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Delay Negative Reviews on Airbnb, Expense Categories, Channel Transparency, Theme Cleanup

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Delay Negative Reviews on Airbnb, Expense Categories, Channel Transparency, Theme Cleanup

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Hi, everyone!  We've got 13 updates to talk about from last week's release including some chunky new features involving Airbnb reviews and PM expenses, then some QOL on channels themes, and a handful of bug fixes.  Off we go! 🏃

New Features

Automatically Delay Negative Reviews on Airbnb

Have you ever wanted to write a negative review for a guest on Airbnb but were worried that the guest would see you wrote a review, pushing them to write their own negative review first?  Sometimes, PMs decide to not write reviews at all as a sort of "let sleeping dogs lie" measure against getting negative reviews in return.

If only there was a way where you could write a negative review for a guest but wait to post it until right before the 14-day window expired.  By the time the guest saw that you wrote one, it would be too late for them to write their own.  Airbnb only lets the host and guest write reviews within 14 days from departure.

Well, now you can!  We've designed a "delayed posting" feature that will take your Airbnb reviews and wait to send them to Airbnb until 20 minutes before the 14-day deadline expires.

It's very simple to use.  Simply go to an Airbnb booking in OwnerRez and start writing a review.  You'll notice a new "Delay Posting" setting at the bottom:

Select the "this is a negative review; delay it being posted" option and save.  Our system will then wait to send it to Airbnb until 20 minutes before the 14-day review period has expired.

A couple of common questions on delayed reviews:

  • Can I delay posting a good review?  Yes, technically you can, but it doesn't make any sense to do that.  If it's a good review, you should send it right away to encourage the guest to write their own in return.  Only negative reviews (ie. reviews with low star counts or that mention bad things that the guest did) should be delayed so that the review isn't read by the guest until it's too late for them to write their own.  If for some reason you want to delay posting a good review, simply select the "negative review; delay it being posted" option.
  • Will this prevent the guest from writing a review?  No.  All Airbnb guests are free to write reviews whenever they want.  If they write a review first (before you send yours) then this delay feature doesn't really matter.  Their review will still post the same as always.  Your review will still be delayed (if you select that option) but it won't have any effect on whether the guest writes one.  This delayed-posting feature is basically a timing trick to sneak a review in before the guest has remembered to write one on their own.  If they remember to write one on their own, then delayed posting does you no good.
  • Does this change how my review is shown on Airbnb?  No.  It's just like any other review you would post, only we wait a certain length of time before sending it.
  • What if I write the review on Airbnb?  This feature only works on the Airbnb side using the API integration.  If you write a review on Airbnb's control panel directly, it will be posted immediately.
  • How much time will the guest have to write their review after the delayed one is posted?  Not much.  Technically, we send delayed reviews about 20 minutes before the 14-day window has expired.  From that point, Airbnb has to notify the guest, the guest has to be near their phone and see that one was written, and open up the review window and write their own - all within a 20 minute time period.  They might be able to do that, but we think it's unlikely most of the time.
  • Can you shorten the buffer time at the end?  Make it 1 minute before the review period ends?  Computer networks and servers are not always exactly aligned, and the review process might be queued on Airbnb's side.  Depending on how Airbnb's systems are configured, we feel like a 20 minute time window is warranted.  That gives the host review enough time to get in on time without being so close to the end that it ends up failing.  However, this is a new feature and we are closely monitoring it to see where it succeeds and fails.  If you run into situations where your guests are seeing negative reviews and responding before the 14-day period expires, let us know.  We may shorten the buffer.

Expense Categories

Quick question - if you're a PM and use our PM module in OwnerRez, how do you know what your Cleaning Fees expenses are?  All the ones that say "cleaning" or "housekeeping" in them?  How about something with more variety in the description like "supplies" and "toilet paper"?  How do you lump these together into common expense categories for reporting?

As we prepare for better expense and year-end reporting, we've created a new feature that we think will significantly help PMs: expense categories.  If you recall, we added categories for surcharges last year which has led to a lot of success.  We decided to do the same thing for expenses.

To see it in action, go to the PM menu > Expenses list and open an existing expense or create a new one.  You'll notice a new "Category" drop-down with a bunch of options loaded for you.

The categories list speaks for itself.  We've preloaded a list of "system" categories based on research we did into the most common types of expenses - things like cleaning, supplies, and lawn care.

