How to avoid 4 star reviews on airbnb/vrbo ?

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Question for experienced STR hosts: If you are a super-host on airbnb and a Premier Partner on VRBO, you certainly hate 4 star reviews like me. When there is an issue, you proactively communicate with the guest to avoid a negative review, that I am sure you all do.

But when all is good, from time to time, there is someone who just thinks your place deserved 4 not 5 stars and breaks your track record which ultimately could cost you your status and ranking. 

In the few cases of 4 stars I have received in the past couple years, there is absolutely no negative comment in the review, all positive and fantastic, worse they even want to come back (not me, lol) and then they rate 4 stars. When you asked them why 4 and not 5, they reply something in the lines: "4 is not bad, all was good... I maybe able to change it if it's  a big deal..."... and of course it's too late to explain.

Do you guys ask them for a good review before they leave? If so how do you articulate your request to avoid the reverse effect?

I include it in my language when communicating to guests.  In my standard welcome email, I express how I want to provide a 5-star experience and for them to please let me know if I can do anything to improve their stay.  And a couple of days after they leave, if they haven't already left a review, I follow up with a message asking for a review "if you feel you had a 5-star experience".  

So far it's worked out well (except for the one guy who didn't say a word and then left me 2 stars because he was upset my studio cabin was "all one room"!!!).  I feel like I'm able to articulate the importance of a 5-star review, specifically, without actually asking for it/implying they should leave one even if they don't feel it's deserved.

There's always going to be the occasional person who doesn't get it and thinks 4 stars is perfectly fine, but hopefully this strategy heads a lot of that off at the pass.

I don’t ask for good reviews, but this is pretty much what I do. As soon as someone reserves, I send them a welcome email and ask them if they’re visiting for a special occasion or just for fun. It starts a sort of friendly dialogue that establishes a connection. If they’ve got a special occasion, such as an anniversary, it leads to more dialogue, and I usually send a bottle of sparkling cider and a Happy Anniversary note. That’s for another story, but right before their visit, I email any pertinent information and tell them to have a great time and have safe travels. I also ask them to notify me if they see anything amiss and let them know that I rely on guests to tell me if anything is wrong, since I’m not there (this may be different for you, but I’m hours away). 


Every once in awhile, I might send an inquiry during their visit and ask them how their trip is going. I don’t do this for everyone, but sometimes I feel like some guests need that extra attention. Like I said, I do not ask for positive reviews, but I will message someone after their visit and ask them if they had a good time. If the answer is positive, then I will request a review. I don’t ask for a positive review specifically, but since they’ve already told me they had a good time, I assume I’m getting a good review.

I’m not immune to 4-star reviews. I get them every once in awhile. My mom isn’t in real estate, but I was complaining to her once about 4-star reviews and how nothing negative is written, but I still don’t get a 5-star review out of it. She replied, “Well, I think some people just don’t give 5-star reviews.” And you know what? She’s right! I think I used to be one of those people until we got into this line of work. If something wasn’t absolutely perfect, and I mean PERFECT, I was probably that person who’d leave the 4 stars, but still only have nice things to say. Ouch!  Kevin, I don’t think there’s anything you can do about those people. I think we just have to accept that they will never be a 5-star giver, but 4 stars is still good.

One final thought though, your post has me rethinking how I can communicate with guests. Maybe instead of saying, “Notify me if you see anything that needs attention while you’re there,” maybe I should change that to “While you’re there, let me know if there’s anything you find that would make you leave anything less than a 5-star review.” I bet that would get some people thinking. 

There is a page in our guidebook describing the star review system and how it differs from the star reviews attributed to hotels.  Some people think 3 stars is average and 4 stars is a good review, and I want them to know that Airbnb does not see it that way.  We tell them that we will rate them 5 stars if we would recommend them to other hosts, and that they should give us 5 stars if they would recommend their friends staying with us. (it's worded much more eloquently in the guidebook, but you get the idea)

We ALWAYS check in with our guests - just a quick message to see if they are enjoying their stay, and to encourage them to let us know if they need anything or have any questions.  If the guests do have an issue, we treat it like it is the biggest deal in the world..."Oh my goodness - you found a hair in the bathroom?? Thank you so much for pointing it out, I will be talking with my cleaning person and make sure that this never happens again. I am so sorry, please let us refund you a portion of your cleaning fee for the inconvenience." Refunding a portion of their stay almost always guarantees a happy guest.  Some people may disagree, but I would much rather give the guest $10 off their cleaning fee than have a low review. 

We also always send a message after they check out thanking them for being great guests and that they are welcome back anytime.  If people think they will receive a 5 star review from you, they will be more likely to give you a 5 star review in return.

There will always be those people that leave 4 star reviews for no reason, but with good communication and an accurate explanation of the rating system, you can cut down on them.  Once you have a lot of 5 star ratings built up, a 4 star review won't effect your numbers as much. 

Originally posted by @Jenessa NeSmith :

  We tell them that we will rate them 5 stars if we would recommend them to other hosts, and that they should give us 5 stars if they would recommend their friends staying with us.

