Business owners have different strategies for managing online reviews. Some choose to ignore these reviews completely, some respond professionally, some lose their cool over customers’ negative opinions, and others yet try to boost their business reputation by hiring people to write fake reviews.
Then there’s this case of (an unidentified) hotel paying a guest to delete a negative TripAdvisor review.
The case was covered by the New York Times’ Chuck Klosterman in his The Ethicist column. According to the story, a traveler named Howard Olarsch said he deleted a complained on TripAdvisor after the hotel gave him a 50 percent refund.
Here’s Olarsch letter to Klosterman:
I recently spent several days at a relatively expensive hotel. The place was deplorable and unsanitary, with an unresponsive front desk. I gave it a poor write-up on TripAdvisor.com, the travel website, titling my review “An Overpriced Dung Heap.” The following day, the owner contacted me through the site with an offer to refund almost half the cost of my stay if I would retract my review. I accepted the handsome offer and deleted my post. Who was the most unethical: me (for accepting the bribe), the owner (for offering it) or the site (which enables this chicanery and therefore has untrustworthy reviews)?
(Check out: “9 Effective Tips for Responding to Online Critics”)
Ethical Questions about Deleting Online Reviews
Klosterman called Olarsch the second least ethical actor in this situation, next only to the hotel. (“Your decision to remove a review upon the acceptance of a bribe was lame. If you were a professional newspaper critic, such behavior would be grounds for termination. You, however, are just an annoyed guy who wrote a free review.”) About the hotel owner, Klosterman wrote, “If this is his normal business practice, it’s almost as if he’s involved with reverse marketing. He overcharges for a bad experience and only offers a rebate to those who inform strategies that this is how he operates.”
The business owner here is obviously in the wrong. But sometimes the customers are equally unreliable.
In fact, TripAdvisor has been under fire recently for allowing guests to blackmail and threaten hotel owners with negative reviews. It hasn’t hindered the success and popularity of the travel site, though. TripAdvisor currently hosts more than 170 million reviews of local businesses and travel companies and receives nearly 280 million unique visitors every month.
(Check out: “8 Terrific TripAdvisor Tips for Businesses”)
AP Travel Editor interviewed ReviewTrackers CEO Chris Campbell about the Olarsch story. Chris says that, while the customer choosing to delete the review may raise ethical questions, it could also simply mean that his original problems or issues may have been resolved. “If the refund makes it right for them (the customers) and the end result was positive, then by all means they should remove or update the negative review as it’s no longer an accurate depiction of their complete experience.”