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I wish to make a complaint - Part 2

Written by Simon Tolson on

Part 2 resolving the problem

Last issue I managed to spend the whole article just talking about the importance of making it easy for your guests to communicate if they have a problem.  If you missed it you can read it at

Assuming the customer has had clear instructions on who to call and has got an answer or a prompt call back you’ve put yourself in the best position to resolve things.  Most calls will be simple to deal with and aren’t actually complaints, just reporting a problem and you just need to send the right person but from time to time you will get an angry or upset guest and the next few minutes can determine whether things escalate or end with a calm & happy customer.


You don’t need to applaud the guest this stands for Compose, Listen, Always agree, Pause & Solve.  Take a breath and listen carefully to what the customer is saying, jotting down notes if necessary.  If it’s a long diatribe then let them know that you are listening with small interjections but don’t interrupt until they have finished.  Sometimes the guest will have spent a long time rehearsing what they are going to say and may actually be really nervous about complaining.  You need to let them finish.  Always agree- ‘I can appreciate how frustrating that must be’, ‘I’d feel the same way if it was my holiday’………………………Pause, let there be a little silence so it’s clear that it’s your turn to speak then calmly move to the solution.

Take Ownership

Ideally the person who answers the phone will be the person who takes ownership of the problem, if not then it needs to be clear who is and I would always have them speak to the guest as soon as possible before they do anything else.  Taking ownership means using phrases like’ We’ll get this sorted as soon as possible’ or I’m going to make sure that this is fixed for you’

Don’t gang up on the guilty party

The best way to pour petrol on the fire is to do the opposite of taking ownership and join in with the guest in criticising the cause of the problem- ‘The cleaner has really let me down’ ‘We had the electrician in last week and he said he’d fixed it’ or ‘Wait until I speak to the owner’ might be more comfortable and allow you to join in with the guest in heaping on the criticism but it will only make things worse.

Give alternatives and sell the solution

There’s a sales technique that’s as old as the hills called the alternative close- you don’t say ‘Would you like to buy it?’ you say ‘Would you like a red one or a blue one?’  When people have made a choice they will somehow be happier with the outcome, even if it wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.  For example a guest calling on Saturday afternoon to report a broken dishwasher might expect someone out over the weekend.  ‘Try saying’ We’ll get someone out on Monday, would you like them to come first thing or later in the day after you have gone out?’  The guest will pick and feel like they had a choice.

Say clearly what will happen next and when

It may be obvious but make sure that the guest knows what steps are being taken, who is dealing with it and how long it is likely to be before they are contacted.  Give a backstop if you can- ‘I’m going to call the plumber and if I haven’t heard back within 2 hours/by tomorrow morning I’ll let you know.

Be Honest

Don’t promise what you know you can’t deliver.  Just like ganging up on the perpetrator all you are doing is postponing more trouble until later.

Don’t refer to the price

It doesn’t matter if the customer paid £300 or £3,000 they should be getting what they booked and any response which implies ‘What did you expect for that price?’ will only make things worse.  You may be gnashing your teeth and calculating that the party is staying in a £500k property for less per head than a bunk in a youth hostel but keep that thought to yourself.

Dealing with a list of complaints

Everyone who has been on the end of a duty phone will recognise this phenomenon. Something happens to upset a guest and puts them in the frame of mind that they are not happy with their accommodation so before they call they make a tour of the cottage looking at everything that is wrong.  if you manage a lot of very old buildings on the seafront like we do then there are always crumbly bits, damp corners and window leaks to be found and a thorough inspection is bound to reveal something under an unmoved sofa or a grubby oven dish.  Most of the time these things would be ignored but now they form part of an indefensible case with the top of the list being something serious like no hot water (or worse no WiFi!) and the rest a supporting cast to reinforce the problem.

My approach is to be as straight as possible with something along the lines of ‘ I can understand how you feel but I think the real issue here is the hot water/central heating/WiFi problem, I’m going to get that fixed and the deal with the other things for you.  Be warned this doesn’t always work but you can’t always win!

Above all be professional

Whether you are a caretaker for the cottage round the corner or manage a hundred properties you need to be calm and organised.  Have a list of tradesmen & backups for everything that might go wrong, know where the stopcock and fusebox are and be prepared to send somebody out, even if it’s just to confirm that something needs fixing or the boiler isn’t broken it’s just stunned.

Next issue we’ll talk about the tricky issue of compensation.

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Making great holidays happen in Cornwall