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A case study in responding to a review

Hello everyone,

Well, following hard on my thread Routinely replying to guest review - yes or no?, here’s a review that I think I should respond to. Unfortunately, any reply is likely to be quite long. Sigh. But I feel I need to respond, because otherwise potential guests might get the wrong idea.

Though it’s also tempting to just ignore it. Seeing as these reviews don’t expand unless you click on them. And it will be expanded in full if I do reply to it.

Here’s the review. You can see it on my site as well (it’s the most recent review) but I’m posting it here for completeness.

Faheem was a very welcoming host, and seemed incredibly thoroughly prepared for our arrival. He made us feel very comfortable, and checked in routinely to see if we needed anything. I strongly suggest anyone staying here reads the guest guide in its entirety, we didn’t know that the front gate is locked after midnight and we ended up getting locked out one night. That being said, the room is stunningly beautiful, surprisingly private in a city of 20 million people, and located in a prime location, just blocks from marine drive and no more than 10 minutes from the gateway of india and collaba causeway. One thing worth noting is that because the room is above Faheem’s house (up one flight of stairs), you have to walk through his families living room to get in and out.

Here’s a preliminary draft of my response. Comments welcome, of course - that’s my reason for posting it here. This is, before others point it out, inordinately wordy, but I think most of it is necessary.

Thank you for the nice review, Ethan. I just want to clarify a couple of things. Ethan referred to “getting locked out one night”. Here is more detail about what happened. This is an important issue, so I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

The main gate to the compound in which our home is located is locked between midnight and 5 am. This has been mentioned for a while on the first page of the guide I send out by email and also the print out I give to them on arrival, in the following words:
“Note that between midnight and 5 am the portico entrance is closed, and you will have to knock on it.” I checked, and it was in the version of the guide I sent by email to Ethan and Bonnie on 30th July.

I’ve now expanded this, capitalized it, and mentioned it in two different places in the guide. I’ll also make a point of mentioning it in guests on arrival. I don’t remember if I mentioned it to Ethan and Bonnie on arrival, but I may not have. I’ve also now added an outside bell which people can ring if they want to get in between midnight and 5 am.

Anyway, what happened is that Ethan arrived after midnight to find the gate locked, and he called me at 1.46 am. (It seems he had not read that sentence in the guide, so did not know he needed to knock on the gate.) I had my phone on silent. He also sent me an email message, which saw almost immediately (I happened to be awake), and called him back at 2.19 am. (I had no idea they were out.) I then called Ethan back, and went down and had the watchman open the gate. By then they had left, but they came back in about 15 minutes.

I want to apologise to Ethan and Bonnie for the unpleasant experience they underwent, and I’ll do my best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Finally, a minor correction. The room you go through is not the living room. It’s the entrance hall - the main door opens onto it. You can see it in my pictures. It’s the one with the TV and all the photos on the wall.

Before I respond with what I would write:

  1. What exactly is a compound? Is this just your property or also other properties? You mention the watchman and I know you have a cook, and a housekeeper. Is the gate closed due to safety reasons?

  2. What do you mean by they will need to “knock on it” - is it locked or just closed? So they can open it themselves if they just “knock” on it?

  3. What is the difference between entrance hall and living room - as far as your family using it? For example…when guests walk through the entrance hall, is it likely your family is hanging out? Any idea why she even felt the need to mention this? You are listed as private room…correct?

I think it’s great he recommended your future guests read your guest guide - cue the applause! I know you see this as a negative but I really don’t think it is. As for walking through the living room, could you say something about it in your listing so that guests are aware of it before they book? Again, this is not a negative! Airbnb’s are unique and need to be celebrate for that!

My opinion, for what it’s worth, leave it alone :slight_smile:. This fellow is helping you get the kind of guest you actually want.

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Hi @cabinhost,

Good questions.

