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I wish to make a complaint - Part 3 Compensation

Written by Simon Tolson on

This is the final column in the series about dealing with complaints.  if you’ve missed the last two you can read them at

I blame Marks & Spencer, it all started with them.  My mum is a feisty Irish lady and I have many memories as a child in the seventies of standing embarrassed in a shop whilst she entered into a heated argument about returning something.  Whether it was split shoes, felt tips that didn’t work or a broken soda stream,  the job of the shop assistant was to deny responsibility, claim that it was our fault or that we needed to contact the manufacturers.  A row would take place while I cringed in the corner,  but my mum would always win.

Then M & S started to give refunds without argument and it was a revolution.  Yes people wore things for a night and took them back or bought in the sale and returned to another store at a higher price but the effect on the business was dramatic and the whole customer care movement started off.

The customer is KING!

Fast forward to today and the customer is king.  Taking anything back is no longer a challenge, the customer services desk won’t question anything, they’ll just give you a refund and if you make a complaint to head office they will probably send you a generous refund to keep you happy.  When you couple this with today’s compensation culture where a broken fingernail has a value, all of us that deal with the public will frequently be on the end of at best an expectation of compensation and at worst a shake down that stops just short of blackmail.

Trip Advisor & Online reviews

The self catering market is only just starting to appear on Trip Advisor via adverts on Holiday Lettings which they own.  Google are also putting their own local search results at the top of location based queries and you can’t get an entry there without also being available as a listing where you can leave a review.  Some larger agencies also have independent reviews on their site which shows their commitment to customer service, but I am not comfortable with publishing negative things about a cottage when I’m also the exclusive marketing agent.

Reviews have proved to be an extremely powerful force in the hotel, restaurant and other industries which means we are getting more and more emails along the lines of ‘I thought I would give you the opportunity to address this before I post a comment online’  which is very British, but still feels to me as if it should be on a note made up of words cut from a newspaper.

When do you give a refund?

This falls into two distinct categories – guests who have been without an important service for part or all of their stay- heating, hot water, tv, wifi, and guests who have had perhaps a cleaning issue or washing machine breakdown who are taking the opportunity to extract a bit of a contribution towards their holiday.  Sometimes you may feel it isn’t right but you have to be pragmatic- it may be simply too expensive in the long term to stick to your principles and and up with a scathing review online.

How much should you give?

For the first category of guest who have been without something vital I tend to refund a proportion of the week according to the days they were without the service.  If it’s a very cheap week I may well round it up and for an expensive one round it down.  Sadly the truth is it does also depend how much of a fuss the guest has made.  For something like TV or Wifi I tend to go for a round number as a gesture – £25, £50 or £100 depending on the cost of the week.  When a guest has had a genuine problem and been understanding then I tend to err on the generous side and also tell them to call me directly for a special deal if they want to come again.

Dealing with the guest who is clearly hustling for the most money with the threat of making life difficult for you is a little more challenging.  The best strategy is to ask how much they think is fair and then pause – don’t speak and the longer the silence the better it will be for you.  I must confess that I am probably a bit more robust than I should be on these occasions and I’m trying to learn to grit my teeth more.  All you can do is make a judgement according to the circumstances.

Who should pay?

Obviously the money comes from the owner of the cottage – or does it?  I take a bit of a different view to most agents here.  It’s very easy to be a customer services champion and give generously to make sure the customer loves your brand when you are giving other people’s money away!  If it’s a straightforward issue like boiler breakdown with a reasonable level of compensation then that’s down to the owner and if it was a cleaning complaint for a cottage that we clean then it’s down to us.  When the refund is really about paying up to protect the brand then I tend to split the cost with the owner or pay it myself rather than end up upsetting both the owner and the guest.

Most of all try to put things into perspective and don’t let one or two isolated instances upset you too much or make unnecessary changes as a knee jerk reaction.  Just remember this is now an ex guest, they have ceased to be …

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Making great holidays happen in Cornwall