Category: Owner Information

Holiday Cottage Owners: How to handle complaints

Three cartoon faces, a green one smiling, a neutral expression on yellow one and a red face frowning

Good customer service can turn a negative into a positive.

We all love receiving a glowing review, but on the flip side, as holiday home owners we also need to be prepared to accept and handle complaints. Hopefully these will be few and far between, but a holiday house is no different from any other house and invariably things will occasionally break or go wrong.

Some complaints will be completely justified. Others might seem like the guests are exceptionally fussy or that they are purposely finding faults with your property. Either way, dealing with complaints in a professional and friendly way is something that we, as holiday home owners, need to learn how to do. This article looks at how we can best avoid complaints in the first place, and how to handle them if they do occur.

Prevention is better than cure

As the old saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. Whilst some things are unavoidable, there are a few things that we can do to minimise getting complaints in the first place.

Set the right impression before arrival

Make sure that all communication with guests is handled in a professional and timely manner. This will create the right image of yourself, and in turn your holiday home, from the beginning. If guests have to chase you for arrival details, or other important information, it will set a sloppy image and give the wrong impression before they have even arrived.Lady touching the screen on an ipad

Make sure your guests can contact you

Before arrival, provide guests with contact details so they can get in touch with you, or your housekeeper, should there be a problem. Also make sure contact details are left in a prominent place in your property and there is always someone available to handle queries and resolve issues as quickly as possible.

Manage expectations

However tempting it might be, don’t stretch the truth to make your property look more appealing. For example, if you can just about see the sea out of the corner of the attic window when standing on tip toes, don’t advertise that you have sea views. If you say that you are walking distance to the beach, make sure this is a five or ten minute leisurely walk rather than a forty minute hike. Whilst these examples might sound obvious, it is important not to mislead guests in any way. Nothing is more disappointing than excitedly arriving at your holiday cottage to find it is not as expected, or facilities are no longer available. Guests will understandably be disappointed, and whilst they might not complain straight away, they are likely to be looking out for other problems rather than getting into the holiday spirit.

It is also important to make sure that your property is exactly what it says and how it looks on the advert. If guests book a pretty cottage decorated in calm seaside hues, that is exactly what they will be expecting. Whilst you might be very pleased with a splash of colour in a recent redecoration, your bright orange kitchen or red dining room might not be to everyone’s taste. It is generally a good idea to keep the décor reasonably neutral, but if you do decide to go for something more distinctive make sure that your pictures are kept up to date. Guests will appreciate nice surprises like a bunch of flowers or a homemade cake left on the kitchen table, but other ‘surprises’ might not be so well received.

Get the holiday off to the right start

Family arriving at a holiday homeDo everything you can to ensure your guest’s holiday gets off to a good start. A stress-free journey with clear directions, a helpful welcome folder, and a warm clean house all create a good first impression. You could also go the extra mile and provide a thoughtful welcome hamper. Some toys and games for family-friendly houses, doggie treats for any four-legged friends, or a bottle of fizz chilling in the fridge for a romantic holiday for two are all likely to be appreciated. You will find more tips on how to get your guest’s holiday off to a good start here.

Make sure your cottage is spotlessly clean

Complaints often occur as an accumulation effect rather than one thing in isolation. If your property is not spotlessly clean this might be the tipping point for someone to make a complaint. No one likes to find the previous guest’s hairs on the bathroom floor, or their toast crumbs under the cushions on the sofa. 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 your cottage can have a few extra hours spent on it. If it’s not practical to clean under and behind every piece of furniture on each changeover, consider a deep cleaning rota where 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. Visit regularly to check everything looks OK and to carry out spring cleaning tasks. It may also be worthwhile giving your cleaner a ‘cleaning checklist’ highlighting all the jobs to be carried out on each changeover. Jobs such as cobweb patrol, dusting behind the TV or cleaning the pan cupboard can easily be missed if they are not pointed out. A tick list will also provide a useful record of the jobs carried out on each turnaround should there be a complaint.

Welcome your guests

Lady holding up keysIf 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. It is 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

Include a complaints and refund policy in your booking terms and conditions. Make sure guests know how and when they should communicate a complaint to you, and what type of problem might constitute a full or partial refund. Let guests know that you expect to be notified of any problems or breakages straight away in order to allow you to rectify an issue as soon as possible. It is unreasonable for them to demand a refund if they do not tell you about the problem until after they have gone home. Not only will this minimise the risk of complaints arriving out of the blue once the guest has left the cottage, but it also allows you to resolve the issue before the next set of guests arrive.