This “compound” is a small plot of land which encloses two buildings, and includes a small garden surrounding these buildings. (I guess this term isn’t commonly in use in North America, but it might be an old British Indian term.) Some might dispute the term “garden”, but at any rate, there are trees and greenery in there. This plot is surrounded by a wall. We live in one of these buildings. The guest room is located in the other one. The two buildings are connected by a bridge. This is probably more detail than you want, though.

And yes, the gate is closed for security reasons. Apparently locking up between midnight and 5 am in Bombay is standard practice, and according to the watchmen, it’s been done this way forever. Bear in mind that we don’t get a lot of comings and goings here after midnight - this isn’t exactly Party Central.

No, it’s locked. It will need to be opened from the inside. It won’t be much of a security feature if it could be opened from the outside. :slight_smile:

The watchmen are there all night, but they do need to be alerted that there is someone outside that needs to get in. The way it’s always been done is by someone on the outside knocking on the gate/door.

There’s probably not a ton of difference. We have an interior room which we call a living room. Both these rooms are used a certain amount. We eat in the entrance hall, because there is a TV there, and my mother likes to watch TV while she eats.
It is correct that you need to pass through this room to get to the guest room. The guest room is, as I said, in another building. You cross a bridge to get to it. It’s quite well separated from our home, which is a good thing, of course. And yes, it’s listed as private room.

No, I’m not sure why Ethan thought it was worth mentioning. It’s quite clear from the pictures, I’d say.

And Ethan is a he, not a she. It is another of those uni-sex American names?

I don’t think you need to write all the details of the guest being locked out (what time he came, that your phone was on silent, that you got the email, etc.). I think that the only point you need to clarify is that the guests will not be locked out after midnight: that they will need to knock on the gate between midnight and 5:00 A.M. to gain access.

I wouldn’t say anything about the living room/entry hall. It’s strange that the guest mentions if your listing is a private room, not whole house, but it sounds nitpicky that you are correcting the name of the room.

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I honestly don’t think you need to respond to that review at all. It’s a good review. The Guest admitted it was his error about the gate, not yours. He strongly suggested future guests actually READ what you send them.

There is certainly no need to apologize for anything. The error was all on their part, not yours. And it’s not your job to explain about compounds and the difference between an entrance hall and a living room (even though most Europeans and Americans wouldn’t know an entrance hall if it bit them).

My one suggestion is in the wording about the locked gate, perhaps you should explicitly say that knocking on the gate will summon a night watchman who will open the gate…

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Heh. Indeed, you’re given a guide to a strange place. Now why might actually reading it be a good idea?

It’s not a living room, it’s an entrance hall, and it’s empty most of the time. We tend to spend most of our time in the “back” rooms. This entrance hall, as the name suggests, is at the front. What do you suggest I add? I don’t think there is a problem here. Nothing in my listing suggests there is a private entrance.

To be clear, you mean don’t reply at all? I would seriously consider it, except for the “getting locked out” part. I think that would be likely to give anyone who reads that review serious pause. As with anything, there’s always a tradeoff. It’s possible that most people wouldn’t notice this bit, but if I write a response highlighting it, everyone will.

And this kid (he’s 20), gave me 3 stars for communication, apparently because I didn’t sit him down and read the guide to him. I’m a mite peeved.

Thanks for clarifying my questions. I wouldn’t address the living room comment at all. And definitely don’t apologize for these guests not reading the guide, nor the printed material handed to them upon arrival. Sheesh…who does stuff like this? Especially if visiting another country. If you care to address the whole locked out thing then I would reply with something like this (just a draft):

Thank you for the review Ethan. It is standard practice (in Bombay) for the watchmen to lock all front gates between midnight and 5 a.m. Guests only need to knock on the gate (if after midnight) and the watchman will let them in. Although this information was stated twice in the materials I provide to guests, I now will also reiterate this in person. I am glad it all worked out and the watchman was able to let you in. I hope you return if you visit this area again.

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Hi @EllenN,

Just to be clear, do you mean all of this regarding my response to the review?

