Complaints… We all get them, it’s part of the nature of a Serviced Accommodation business, however we all want to limit them and the damage they can cause.
In this episode Chris and Ritchie cover:
- Different types of complaints
- Who should deal with them
- What processes should you have in place
- Complaint resolution
Following these guidelines may save you on hefty chargebacks and bad reviews.
The Serviced Accommodation Podcast is a show brought to you by Chris Poulter and Ritchie Mazivanhanga aimed at new and experienced property investors alike. With each show we help you Start, Systemise and Scale your Serviced Accommodation Business.
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Chris: Hi, I’m Chris.
Ritchie: Hi, I’m Ritchie.
Chris: And welcome to the Serviced Accommodation Podcast. So, today, we’re going to be talking about complaints, and that’s not complaints of the podcast, is it?
Ritchie: Definitely not, no. Never had any of those.
Ritchie: It seems that way, yes.
Chris: No, complaints within your serviced accommodation business, because it’s a complex business with many moving parts, much of which you don’t necessarily have control over. So, however great your serviced accommodation business is, you are going to get complaints. There are a few reasons why complaints are very important to your business, isn’t there, Ritchie?
Ritchie: Yes, most certainly. So, complaints will be highlighting people’s bad experiences, and bad experiences lead to bad reviews, which has, yes, a significant impact on your business. Or a negative impact on your business, should I say.
Chris: Yes, because prospective guests, one of the main things they look at is reviews.
Ritchie: Is reviews, yes. In this day and age, that’s all people do; all they do is look at reviews before booking.
Chris: Definitely. And, also, if they’ve had a bad experience and they don’t feel like it’s been dealt with, they’re much more likely to go and tell other people, talk about it.
Chris: Maybe even on social media. So, that, kind of, word-of-mouth effect, while it can be fantastic when people have good experiences…
Ritchie: Yes, yes. Negative experiences, yes.
Chris: It can have a very big impact on negative experiences as well, can’t it?
Ritchie: Yes, that’s it, that’s it. The thing is, with the bad reviews… Oh, well, with the bad experiences, when customers give you feedback, like, private feedback, bad feedback, that’s actually an opportunity to improve your services and improve the level of service that you’re providing to the customer, or the end user, should I say.
Chris: And it’s very important, although often will feel like a guest being unreasonable, and they might be acting in a way which isn’t really great, but I think you’ve got to be mature enough to, kind of, overcome that and really listen to what they’re saying and the feedback they’re giving your business, regardless of…
Ritchie: Yes, yes, it’s…
Chris: You know, how they’re framing it or how unreasonable they might be feeling, yes.
Ritchie: Yes, yes. It’s actually an opportunity. Use that as an opportunity to improve your business. And, yes, that’s just a positive; you can’t take that negatively at all.
Chris: Definitely, definitely. Well, we’ll certainly get into exploring that shortly. So, shall we start off by having a little think about how we should actually be dealing with complaints within the business? You know, when things go wrong, when guests aren’t happy, how should we be dealing with that?
Ritchie: The most important thing is the who should be dealing with that to start off with? You don’t want it to be the person who does the day-to-day communication with the guest. So, anyone who does the guest communication, who takes the booking in, who makes the booking, who sends them the booking confirmation and all of that stuff, you don’t want them to be dealing with the review straight away.
Chris: Well, they can, potentially, be part of the complaint, can’t they?
Ritchie: Exactly, yes, yes. So, people can’t be fully honest or transparent with them; they’ll need someone at a level higher, you know? Someone who’s fresh, coming from the outside in and who’s overseeing the whole process to, kind of, like, take over.
Chris: Yes, and having that separate perspective is also very useful as well, because someone else can step into the situation and immediately be on their side.
Ritchie: Oh, yes, yes. They need to side with the guest, yes.
Chris: As opposed to having been involved as it goes along, you know?
Ritchie: Yes, yes. It’s always important being on their side. So, it’s, ‘I understand, I fully appreciate and understand that,’ and when… Not to sound condescending or patronising, but then the person has to have authority over the business. So, if the person’s got authority of if they are, like, a level higher than the guest communications person, then that is very important because the guest feels very important, as in you’re taking care of their complaint. It’s someone senior, someone important looking after them.
Chris: And it’s showing that you’re taking it seriously.
Ritchie: Yes, yes.
Chris: And that’s really critical, isn’t it? You know, a lot of the time, the reason that a complaint leads to a bad review is because guests don’t feel like they’ve been heard.
Ritchie: They don’t feel valued.
