How to deal with holiday cottage disputes
If you rent out your holiday property for any length of time it’s somewhat inevitable that you will receive a guest complaint somewhere along the road.
Regardless of the care you take over your property and quality of the service you give, you just cannot please all people all of the time.
In today’s litigious society, it’s a sad fact that there are holidaymakers out there who make a handsome hobby of rolling the camcorder as soon as they arrive, eager to capture the tiniest piece of evidence that might help them claim back the full value of their holiday and effectively be your guest in more ways than one!
On the one hand this should all help to keep holiday cottage owners on their toes. We live in an internet-focused society that thrives on “social proof” as a driver of online buying decisions so we should all strive to do better.
But those same channels that encourage quality in the holiday rental industry can also be responsible for significant loss of business if things go wrong.
The online review system is clearly here to stay, and good quality properties thrive on enquiries being driven through dominant websites like Homeaway. But what if your reviews are less than perfect?
While hotels receive hundreds of guests in a week and can afford the odd bad review from a disgruntled guest, holiday home owners usually only have one guest per week or less, so a negative review can have a much bigger impact, and indeed businesses can be ruined with scathing reviews.
We have also heard of owners being held to ransom by guests threatening to post bad reviews if they don’t refund a security deposit, or pay some kind of compensation for a (fictitious) complaint or if they don’t get their own way.
How to deal with disputes
So how can holiday property owners deal with disputes, not only to make sure they deal with the guest’s complaint effectively, but also in order to protect their future business?
Don’t bury your head in the sand – avoiding complaints will make matters worse.
Here are some key steps:
Don’t give them room to complain in the first place
It all begins with something quite simple, and that is to make sure you are delivering excellence in terms of the product you offer and the service you deliver, that way there will be no cause for complaint to begin with.
Today’s independent holiday makers are seeking all the comforts of their own home, but with the service to match their favourite hotel. It’s a tall order, but it can be achieved and the effort will pay off.
Being a warm human-being and genuinely caring about your guests speaks volumes. And all those little extras that you can offer will make a world of difference.
So it’s time for owners to be friendly, helpful and informative with guests even before they arrive, during their stay and after they return from their holiday.
Begin by contacting them by email or phone to begin building the relationship even before they arrive. Provide thoughtful welcome packs on arrival. Pay attention to the detail in your holiday home and obviously make sure it is impeccably clean (Fact: most disputes are about cleaning). The list goes on, but the age-old philosophy of putting the customer at the centre of everything will stand you in good stead.
Be on top of Quality Control
Moving on from the previous point, if a guest does have cause to complaint then the onus will be on them to prove that the complaint is genuine and valid. This will be a whole lot harder for them if you can counter that with evidence that you have taken all reasonable care to present the property in a good state of quality and repair, and that it was fit for purpose and delivered as advertised. Take photos and keep receipts for replacements or anything else that may be relevant to dispute the accusations.
Make sure you check all your listings with a fine tooth and remove or amend anything erroneous or no longer available. Make sure photography and descriptions are completely up to date and make a written record of the dates you reviewed the listings.
Also make a written record of regular and thorough property inspections, inventory checks or cleaning inspections, or have your property management company do this for you. Evidence like this can be the most valuable tool in the fight against false claims, and if nothing else, they will train you and your staff to look for problems and fix them before your guests even arrive, removing the problems in the first place.
Deliver a solution
It is widely accepted that holidaymakers should give you the opportunity to try and rectify the situation as soon as it arises. If they don’t, they will weaken their case for any compensation at a later date. Your complaints procedure should be clear in your booking terms and conditions.
Most issues can be solved by a phone call or quick visit from housekeeping/maintenance. Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control and some form of compensation may be necessary if their holiday has been inconvenienced. The A/C packing in during August for a day, a blocked toilet or a cold pool for example. Maybe a complimentary meal out on you, a discount off a future stay or partial refund if more than a few days have been affected.
How would you like to be treated? – this is usually a good way to deal with problems.
Show you care – not just to your own guests, but to the rest of the world
As we said before, you WILL have negative feedback at some point, but it’s how you deal with it that affects other’s perception on reading it. So make it your mission to rectify and reply to every negative comment made – there is no such thing as a perfect holiday property but if an owner responds promptly, politely, acknowledging the problem to the extent necessary and then saying what they have done about it, then any potential future guest will be seriously impressed by your commitment and attention to detail.
This means keeping an eye on reviews that can be posted on any site that your holiday rental may be on. If you see a negative comment, then you must discipline yourself to take a deep breath and time to think before posting a knee-jerk reaction. Make yourself a cup of tea, go for a walk, ring a friend or family member to rant, take a deep breath and then come back to your desk.
Then put together a constructive and positive reply, but still don’t post it yet – get someone else to check it through first and then you can go back to the computer and type it in. If need be you should sleep on it.
It is perfectly reasonable to continue the dialogue with the complainant for everyone to see. Eventually, if they are reasonable, you will get a positive response or they will prove themselves to be unreasonable and no one will pay any attention to their original comment.
Actively seek positive social proof (reviews)
If there is one negative comment in a sea of five star reviews, then most potential customers will be likely to overlook it, so you should be actively seeking positive comments from all your guests.
There is nothing wrong in actually asking your guests to write a positive review, so do take the time to contact your guests thanking them for their custom and inviting them to leave a comment on the websites where they booked.
Review sites do not have to be something to be dreaded, but they can actually be one of the biggest drivers of business to your holiday rental if they are managed correctly.
Today’s holiday makers pay much more notice to peer recommendation than anything else, and this can only be a good thing in driving the quality of the holiday rental industry for the benefit of all concerned.
Don’t be held to ransom
Try to avoid disputes by not deducting from security deposits for accidents or small breakages – be understanding, it comes with the territory. However, if you feel any damage or extra costs you have incurred are deliberate or due to negligence – don’t be afraid to stand your ground.
Sadly there are also serial complainers who will try to exploit your good nature for their own agenda or to get “free holiday”. Establish how genuine the complaint is and gather evidence to support your defence of any complaints.
Some guests will threaten bad reviews. Don’t be blackmailed if their complaint is unwarranted. You will have the opportunity to reply with your side of the story and photo’s etc. You could also make it clear that that defamation will be pursued through the appropriate legal channels.
The small claims court may be the way to go to resolve disputes depending on the time it takes vs. the amount involved. Rarely does it get to this.
- Deliver excellence in terms of the product you offer and the service you deliver, that way there will be no cause for complaint to begin with.
- Make sure your holiday rental is impeccably clean (Fact: most disputes are about cleaning) and you haven’t mislead guests.
- The onus will be on the guest to prove that a complaint is genuine and valid and give you the opportunity to try and rectify the situation. If they don’t, they will weaken their case for any compensation.
- Don’t stress – most issues can be solved by a phone call or quick visit from housekeeping or maintenance.
- Sometimes things happen that are beyond your control and some form of compensation may be necessary.
- Sadly there are serial complainers who will try to exploit your good nature and threaten bad reviews if they don’t get their own way. Don’t be blackmailed if their complaint is unwarranted.
- One negative comment in a sea of five star reviews won’t impact bookings.
- The age-old philosophy of putting (genuine) customers at the centre of everything will stand you in good stead.
How would you like to be treated? – this is usually a good way to deal with problems.
Any horror stories of guests from hell? – or examples of how you have resolved complaints? Please add them in the comments…