How to handle guest complaints

Owning a holiday rental has its highs and lows. It’s great when you accommodate happy guests, who love your home, but you also need to be pretty thick skinned to handle the criticism of less than satisfied customers. If you manage the business personally, you need to be prepared to accept and handle complaints in a professional manner. 

Prevention is better than cure

Prepare and prevent: That’s the best way to handle complaints. Do everything in your power to keep an efficient and tip top holiday rental, leaving no room for complaint. 

If you’re managing your own holiday rental, you have no excuse for not staying on top of the cleaning and changeover process. Regardless of turn-around time between clients, it’s fundamental that you or a trusted person carry out spot checks for cleanliness and to check for broken or faulty fixtures and fittings.  

Does it do what it says on the label?

If you advertise your holiday rental with Satellite TV, then make sure the service is always available and be upfront about what channels and languages are on offer. If you offer a free WiFi service, it needs to be available in your home, not from the internet cafe at the bottom of your road. Don’t advertise your home as being within walking distance of the beach, if walking distance means within half an hour. These are just some examples that could be construed as misleading a guest and can lead to complaints. 

Ultimately, if something doesn’t feel right to you, it’s not going to feel right to your guest. Don’t leave it and hope they won’t notice. Rectify the issue beforehand to avoid complaints and the possibility of having to refund money.

Agreements and policies

Preempt situations in your holiday rental agreement.  This works to protect both you and the guest. Include a complaint and refund policy, detailing procedures on how to communicate a complaint, in what timeframe and what type of problem constitutes a refund or reimbursement. 

Since the introduction of holiday rental licences in Spain it’s obligatory to include a ‘public liability’ clause in your holiday rental insurance policy. Taking out holiday rental insurance protects you and your guests for unforeseeable accidents or breakages. It can’t stop an issue arising, but at least they can be claimed and paid out. 

How to handle a complaint

A prompt response: Respond to guest complaints as quickly as possible. There should be no more than a three hour response time to their initial contact and where possible the issue should be resolved within 24 hours, causing as little discomfort as possible.  

Listen and acknowledge: Listen to the complaint and acknowledge that the guest has an issue with your holiday rental. Over time you will find that many complaints are subjective e.g. your home is located six steps up from the swimming pool, or the bed is too soft for their back problem. Regardless of whether you can or can’t resolve a situation, you still need to treat every complaint individually, acknowledge this is a real problem for this guest and respond empathetically. If the complaint is something that you can’t solve, thank them for the feedback, explain in an even and friendly manner that you understand this is an issue for them and regret that you are unable to offer a solution right now. Finally, encourage their feedback at the end of the holiday regarding all aspects of their stay. 

Trusted tradesmen: It’s essential for holiday rental owners to have a trusted team on hand to fix problems in a quick and professional manner. It’s no good calling round to find a plumber that can fix a leak when the problem arises. Professional owners and managers will have three or four contacts that they have either personally met or been recommended, and with whom they have an agreement that when a guest is in residence, their response must be rapid.  

Be on hand: Don’t expect your guests to stay in and wait for a plumber to arrive, or a new fridge to turn up. Minimize their discomfort by arranging to be there, or for a friend or property manager to be there. Do alert the guest that someone is going to be in the home, don’t let them walk in to find you there. 

Inform and update: If the problem isn’t solvable during the guests’ stay, make sure you keep in contact when they get home and let them know when its fixed. As a goodwill gesture, you might want to offer them a discount on their next stay, opening up the opportunity for a repeat booking. 

When to offer a refund or compensate your guest

If a situation arises that leads to a guest complaint, you need to evaluate the inconvenience caused to the client and decide if compensation is necessary. Even if the issue causes the smallest disruption to their holiday, we recommend you offer a ‘goodwill gesture’; whether it be a bottle of wine, free meal, or part-refund to their booking. 

If you are unable to resolve the problem during the guests’ stay, then you need to look at offering a part or full refund, depending on the level of disruption. 

If there is a problem, that leads to a guest incurring expenses during their stay, then it’s good business practice to reimburse those expenses. Make sure you set a limit before they start to spend money, or you might find yourself paying for five star meals, instead of a takeaway or ‘menu del día’! 

If a guest has to vacate your holiday rental during their stay, then you need to consider fully refunding them for the disruption. 

It’s what you learn that matters

Behind every negative situation, there is a positive lesson to be learnt. Take each situation on board and make sure you put practices in place to reduce the chances of it happening again. Both positive and negative experiences will help you improve your holiday rental business. 

If you find yourself in a situation where the guest has shared their dissatisfaction in public, through a review or on a forum, we recommend you also respond publicly. Ideally this will be to confirm you have dealt with the problem. If that hasn’t been possible or if the complaint is subjective, respond with empathy and let them know you appreciate their feedback. Find out more about responding to negative guest reviews

Use the situation to develop a rapport and keep the communication line open with your guests. Call them or send them a message before departure asking how the rest of their holiday went and keep in contact with them when they get back to let them know you have made improvements to your holiday rental.