The system categories will always show, and you cannot remove or change them.  However, we've also added the ability for you to create "custom" categories so that you can customize your own list of categories.  To create custom categories, you can use the in-line "create new" option right in the drop-down list.  Click that option and an input box will appear below the drop-down for you to fill in the category name.

You can also see and manage your custom categories from the Expense Categories menu that shows in the PM area.  This list will show all of the custom categories you've created and allow you to change them or create more.  The Expense Categories list will not show the global list of system categories, only the custom ones you've created yourself.

Note that you cannot create a custom category with the same name as a system category.  For example, if you try to create a custom category called "Cleaning", the system will show an error message because a system category already exists with the same name.

Once we added categories, we knew that the first thing you'd want to do is go back and re-categorize all of your historical bookings, so we added a batch update tool to make this easy.  It's right on the main Expenses list, using the standard Batch button you see in other places.

Use the Expense filters to find a list of similar items that need to be categorized.  Then, click the Batch button, select the rows you want to update, click the Categorize button and a window will open showing you the list of categories.  Select the category and click Assign.  While you wait, the window will update the expenses right then and there.

In the above example, I selected all "snowplowing" expenses that currently had no category and assigned "Lawncare" as the category.  In just a few clicks, I was able to update dozens of historical records.

If you're wondering why the category matters, this will affect how reports work in the coming months.  In order to properly display and group expenses by category, we first had to create a method for categorizing expenses.

Enhancements & Tweaks

Extra Transparency for Channel Bridge and Channel Mappings

In our ongoing quest to be the continue being the best channel manager in the vacation rental industry, we do a lot of work on monitoring and improving our channel connections.  While we can't work on channel stuff every week, we constantly make notes so that we can jump on improvements when the time allows.  Not a month goes by when we aren't making channel updates. In this release, we hit a couple of things we've been wanting to do for a while.

First, we added a new "Policies" tab on the channel dashboard that shows all of your properties with the channel or property setting currently in place for things that can be overridden at the property level.

The five things that can be overridden are Booking Mode, Cancellation Policy, House Rules, Lead Time, and Max Days In Future.  As it shows above, it will show you what the current setting is for that property and field and whether it was put there by the global channel settings or the property itself.  This should help you diagnose problems you're having with why certain properties are handling bookings differently than other properties.  Even if you're not having problems, you may want to check it out anyway just to remember how things are laid out.

We also spent some time cleaning up the Instructions tab and making sure that each channel has the latest round of information needed for that channel.  As part of this, we provide the OwnerRez account ID for channels like Houfy, Find Rentals, and others that integrate by feed so that when they request it, you can copy it quickly.

In Channel Bridge, we added some additional data to the Channel Bridge History list.  You can now see all Channel Bridge files including those that weren't imported (or where we don't track the import side of it).

We added also added some additional tracking for our support team to view so that if you have questions about Channel Bridges, it's easier for us to provide answers and see what happened.

Theme Cleanup

It's been a while since we've worked on Theming, and as we started poking at it recently, we noticed a couple of things we wanted to enhance.  If you're not sure what Theming is, imagine that you have 5 properties in two different regions - 3 in Florida and 2 in Mexico.  When you reply to guests about the Mexican properties, you don't want your Florida website or property list showing up in your email signature, and vice versa.  Or you might even run multiple Property Management companies (with different logos, etc) from the same OwnerRez account.  Theming makes that possible.

First of all, we now show your property theme when previewing email messages from the booking.  The preview window for email templates would show the theme but not the message in the booking area.  This has been updated to show the correct theme.

Then, we updated the contact info on email messages (ie. the email From and Reply-To headers) to always align with the property theme even if the "Header/Footer" selection on the email template is a different theme.  This was a constant source of confusion in the past.  Switching the Header/Footer branding would also change the email headers, but that's not really what most users want to have happen.  You might want an email to be sent with no signature, for instance, but you still want it to use a From header that corresponds to that property.

Lastly, we added default themes for Owner Statement headers and footers.

This is similar to the "Use Default" functionality on email signatures and guest forums.  We realized that owner statement themes should work the same way and put some great defaults in place to get you started.

Of course, you can always tweak or remove any of the defaults at any time.  Or, if you decide your customized versions should be reset, you can use the "Use Default" buttons to put them back.

Better Testing of Credit Card Payment Methods

Did you know that some of our credit card payment methods allow you to run a live test to see if your credentials work?  Yep, that's been the case for a long time.

