share her advice, and she generously has. When she’s not hosting Jennifer specialises in brand communication and customer experience – you can contact her at @jenniferwirth.

 

I love writing good reviews.  I write reviews for restaurants, shops, hotels, even people on LinkedIn.  If I enjoyed the experience, I want others to know and to spread the word.  But when it comes to bad experiences I shy away, thinking ‘maybe it was a one-off experience’, or ‘maybe it was just me’, and I just don’t like putting negative words down on paper; it feels wrong.

However recent experiences have forced me to face my discomfort when it comes to providing ‘negative’ reviews.  I had a negative experience that I couldn’t ignore, and the business owner refused to listen to my verbal feedback, and this cost me time and money, and made me very angry.  I decided writing a negative review was the only path to communicate my grievance, and to protect future clients from what happened to me.

It’s best if you can give any negative feedback to the company or person privately.  If you can, there is no need for a negative review.  However, when this is not possible, or if they aren’t listening, and you genuinely believe writing something publicly will help others, then a negative review is in order.   In my case, the company wasn’t listening or interested, so I set out to research how to write a good ‘bad’ review.

What I discovered is most people write unhelpful ‘bad’ reviews.   They are often highly emotional and so general that you don’t understand what was bad about it, and therefore don’t allow others to learn from this.  For example, an airbnb management company was recently reviewed like this: “My flat was returned in horrendous condition. Not recommended at all.”  The problem with this review is using language like ‘horrendous’ as this is highly subjective and your view of it will differ to mine.   It doesn’t help anyone learn.

Businesses and people only grow and improve with honest feedback.

The best advice a boss once gave me on how to review people at work is ‘always do the criticism sandwich’; begin with what went well, and there is always something positive to say, so find it! Follow the positive statement with what went wrong, and end with something relatively positive, such as, ‘here’s my advice if you use this company’, or ‘this is what I would change’.

 

Here are my top tips on how to write a good ‘bad’ review:

  1. Stick to the facts. 

Keep emotion out of it, and only write literally what went wrong from your perspective.  Edit emotional words out, they don’t help anyone; these include subjective descriptive words like ‘terrible, shocked, shoddy, worst ever, disappointed, bad service, left place in a mess, horrendous…’.  These words are ok when accompanied with the factual details, but facts trump emotion.

  1. Write a ‘criticism sandwich’.

State something they did positively, or a quality of their service, there is always something, follow it with factually what went wrong, and end with something helpful, like your advice, or what you would have appreciated instead.

  1. Be fair and be specific.

Your words can damage someone’s business or reputation.  The more fair and objective you can be (hence the criticism sandwich, and stating facts only) the more it will help the company grow and learn without damage to their reputation.  If you are unsure about something, say so, or leave it out.  It’s always better to give people the benefit of the doubt when doing something so public.  Ask yourself, ‘is this fair-minded? Will I regret this later?  If yes, then leave it for a day and revisit it when you are less upset.  It’s best to start any review with an intention of helpfulness, not vindictiveness.  Is this helping everyone involved?

And after you write a negative review, it sometimes helps to go and write a good review for someone else, because it just feels good.

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