 Very interesting approach! Thanks Jenessa.

It's been said but I think the difference is communication. Reach out before, reach out the day of ("feel free to check in early"), during the stay ("need any tips on where to eat?"), And afterwards ("thanks for staying and leaving the unit in such great shape"). The last one is key because they think you'll be leaving them a 5 star as well.

@Kevin Lefeuvre - Similiar to @Julie McCoy , I come right out and say in my first welcome message, “Please let me know if you have questions or need anything. My goal is to ensure that you have a five-star stay!” On my 1/2-page tabletop home guide, I reiterate the same language. I also LOVE @Jenessa NeSmith ’s royal treatment! Ten bucks is a small price to pay for your cranky guest to suddenly feel like the most important person in the world to you. 

Calling my gurus here for further tips...

@Al Williamson ?  

@J. Martin

@Jenessa NeSmith , I completely agree with refunding for whatever reason.  Usually, you don't have to, but we know in this business that reviews are everything.  Our washer quit working in one of our units recently, and so the guests (staying for 6 nights) had to go without it for 4 days because we couldn't get a new one delivered until then.  I told her to send me a request for any amount that she thought she needed as a refund, and I let her know that I want happy guests.  She didn't want a refund and said she'd be back again, but I'm sure my offer impressed her.

We had an air conditioner not work one night when some guests checked in. They slept on the floor near an open sliding glass door (I didn't know till the next day). She asked for a refund for that night, and I gave it to her, but I also refunded her the second night, even though we got the air conditioner fixed.  It's a small price to pay.  

The well-known Matt Landau says that he would give his first-born child if a guest requested it.  Obviously, that's an exaggeration, but his point is well-taken.  Do most anything to make the guests happy!  Reviews and word-of-mouth are EVERYTHING.

Great thread! I'm liking these tips, and plan to implement them. I'm going to develop something to inform them of the review system and the difference from a hotel in my early communication. Then I'll set a triggered message for a day after arrival to 'check in' with them, make sure they are enjoying their vacation, ask them to reach out with anything they need, etc.

Here is what i already do. Three days after their stay, I send a request for a review on Google, Facebook, and any OTA they may have booked through. I provide links to these as well. And then I ASK for a 5 star review. I let them know that this helps us increase our bookings, which in turn helps keep our rental costs down.
I'll likely update this to explain the difference from a hotel system again.

I don't rate guests. And I don't think I can be convinced to do so. But if anyone has good arguments for that, I'm all ears.
The way I see it, they are customers. Ever seen the Black Mirror episode 'Nosedive' on Netflix? I can't imagine being rated by the server at a restaurant, the checkout person at the hardware store, or anything similar. If I'm giving my money to a business, I find it odd they might want to jeopardize my repeat business with a poor review.
Not to mention, I don't have much interaction with my guests. Many of them want to be left alone on their vacation, so I only communicate via email, and provide all of my contact information so they can reach out to me in any way that they wish. Most of them never do.
If they don't need attention from me and leave the place relatively clean, would that be 5 stars for them?
But if they break something or leave with a blanket is that 1 star?
Honestly, I think the rating system for STRs is broken. We can't all expect to be 5 star every time, and unless you have a true luxury space, you probably shouldn't expect to be 5 star at all. Yet we do, and the OTAs encourage this.
I think the whole system needs to be revamped to something that makes more sense. But I haven't yet figured out what that is.

In my parting message on checkout day , I include the line ,"we strive to provide 5 star service and hope that we have done enough to earn your 5 star review".

My STRs require a flight (in Hawaii) so on the day after their check out I send them a friendly note hoping they enjoyed their stay, I ask for feedback and ask for their suggestions for improvements (this way the negatives stay PRIVATE, this gives them a non review place to vent just In case), tell them I hope they had a safe and relaxing flight home, and finish up letting them know I will be leaving them 5* review in the ‘next few minutes). 

I average 1 4* review out of 20 using this and like you all, my dings are stupid. 

Had one lady complain it was too hot in Hawaii, had one complain it rained too much so they couldn’t enjoy all the activities they wanted to, and one just said how great it was. 

If ANYTHING goes even slightly wrong, make them think it’s a HUGE deal, apologize, tell them you’re going going to have a long chat with the cleaners, offer gift cards to local restaurants, etc. (people love drinks on me)  all ways I’ve averted bad reviews. Doesn’t happen often 

This is such an interesting thread, but also made me realize why I would not last 3 days in this business....

I would have just said to those guests “who do you think you are?”... Lol

@Diane G. .  LMAO.  Me 2.  AirBnb/VRBO looks like a LOT of work to me.  With all kinds of moving parts that can go awry.  

For me it would probably go 'worse'.  They would probably tell me who they are.

