How to deal with blackmail on TripAdvisor

Threats from customers: TripAdvisor said it takes allegations of blackmail very seriously

TripAdvisor blackmail is an issue many pubs have faced, but handling the situation can get a little sticky. The Morning Advertiser has spoken with pubs and the review site to find out how best to deal with customer blackmail.

Licensee Brendan Padfield of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, was a solicitor for 36 years, and “hated every moment”, before he left the law and leased the Suffolk-based pub from Punch.

He pinpointed three pieces of advice when it comes to dealing with TripAdvisor blackmail: “The first thing is to keep calm and be courteous throughout.”

Padfield said: “I am always very careful, very open and transparent, and it is important to treat all customers with respect, despite any provocation.”

He also outlined how being a former solicitor has aided him slightly when it comes to dealing with the issue of blackmail on TripAdvisor.

He added: “Maybe it has, in the sense that solicitors are used to keeping records and dealing with things in an organised and focused way.”

Making a careful record is another tip Padfield advised along with listening hard to the customer and ensuring things are investigated carefully.

“Lastly, if you’re wrong, despite the threat, admit you’re wrong and engage still courteously and properly with the customer to try and make amends,” he added.

TripAdvisor said it takes any allegations of blackmail or threatening behaviour by guests against business owners very seriously.

Blackmail review

The review site added: “It is absolutely against the terms and spirit to use TripAdvisor’s name to try and claim discounts, compensation or freebies that would not be available to other guests.

“We have a dedicated tool that business owners can use to alert to us the threat of a blackmail review before any such review is submitted to the site.

“Our fraud detection experts will investigate any reports and if they find a report from an owner matches that of a blackmail review, which has been submitted, they will be able to take action to stop the review being posted on the site.”

Jemima Withey, licensee of the Turks Head in Woodbridge, Suffolk, is another operator who has experienced TripAdvisor blackmail but was impressed by the way in which the review site dealt with it.

She said: “We had an incident where a lady was trying to arrange a Christmas booking last year for 20 people.

“As with anybody who is booking a festive menu, we require a £10 per head deposit, which works well for us.

“When it came to it, she had discussed the date, we had showed her the menu but when we asked her for the deposit, she was outraged.

“She basically said she wanted the booking but if we insisted on making her give a deposit, she would cancel her booking, take her business elsewhere and write us a bad TripAdvisor review.”

Withey explained that this conversation was taking place through email, which meant she had the whole dialogue in print.

We do not respond to blackmail

She added: “I explained to her calmly that her booking was now cancelled. She was absolutely furious and wrote a further email saying how we would never get any business from her or her friends and would write a bad review for us on TripAdvisor, which she duly did.”

However, the response from TripAdvisor after Withey had notified them that blackmail was taking place was swift.

She said: “[The customer] put her review up, talking about our shocking service and how we hadn’t dealt with her booking properly, I had spelled her name wrong and was trying to insist on the booking fee.

“I did reply to her online immediately and also flagged it with TripAdvisor. They came back after a day and said [she could write a review even though she hadn’t been to the pub] as it was within their guidelines because she was commenting on our level of service.

“However, thankfully, because she had said it on email, I forwarded her email which stated that ‘if you do not do this for me, I will give you a bad TripAdvisor review’ and it was immediately reviewed.”

Standing firm and not backing down to the customer is another tip from Withey, which she advised operators to do.

She said: “We wouldn’t respond to blackmail in the slightest. We deal with it in a professional manner and in my experience, the incident was in print so I was able to deal with it.”

A licensee previously told of his outrage after a customer who was refused a refund left a negative review, claiming to have come down with food poisoning in retaliation.

The Sun Inn, Dedham, near Colchester, Essex, owner Piers Baker replied to the review but was understood to have contacted TripAdvisor to get it removed.

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