Receiving a complaint is something that every cottage owner dreads. Thankfully, with a well run cottage, complaints should be few and far between. However, from time to time they may occur and your response can be what makes the difference between an amicable outcome or a bad review on the internet or, even worse, a legal battle.
As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’ and there are a few preventative steps you can take to reduce the need for guests to complaint in the first place:
- Give your guests what they expect: Nobody likes surprises so make sure that your property is exactly what it says on the advert. When a holiday maker initially reads an advert, the wording and photos are what will create the first impression. Make sure that what they are seeing (and hence buying) is exactly what they will be getting when they arrive. Nothing is more disappointing than turning up to a cottage to find it is not as expected with facilities no longer available or the décor not to the same standard or style that was advertised at the point of booking. A very good reason and common cause for complaint so make sure you check and update your adverts regularly.
- Make sure your cottage is spotlessly clean: Another common cause for complaint is cleaning, or lack of it. Ensure your cottage receives a thorough clean on every turnaround so that there is no room for complaint. During the peak season when bookings are back to back, consider getting additional help so that the cottage can have a few extra hours spent on it. If it’s not practical to move furniture in order to clean behind and under on every turnaround, consider a deep cleaning rota whereby one room per turnaround gets a thorough clean. If you are not personally responsible for the housekeeping, you will have to rely on your cleaner, so visit regularly to check up on the cottage and carry out spring cleaning tasks. It may also be worth while providing your cleaner with a ‘turnaround cleaning checklist’ highlighting all the jobs to be carried out on each changeover (such as cobweb patrol, pull out and dust behind the TV or cleaning pan cupboards and cutlery trays). This will ensure jobs aren’t missed and also provide a useful record of the jobs carried out on each turnaround (if used as a tick list) should there be a complaint. You could also ask your cleaner to take photographs after each turnaround to keep a record of the cleaning standard (this could be useful if there is a complaint that you feel is unfounded).
- Set the right impression before arrival: Make sure that all communications with guests are handled in a professional and timely manner to ensure you create the right image of yourself and in turn your holiday home from the onset. If guests have to keep chasing you for arrival details and necessary information, it may set a sloppy image and give the wrong impression before the guests have even arrived.
- Get the holiday off to the right start: Complaints often occur as an accumulation effect rather than one thing in isolation. If you do all you can to try to ensure your guest’s holiday gets off to the right start, you are less likely to receive a complaint. We have some good tips in this article to assist you. For example, you know how to operate the heating and what time the local pub stops serving food, but your guests don’t. Make sure that the welcome folder is as helpful as possible to enable the holiday to get off to a good start.
- Make sure your guests can contact you: Before arrival, provide guests with contact details so they can contact you (and/or your housekeeper) should there be a problem. Also make sure contact details are left in a prominent place in the cottage and ensure there is always someone available to handle queries and resolve issues quickly (even if you are away on holiday).
- Welcome your guests: If you are not able to meet and greet your guests, phone them on the first night to make sure they are happy. It’s a nice little personal touch that gives guests the chance to ask any questions or raise any concerns from the onset (always better to nip any potential problems in the bud before they fester). It will also provide you with confirmation that they are happy with the accommodation at the point of arrival.
- Make your guests aware of your complaints procedure: Your booking terms and conditions should clearly outline your complaints procedure. For example, ask guests to inspect the property upon arrival and notify you (or the housekeeper) immediately of any problems. It is also recommended that guests notify you of any problems that occur during their stay. It is reasonable that an owner is given the opportunity to resolve a problem (providing it is done in a timely manner) and requesting notification should allow you to do this and also minimise the risk of complaints arriving out of the blue once the guest has left the cottage.
- Respond quickly if there is a problem: From time to time things do go wrong; after all, a holiday cottage is no different to a home and even a well maintained one will experience the odd failure and breakdown. If your guests contact you with a problem, do your best to resolve it as quickly as possible before it turns into an official complaint. If there’s a mechanical breakdown, try to have it fixed or replaced within 24 hours. If there is a major breakdown (such as heating), make alternative arrangements for your guests to ensure they are comfortable until the matter is resolved. In our experience, most guests are pretty reasonable and understanding to the odd unforeseen problem, providing they can see that the cottage is generally well maintained and that the owner is doing their best to resolve the problem quickly. A little ‘thank you for being so understanding’ afterwards also goes a long way in getting the holiday back on the right track; so if you’ve had a small problem, why not have a bottle of bubbly or some nice wine delivered to the guests at the cottage once it is fixed and turn that negative into a positive!
It can be very upsetting and disheartening as an owner when a complaint is received. So what do you do if you have received one?
- Try not to take it personally: Nobody likes to receive negative feedback and it’s easy to immediately become defensive about your property and what it has to offer. If you receive a complaint, try to keep an open mind and be objective. For sure there are ‘serial’ complainers out there and those who are just looking to get some money back but there may also be genuine reasons for a complaint, so keep an open mind. It can help to focus on the problem or situation and not the person making the complaint.
- Act quickly and always respond: Whether you think the complaint is genuine or not, always handle a complaint in a timely and professional manner. Try to respond to a complaint within 24-48 hours, even if it is just to acknowledge receipt of the complaint whilst you investigate the problems raised. Regardless of whether the complainant was from the worst guest ever, or the complaint was totally unwarranted, not responding to a complaint is a good reason for a complaint in itself!
- Investigate and resolve: Before you can decide the best way to proceed with the complaint, fully investigate the issues raised (be open minded and honest with yourself). Possibly you’ll need to visit the property to do this or contact your housekeeper to gain feedback.
- Try to turn those negatives into positives: Use the opportunity to scrutinise both your property and how you market it. There may be some useful feedback within the complaint that can provide valuable ‘lessons learned’ and prevent future complaints.
- Compensation: There are always some people who are just looking to get some money back at the end of their stay and it is your job to decide whether a complaint is justified or not. In today’s ‘social’ world, there is always the risk of a bad review being left on the internet. Whilst you do not want to be held ransom to this, it is worth remembering the damage bad reviews could potentially do to your business (i.e. cottage) so you will need to exercise judgement when making your decision regarding compensation. Should problems have arisen during a guests stay, hopefully you will have had the opportunity to resolve them and if they have caused little interference to the guests holiday and enjoyment, then a small goodwill gesture may be adequate. However, if part of the holiday has been compromised then a partial refund may be appropriate. For example, if the cottage was not cleaned ready for arrival and guests had to be sent away for a few hours whilst it was cleaned, it may be appropriate to reimburse them for the cottage charge for the first night or pay for them to have a meal at the local pub whilst the cottage was being prepared. It may also be appropriate to provide a partial refund if a ‘desirable’ facility (e.g. television, hot tub, swimming pool) is unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances. On occasions, a total refund may be requested and there are such occasions that would obviously warrant it, for example in the event of a double booking or should the cottage need sudden major repair. It is also possible that a guest could request a full refund for something that you feel is unwarranted (maybe he did not like the property, was not happy with the facilities or had a problem you were not given the opportunity to resolve). This is when, as an owner, you will need to decide whether you would prefer to refund the guest (in part or full) to save any further hassle (regardless of whether you feel it is fair or not); or stand your ground.
There are lots of proactive things you can do to prevent receiving complaints in the first place but should you be presented with one, we hope you find this information useful.