I wish to make a complaint - Part 1
Whether you run a huge agency or just rent out your own cottage dealing with problems the right way is crucial.
Part 1 – Communication
Running a holiday cottage agency comes with lots of stress- cashflow, finance, staff issues and the weather but the thing that’s most likely to keep me awake at night is dealing with an unhappy guest. After much planning and anticipation and what may be a very significant investment it can be very upsetting if things aren’t right and something minor can escalate into a significant problem.
Communication is absolutely critical and a bit of careful preparation can save you from a lot of trouble.
Who are you going to call?
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious it needs to be very clear to the guest who to contact. Make sure that the number to call is on confirmation paperwork and in the property in a format that is obvious – even though we have a sheet in the middle of the table next to the welcome pack we still frequently have guests call the main switchboard saying they haven’t got any other number. If you must have different numbers for housekeeping issues and more serious problems then make it clear what each is for. If you are with a booking only agency then make sure they always have up to date details to pass on.
Always have a back up
You really need at least two numbers, even if it’s clear that the second one is only for use in an emergency or if the guest hasn’t heard back within an hour. Leaving one number for someone who might be at the cinema or out of contact for a long period of time just isn’t good enough.
24 hour cover?
I’ve had many discussions with owners and caretakers along the lines of ‘people might ring at all hours with silly things and keep bothering me’. Whilst I could relate some stories including the 9pm call to report that the tinfoil had run out, the truth is that late calls are very unusual, but when one comes it is often very important. We are probably talking once per five years for the average cottage but someone has got to step up and be available for when a guest with 3 young children can’t get in when they arrive at midnight after a disastrous journey or a tank has burst at 2.30am and there’s mains water running through the property (both have happened to us). You may argue that it’s easy for me to say this as we have a 24 hour switchboard, but until a year ago the cover was my mobile and the truth is even with 80 properties there are only a handful of really late calls every year.
Is there a phone signal?
If there’s no signal at your cottage then you need to have a landline phone there for the guests. You’ll have the service for the WiFi anyway so it’ll hardly cost anything. There’s often great resistance to this from owners who are generally part of my generation who grew up with our dad throwing a holy fit if we made a call before 6pm and if it was long distance out of the county then better save it for Christmas. Nowadays phone calls are nearly free (or really free) and you can skype anywhere in the world for free so there’s no incentive at all for a guest to abuse the phone and if they did you can see the time and cost and charge them just as if they had stolen the TV or the carpet which frankly is just as likely. Dealing with a problem when you can’t call the customer and they can’t call you is an absolute nightmare and will inevitably make the issue much worse.
So to conclude, that guest isn’t angry they’re just pining for the phone!
Tune in next issue for part 2 – talking to the customer.