@Alan Grobmeier , you are so right!  It IS a lot of work.  We are part of a real estate investor group in our local town in Illinois, and I've told some of them about our experiences owning out of state.  Most of them are local investors and have never owned vacation rentals.  One night during a meeting, I got a text from one of our cleaners, telling me that we needed more towels in one of our vacation rentals.  The leader of our investor group looked at me and said, "What?  I wouldn't want to be bothered on a Thursday night!  I'm off the clock!"  So true.  This business is not for everyone.  It's definitely NOT passive income like our local rentals.  With our vacation rentals, we have to impress our guests rather than the other way around with our local long-term rentals where the tenants need to impress US!  It's absolutely a hospitality business.  But the returns are worth it, and it's pretty rewarding.  It's still not for everyone though, so I hear you.  Sometimes I'm clenching my teeth and hoping a certain guest never returns, but thankfully, I've managed to get all good reviews, even if a small percentage of them are 4's.  lol  

@Kevin Lefeuvre I'll go against the grain and say I don't mind a few 4-star reviews here and there as it makes the reviews look authentic.

I only question anything below 4-stars.

Note: Anyone can post fake reviews on VRBO and as of now VRBO is not flagging it..

My key take away here, as mentioned by @Julie McCoy , @Ethan Cooke , @William Leahy is that bringing up the "review" word in the communication in the right way is not bad. I had wanted to avoid that, and I have successfully kept my superstar/premier partner status until now without bringing it up, but maybe it gives a better guarantee and less 4 stars if mentioned. Will work on the articulation and possibly share later. Thank you all.

Originally posted by @Ethan Cooke :

@Kevin Lefeuvre - Similiar to @Julie McCoy , I come right out and say in my first welcome message, “Please let me know if you have questions or need anything. My goal is to ensure that you have a five-star stay!” On my 1/2-page tabletop home guide, I reiterate the same language. I also LOVE @Jenessa NeSmith ’s royal treatment! Ten bucks is a small price to pay for your cranky guest to suddenly feel like the most important person in the world to you. 

Calling my gurus here for further tips...

@Al Williamson ?  

@J. Martin? 

 I agree with Ethan to tell them outright that's what you're trying to do. So if they don't tell you something, they'll feel more obliged maybe. A couple other tips... 

In your review section, they rate various features, like accuracy of listing, cleanliness, location, value.. Look and see what the ratings are there. If it is location, that's pretty tough. If it's value, you can lower your price (I don't do that though - I just accept value is lower, as I'm in a very high-price area.) If the accuracy of listing, maybe the pictures look TOO amazing relative to the interior when they arrive (this can happen if you have a great photographer who is shooting it like a dream property.)

Someone else said to always exceed expectations. Maybe include something that wasn't mentioned in the listing. Or if the place looks better than the pictures (although that can ding marketing, but improve reaction relative to expectations.)

To be honest, I am not a superhost, largely because of value being rated low and resulting overall rating. But I refuse to lower prices to get better value reviews :-/

am I the only one who thinks the real problem is that you lose superhost status over a 4 star review?  Because I know how the system works, whenever I stay at an AirBnB I give 5 starts unless something is really wrong, because I know a non 5 star review will really hurt the host.  This makes the rating system pretty useless from a customers prospective and a cause of great anxiety from a host perspective.  AirBnB should recognize that 4 star reviews are completely acceptable and 5 star reviews are properties that go above and beyond all expectations.

Originally posted by @Josh Dillingham :

am I the only one who thinks the real problem is that you lose superhost status over a 4 star review?  Because I know how the system works, whenever I stay at an AirBnB I give 5 starts unless something is really wrong, because I know a non 5 star review will really hurt the host.  This makes the rating system pretty useless from a customers prospective and a cause of great anxiety from a host perspective.  AirBnB should recognize that 4 star reviews are completely acceptable and 5 star reviews are properties that go above and beyond all expectations.

 It's not that *a* 4-star review will make you lose Superhost status.  It's about your overall average.  I got a 2-star review recently and didn't lose my status - but, it was one review out of 85 total reviews.  It's true that earlier in the game the lower reviews make more of an impact, but over time the law of averages takes over.  (also, keep in mind the Superhost status gets reviewed quarterly - so I had time to recover from that 2-star review before I get assessed again)  With those controls in place, I think the Superhost system is pretty solid.  It's *meant* to separate the top-rated hosts from those who average 4-stars.

That said, I do agree that the rating system has put too much of a premium on 5-star rankings.  I'm not sure how much the system itself is to blame vs. our own cultural expectations and ways of interacting with it (in general - not specific to AirBNB).  But that's beyond my ability to solve at this point, LOL

I didn’t read the replies if @Julie McCoy replied she’s sways right.

To the OP @Kevin Lefeuvre the situation you’re describing is what I refer to as the “hotel syndrome”

They’re rating you as if your property was a hotel because that’s all they’ve ever known. So if you’re not putting chocolate on the pillow and you don’t have a pond with ducks swimming in the lobby your property is not 5 Stars.

For instance.... The Plaza Central Park is a “5 Star Hotel” that has 4 stars online.

Lately I’ve been reading the “bad reviews” and actually listening to them. I got a couple comments that a hot tub was gross. In the past this would have made me mad and I would have said screw you get your own hot tub. The new me bought a new hot tub.

How can I improve without criticism? Without improvement in life I’m bored.