Complaints are an occupational hazard for independent vacation rental owners and, as all but the newest newbies among us will know, the buck stops with us.
If you are new to renting you may not yet have encountered the more extreme complaints: the ones that leave you standing open-mouthed in disbelief.
We all laughed recently when a colleague relayed to us a piece he’d spotted on http://overheard.liketodiscover.com/ about the most idiotic vacation complaints received from dissatisfied customers by Thomas Cook Vacations. Here’s one from an English couple vacationing in Europe (no prizes for guessing which country): ‘There were too many Spanish people there. The receptionist spoke Spanish, the food was Spanish. No one told us that there would be so many foreigners.’
Blamed for pregnancy!
And this other astounding complaint from an amorous couple: ‘My fiance and I requested twin beds when we booked, but instead we were placed in a room with a king bed. We now hold you responsible and want to be reimbursed for the fact that I became pregnant. This would not have happened if you had put us in the room that we booked.’
Hopefully, you won’t ever be faced with such illogical, apparently intractable situations, but you will certainly get complaints. Only recently I had to deal with two complaints from the same two guests. First, they complained there were no hooks on the bathroom door to hang their heavy towelling dressing gowns (yes, they had taken them to Florida during the peak summer season – 100 degrees!). The second time they complained they had just had pizza delivered and there was no pizza slicer so they needed one urgently!
Fortunately, I’m a patient sort of guy. But how you deal with complaints can make the difference between being bad-mouthed to the guest’s circle – or, worse, getting a bad review on TripAdvisor – and getting a positive report, even a repeat guest. It can make that much difference (although I’m not sure I want the dressing gown wearing pizza couple to stay again).
Here are a few ground rules that we’ve found useful. When complaints comes in, keep your nerve, be polite, attentive and reassuring until you have all the facts. If it’s due to some unforeseen failure, say the pool heating has failed or the refrigerator has stopped working, let the guest know that you are taking immediate steps to rectify the situation and offer some recompense for the inconvenience.
Keep them informed as to progress and if there are further delays, explain the reasons – guests can be very sympathetic if they see you are doing your best. However, they will quickly lose sympathy if you offer a shrug and say something like ‘These things take time’. If something can’t be fixed quickly, be prepared to compensate in some way. Taking a small hit on your revenue might be better than a big hit on your popularity ratings.
If the complaints are about small things that you could easily put right, accept the criticism graciously and use it to your advantage to improve your property from a guest’s point of view. Supposing they complain about an uncomfortable sofa or mattress, think about replacing them (the sofa or mattress, not the guests!).
Beds ‘too soft’
One complaint should not necessarily prompt replacement. In our case we installed brand new mattresses with memory foam ‘toppers’ on all our beds. These were comfortable and supportive but I guess softer than some may prefer. A family stayed very shortly afterwards but complained that the beds were so soft and uncomfortable that she made her children sleep on the floor for the duration of their stay! I guess you can’t please everyone.
Interestingly, the same family rebooked recently after a couple of years and asked if we had changed ‘those uncomfortable mattresses’. Unfortunately for her, yes we had but I have no doubt they will still be way too soft for them!
Or maybe they criticise the lack of equipment in your self-catering property? Add some new equipment (yes, I ordered a nice pizza cutter the very next day!).
Try to see things from the guest’s point of view and take the wider view of complaints. I’d stop short of urging you to welcome criticism, but try to think of these small niggles as helping to improve and hone your property to the point where it will become the perfect holiday destination for your future guests.