Chris: They don’t feel like you care that they’ve had a bad experience. And that leads to frustration, which then often leads to a bad review. If you can actually deal with it at source and show them that you are listening, that you do care and that you want to make improvements so that future guests don’t have to go through the same thing…
Ritchie: Exactly, yes. And you’d be surprised how much of an impact that has, where someone fresh steps in and they’ve got authority. We used to have it in our previous business, where we would be sat in the same office, Chris, and then if you had a complaint with someone, you’d just say, ‘Oh, no, I’ll pass you over to my manager.’ Likewise, if I had a complaint with someone, I’d say, ‘Oh, sorry, please hold the line. I’ll pass you over to my manager who can deal with this.’ And passing it over to someone else, who’s fresh, the person’s automatically calmed down. They feel like, ‘Oh, hold on a sec, these people value me. They value what I’ve got to say and they’re passing me on to a manager who’s going to be looking after this.’ So, yes, yes, it changes the whole dynamics completely.
Chris: So, obviously, one key thing which you can do within your business is try to reduce complaints as much as possible.
Ritchie: Yes, yes.
Chris: Yes. And I think one of the best ways we’ve found is to actually empower your staff to resolve issues. So, let them know that you want guests to be happy every time, and if there are little things that they can actually do themselves to resolve issues, to make guests happy, then they should be going out of their way to do it.
Ritchie: Before things get escalated, yes, yes, yes.
Chris: Yes, absolutely. So, if a guest isn’t happy about the fact that something is missing from the apartment then, you know, get someone out there to, kind of, to replace it or put it in there or that type of thing.
Ritchie: Yes, and then offer something else, like, as an apology as well, like a bottle of wine. That world really well.
Chris: Yes. Yes, we tend to buy quite a lot wine in the business because… It’s not going into our personal supply, honestly.
Ritchie: That’s what Chris says.
Chris: But because it’s a nice little touch. You know, if there’s something that you could have done better that you’ve then resolved, then… You know, let’s say the guest couldn’t find the hairdryer and it turns out it’s disappeared and it was missed by the latest audit, then get the hairdryer over there, with a bottle of wine. It doesn’t cost a fortune, but it also, kind of, heads it off before it becomes a major issue, really, doesn’t it?
Ritchie: Yes, and you touched on something important over there. As in, yes, buying something extra as an apologetic gift. So, do people have free rein, or could you please elaborate on that? Do people have free rein to spend as much as they want to spend on those things, house staff, are you empowering them?
Chris: I think, yes, for us, kind of, wine, beer, that kind of thing is a great way of trying to resolve the issue at the time. I think what can then happen is that, obviously, not having a hairdryer in an apartment is a relatively minor issue, but for something more major, let’s say that there was an issue with cleaning; something was missed and, you know, let’s say there were, kind of, dirty pans in there or maybe the bed linen which was on the beds wasn’t particularly clean, then people might take that more seriously. And it might not be, kind of, addressed at that point; they might still not be happy with the situation. And I think, again, at that point, that’s something which you can empower your employees with. And something which we’ve done very successfully, is to say to our guest comms staff that you’re allowed… If a guest isn’t happy and they’re asking maybe for a refund, something like that, then you are allowed to refund them up to £30 just off your own bat, without asking permission for it and, crucially, you should share that with the guest. Because if the guest is asking, say, for one night free from their stay, then our staff can actually say to them, ‘Look, I’d love to help you with that but, unfortunately, I’m only authorised to actually refund you up to £30. So, look, I’d be happy to do that straight away but, otherwise, you’re going to have to go through our official complaints procedure.’
Ritchie: Yes, yes. That’s the escalation process. And regarding the complaints procedure, it’s not known to be a straightforward and easy procedure, is it? Because it has to be looked into in detail and a lot has to go into it as well.
Chris: Yes. I mean, I think, with this, there can be a very big difference between the perception and the reality. You know, the reality is that we want complaints resolved as quickly as possible.
Ritchie: As soon as possible, yes.
Chris: So, we’re going to deal with them quickly and straightforward. However, you can also, you know, push people towards that £30 refund by making it appear more difficult than it is. So, you know, they have to go onto the website and fill in the forms and submit them, and then they’ll get a decision within 14 days, etc. etc. You know, it’s all things which are designed to make it unappealing to the guest. Now, the reality is, you’re probably going to deal with that complaint within a couple of days because you don’t really want that hanging over you. But, again, that’s not the objective here. The objective here is to get them to say, ‘Okay, well, you know, £30…’
Ritchie: ‘I’ll settle for that.’