Yes, I think your response to the review should clarify that guests don’t get locked out, they just need to knock on the gate. I don’t think you should include anything more than this clarification of the portion of his review that was factually incorrect.

To reiterate, I wouldn’t mention the entrance hall/living room. I would be leery of a host who had corrected another guest on the name of a room.

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Hi @KenH,

Thanks for the comments.

Yes, that’s all true. It’s just the part about being “locked out” suggests something bad happened. Like they had to spend the night elsewhere, for example.

True, but I apologise for things that aren’t my fault all the time. :slight_smile: It soothes people…

Also, true. Just trying to give people a clear picture.

You mean in the response to the review or the guide? Here’s my current wording from the guide:

NOTE THAT BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND 5 AM THE PORTICO ENTRANCE AND MAIN GATE ARE LOCKED, AND YOU WILL HAVE TO KNOCK ON EITHER THE PORTICO ENTRANCE OR THE MAIN GATE TO BE LET IN. The portico is locked with a wooden door, and there is a metal grill outside that. You may have to make some noise to get the watchmen to respond.

If you are planning to be out past midnight, it would be a good idea to let me know. I can then tell the watchmen. That way everyone will know what is going on.

That seems harmless to me. And we have another interior room which we do call a living room.

I am in agreement with most that posted above: Thank them, and treat anything else in passing or make no mention of it. I would adopt a new policy - quietly; every single guess in the future is told ~personally~ that the gates are locked at Midnight and if coming in between 12-5am all they have to do is knock. As we have discussed here over and over, they either don’t read the guide book thoroughly or forget, so mention it in person, and with simplicity.

The ‘walking through living room’ I wouldn’t mention at all because it is too complicated to explain, and is a reality without a solution. Or is it? Is there a way this step by guests can be changed? Is a private entrance possible, for the future?

I think is a solid review, overall.

Hi @Mearns,

Thanks for the comments.

As I mentioned above, we just added a bell. It’s actually a bit surprising there isn’t one there already. But hey, it’s India. So I guess, it would be telling them that they need to ring a bell. And yes, they need to be told in person. And shown the bell, so they can ring it themselves. And if they still get locked out then, it’s their own damn fault. A bell is obviously better, because it will ring loudly over the watchman’s head. Whereas he might not hear a knock.

No, we can’t change the ‘walking through the entrance hall’ thing. And, yes, on further consideration I’m tempted to ignore it. I can’t imagine why anyone would care, anyway. It’s clear from the photos in the listing that the room doesn’t have its own private entrance.

I’m starting to think that I am underpaid for this job…

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The guest said many really nice things in that review. This reads like a positive, you-should-stay-here review. Maybe the next guests will actually read the instructions after seeing this review - which is a result that you want.

My personal opinion is that any reply is unnecessary. You could put labels on your images to explain the front hall (if you don’t already) but it sounds like you have explained the gate situation thoroughly and it is up to guests to read it.

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Hi @cabinhost,

Thanks, that’s great suggested wording. And much much shorter than my version, while still including all the important information.

Who votes for writing something like this, vs nothing at all?

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Hahaha, you probably are underpaid. The key to any ‘product’ is - "ease of use’, and of course never ask them to use their imagination. Many have none. Your bell is great, when you show it to them I would ring it! Think of Pavlov. :grin:

I hear you on the stair thing, just a thought.

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My vote is to reply with a version of my review…and not because I wrote it :smile:

The reason is because I do think some guests may think they might get potentially locked out. Guests are strange…and they might think you were at fault and your guest was locked out all night. If it were me…I’d need to clarify. And no need to even bother mentioning the bell either. Like you said…you are already going to go over that in person. Short and sweet in your reply.

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I like your response @cabinhost, makes it sound is like ‘standard practice’, nothing to do with the host specifically.

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Hi @cabinhost,

Yes, my thinking exactly. I don’t want people thinking something bad happened. On my watch, so to speak.

Hmm, not sure about not mentioning the bell. It should be a net positive. But it would also make the reply longer. I’ll think about it.

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