However, we updated this test feature to address a common situation we see - users failing to take their accounts out of "test" mode on the payment processor side.  Specifically, Authorize.Net and Bambora have account-level "modes" that can be either test or live.  The entire account works the same way, but card data won't actually be settled (sent to your bank account) if the account is in "test" mode.

Previously, the user got a successful test message if the Authorize.Net or Bambora credentials were entered into OwnerRez correctly, but it didn't check if the accounts were in global "test" mode on the processor side.  Now we check that too.

Your Authorize.Net account is in test mode!

How did we pull this off?  We run a test credit card number that works in test mode but not live mode.  If the card succeeds, we know that the account is in "test" mode and tell the user the check failed along with the reason why.  Sneaky, right?

Over time, we plan to add this extra check (and others) to help catch other problems with credit card integration.

Bug Fixes

Don't quote when auto-responding to Vrbo inquiries.  A long time ago, we fixed our inquiry and CRM system to stop using the Vrbo proxy email addresses (or "double-blind" email addresses) for the guest email address.  However, we never noticed that our inquiry auto-responder system was still creating quotes and sending them to the Vrbo proxy email address.  We updated the auto-responder code to not create quotes when the email address is the Vrbo proxy one.

Reviews metadata.  I mentioned in the last product update that we tweaked the reviews metadata (ie. star count) on Google but also noticed some other things, so this was a work in progress.  Yes, once again, we've tweaked the review metadata for Google on hosted sites.  Unsure if this will be the last time. ⭐🤷‍♂️

Channel rate tester with multiple Airbnb accounts.  Previously, if you picked a property in one channel but selected a different Airbnb account in the rate tester, the message was confusing.  We tightened that up.  Now, when generating charges, we check to see if the property is mapped to a different channel account and switch to that account rather than showing error messages.  Also, when generating Airbnb charges, we clarify whether the issue is a missing versus inactive property.

Review widget average stars count.  In the reviews widget, have you ever noticed that your top star count is different than the "showing" number below the filter?  This can also happen on the reviews page on hosted websites.

We noticed this a few times in the past but failed to figure it out.  Recently, we figured it out and fixed it.

11 Comments (add yours)

Apr 12, 2022 11:22 AM
Scott J says:

I've never seen the interface that you are calling the Channel Dashboard. Where do I find this? I'm not seeing it anywhere under any of the settings or tools.

It would be good to state where to find particular settings or tools when you are describing upgrades or fixes to them.

Apr 12, 2022 12:13 PM
Scott J says:

Would someone at OwnerRez cared to tell us where to find this Channel Dashboard?

Apr 12, 2022 12:19 PM
Joel P says:

Hi Scott,

To access the channel dashboard, go to "Settings > API Integrations" and click on any channel. The new Policies tab should be visible below the channel details at the top.

Apr 12, 2022 12:26 PM
Scott J says:

I'm there and clicking on the channels and clicking on everything clickable in them, and can't find any Channel Dashboard as you have in your screenshot.

Apr 12, 2022 12:31 PM
Joel P says:

I believe the Policies tab is only visible on Airbnb and Vrbo channel integrations at this time.

Apr 12, 2022 12:32 PM
Scott J says:

Very weird. Going back to the same page, now the Policy and Taxes columns are there, when they most definitely weren't moments ago, going to the same channel pages several times.

Apr 21, 2022 5:12 AM
Matthew H says:

Thank you very much for the "Delay negative reviews" feature.  I've been waiting for this for a LOOONG time.  This was the only feature that was keeping me with Hospitable/SmartBnb.  Now I can switch 100% to OwnerRez.

 

Apr 21, 2022 3:11 PM
Paul W says:

Thanks, Matthew!  Spread the word!

Apr 22, 2022 3:45 PM
Fabian Z says:

Hi Paul, thank you so much for the upgrade of the delay review!

PERSONALLY, I would prefer to send it maybe 3 minutes before the window is over. If it fails, it fails and then there's that. Let's just say for most of us, we'd prefer the risk of not getting our bad review in, over the risk of being retaliated back. We could poll, or even create a third category "last minute review" with a disclaimer that it may not successfully land, which I would still choose. Personally 20 minutes in my opinion is too much exposure.

Apr 22, 2022 4:08 PM
Matthew H says:

I agree.  I have been using this function on Hospitable.  They post it 1 minute before the deadline.  There is a certain failure rate, but it's tolerable.

Apr 23, 2022 4:36 AM
Tarki says:

I agree with Fabian...

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