The Short Answer: A fact-based, unemotional response that is aimed at alleviating the concerns of future guests.
Why stick to the facts and leave emotion out of it?
Ever see two people on the street yelling at each other? Do you want to do business with either of them? How about stay at either person's house? Probably not. In fact, most people will cross the street to avoid both of them entirely. Even if one of them is completely in the right, from the outside they both look like people you'd rather not interact with at all. And that is exactly how a potential guest will view your reviews and decide to book elsewhere. Don't get pulled into the muck. You have a lot more to lose in future earnings. Just calmly and unemotionally state what happened and explain what, if anything, you are doing to improve the situation.
Why aim your response at future guests?
Because a guest that leaves a poor review is unlikely to book again. And you probably don't want those guests to book again anyways. Additionally, on a practical level, the guest can't respond to your response (even on the off chance they read it). So what's the point of even responding to negative reviews? The point is this review will get read quite frequently by potential future guests. Most people understand that sometimes things go wrong. All they want to know is that you will handle it promptly and professionally when it does. Plus, once you get a negative review, the goal is to minimize the damage and make all future guests feel comfortable.
Should I really respond to all negative reviews?
YES! As long as you follow the advice above. Any reviews that leave anything to question should be addressed in your public response. It makes you look like a host that cares and who will handle any issues that may arise. And that is the kind of host that guests want to stay with.
Example of a Negative Guest Review:
"Great location. But the place was disgusting when I arrived. Dirt and stains all over and the beds were not even made. Would not recommend."
Pretty bad, right? Leaving this review without a response from you will definitely hurt your future booking rate. But you know what will hurt it even more?
Bad Host Response:
"Total jerk and never welcomed here again! You arrived 3 hours early, yelled at my cleaning crew and told them to get out. Of course it was a mess. They weren't finished cleaning up from the last guest. I even asked you 3 times if everything was okay and you never said anything. My place is perfect and you are just an entitled idiot that needs to learn some manners."
Ugh! Personal attacks, tons of emotion, very few facts on what happened, and nothing to make future guests feel confident in booking with you. Let's try this again...
Good Host Response:
"I appreciate that Mr. Smith chose to stay with us. However, at check-in, he arrived at noon when the stated check-in time is 3pm. My cleaner was in the process of cleaning after the previous guest when he arrived. He was asked if he could wait until she finished cleaning (either in the screened in porch or at a coffee shop a block away). He refused and said it was fine as is. The cleaner left him clean towels and sheets and left. After hearing what happened, I messaged him to make sure everything was okay and he stated everything was fine. Between each guest, my house goes through a 4-hour cleaning process to ensure it is in perfect shape for each new guest. I am sorry Mr. Smith had this experience as I want all my guests to have a great time when they stay with us."
There we go! Explained the situation without emotion, stuck to the facts, and tried to alleviate future guests concerns. Nailed it!