How to deal with a complaint

However hard we try, it is impossible to completely avoid complaints. If your guests contact you with a problem, do your best to resolve it as quickly as possible. Most problems can be resolved by a phone call or a quick visit from yourself or your housekeeper. If it can be nipped in the bud early on you can hopefully prevent it from turning into a bad review or 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 as comfortable as possible until the matter is resolved. Most guests are pretty reasonable and understanding providing they can see that the cottage is generally well maintained and that the owner is doing their best to resolve the problem quickly.

Don’t expect guests to stay in to wait for a plumber to arrive or for the delivery of a new fridge. Make sure that you, or your housekeeper, can be there so the guests can carry on with their holiday with minimal disruption. Do make sure you let the guests know if you are going to be letting yourself in though. They would be understandably upset to find you standing in ‘their’ kitchen or bedroom if they weren’t expecting you.

If problems arise during your guests stay hopefully you will have had the opportunity to resolve them. If your guests have been inconvenienced at all then a goodwill gesture usually helps to get their holiday back on track. A bottle of bubbly or some nice wine can help turn the negative experience into a positive one.

When is a refund appropriate?

If part of your guest’s holiday has been compromised then a partial refund may be appropriate. For example, if the house was not cleaned ready for arrival and guests had to be sent away for a few hours, you might reimburse them for the first night or pay for them to have a meal at the local pub whilst the house was being prepared. It may also be appropriate to provide a partial refund if a ‘desirable’ facility such as a television, hot tub or swimming pool is unavailable due to unforeseen circumstances. If something breaks and you are unable to mend or replace it straight away then you should offer a partial refund, depending on the level of disruption. On occasions, a total refund may be warranted. For example in the event of a double booking or if your house needed sudden major repair.

Occasionally, a guest might request a refund for something that you feel is unwarranted. Maybe they just didn’t like the property, they weren’t happy with the facilities or had a problem that 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 to save any further hassle or stand your ground.

Each situation is different and it is completely up to you to decide how to resolve an individual case. Whilst it is impossible for you to resolve a problem if you didn’t know about it, if there was a genuine issue, it might be worth offering a partial refund to avoid a bad review. However, sadly there are some serial complainers who will try to exploit your good nature. Don’t be blackmailed if their complaint is unwarranted. One negative comment is unlikely to impact your bookings. If you do get a bad review, respond politely, give your side of the story and show that you have dealt with the problem professionally and as best you could.

Move on

Women on phone looking frustrated at laptop

Keep an open mind, be objective & avoid being defensive

For many of us, our holiday homes are more than just a ‘business’. Whilst guests might see our properties purely as bricks and mortar, rightly or wrongly, it is likely that we have some personal or emotional attachment to them. Nobody likes to receive negative feedback and it is very easy to become defensive if a guest complains about your holiday house or cottage. However, it is important to try to keep an open mind and be objective. If you feel the complaint is unfounded try not to take it personally. It can help to focus on the problem or situation and not the person making the complaint. If necessary go for a walk, talk to some fellow holiday home owners, have a glass of wine and sleep on it (especially if you go for the wine option!) before responding. It’s likely that you will feel better in the morning and your response will be more professional and polite.

Whether you think a complaint is unfounded or not, remember feedback is always useful. Use it as an opportunity to ensure lessons are learnt for future guests. Deal with it professionally and then move on.

2 thoughts on “Holiday Cottage Owners: How to handle complaints

  1. JohnPassmore


    What would your advice me for a double booking. I’ve double booked a group. I have found (and booked them alternative accommodation of equal standard but no hot tub. I offered a free weekend for the following weekend. I have refunded the difference in cost. Essentially, they have the inconvenience of going to a different venue 10 minutes away and of no hot tub. I thought to offer 25% compensation too as a goodwill gesture.

    1. Sarah Jarvis Post author

      Hi John, a most unfortunate situation but it is good that you are being proactive and doing all you can to minimise the negative impact of the situation. It is hard to advise on the best way forward as only you know the true extent of the impact this has had on the group and their level of disappointment. Unfortunately, with the best will in the world, mistakes do at times happen and our advice when they do, is to resolve the situation as quickly and professionally as possible to minimise stress and inconvenience to the guests. It sounds like you have done this by offering your accommodation free of charge the following weekend and finding the group alternative accommodation. It is obviously going to be disappointing that they do not have a hot tub and I would use your judgement (knowing the facts surrounding the situation) with regard to a ‘goodwill gesture’.

      Moving forwards, you may find using an online booking management system helps to prevent double bookings and our recent article reviews online booking management systems for holiday home owners.


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