Chris: ‘That’s a nice meal out. At least it shows that they care about it,’ and, you know, ‘I’ll take that.’
Ritchie: Yes. And speaking of the complaints process, if we go into detail about how our complaints process works, yes. So, yes, we have a, like you touched on just now, we have a complaints form that the person fills in. And it’s not a small form; it is a long form because you need all the detail of the complaint, as and when it happened, and the whole story. What happened, why are they unhappy, why… And, so it is a long form because it has a lot of detail to be filled in there. Then, the responsible person now reviews the complaint, looks into it and then responds. And we’re talking about immediate response. We work on, yes, as soon as we receive the… Completes a complaints form, we review the form, like I say, respond. And then we’ll call the guest straight away, call the guest straight away, apologise, take ownership of what they’re talking about, you know? Not responsibility, but ownership that you’re dealing with it and you’re looking after them, you know? And then, ask them, personally, on their view on what’s happened, find out exactly what’s happened from their point of view. Take their side, say, ‘Yes, I fully understand, I appreciate that is unreasonable, yes.’ And agree with them, you know? Agree with them, take their side, take their side.
Chris: Yes. You can say, ‘No, as a director of the business, I’m not happy about this either.’
Ritchie: That’s it, yes, yes. And that’s taking ownership of the problem and ownership of the issue.
Chris: Yes, definitely.
Ritchie: Yes. And then ask them because, sometimes, regarding outcomes, you don’t know what someone wants from this and you can over-deliver or you can under-deliver. You might have a solution to the problem, but then the guest might think, ‘Hold on a sec, that’s definitely unreasonable.’ Or, you might be wanting to give them a solution and then it’s an over-delivery of what’s happened. Which would be good for the guest, but it might have a significant impact financially on your business. So, ask what outcome they would like to see. Ask them, personally, what they would want to see from this, what they want to get from this.
Chris: Because, at the end of the day, you’re trying to leave them happy.
Ritchie: Yes, you are, yes.
Chris: And how would you know how to leave them happy unless you directly ask them, you know, ‘What would you like us to do about this?’
Ritchie: Yes, yes.
Chris: You know, and it might be a night refund, you know, that they’re asking for. It might not be reasonable, but that might be what they’re asking for. Or they might say, you know, ‘Look, I just want you guys to understand what happened and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.’
Ritchie: So you can improve, yes, for someone else, yes, for someone else, yes.
Chris: Yes, and that’s fine. For a lot of people who are quite reasonable, then that’s absolutely fine.
Chris: ‘As long as you guys realise what happened here.’
Ritchie: Yes, and you make the necessary steps to improve it so it doesn’t happen to anyone else, yes. And then you take this on board and you investigate this internally. Find out from your staff, because you trust your staff. These are people you work with, you don’t want to just put the book and the blame on them; you want to find out from them, personally, what happened, what their view of what happened is. And, yes, investigate it internally.
Chris: Because there’s always two sides to every story, isn’t there?
Ritchie: Yes, sometimes three.
Chris: That’s it with complaints. Obviously, it’s great to, kind of, understand the guest’s perspective first of all, you know, but then to understand from an operational point of view, the members of the staff they dealt with, or the operational issues which might have run into…
Chris: You know, what happened from other perspective, maybe why stuff happened which the guest might not be able to see.
Ritchie: Yes, yes, definitely. And then, contact the guests, let them know what the decision is or what the resolution you’ve come up with is. And that’s influenced heavily by what outcome they have told you they wanted to see from this.
Chris: Yes, absolutely. And a lot of the time, a guest might just want to understand how something happened, you know? It’s, like, ‘Well, how on Earth did this happen?’ and you can explain, ‘Well, there was a mix-up at the suppliers and the wrong linen came in, X, Y, Z,’ kind of thing, you know? And, a lot of the time, you know, that’s really helpful.
Ritchie: Yes, it is, yes. And how do we deal with…? Within our company, Chris, how do we deal with unresolved complaints, so to speak?
Chris: Well, it’s a bit of a tricky one, really, isn’t it? Because, you know, you’ve got a complaints procedure which people go through and, hopefully, you’ve looked at the situation from both sides and been relatively fair in how you’ve assessed it. So, I know, in some industries, you can, kind of, how tribunal-type systems which people can go to but, typically, the costs on those can be quite high. And I think the real issue here is that if a guest still isn’t happy with the outcome of the complaint, then there’s always a risk of a chargeback.
Ritchie: Yes. And it’s not usually just a chargeback of anything you’ve… Well, it’s usually a chargeback of the whole amount, it’s not just the one night they’re not happy or something; they usually chargeback for the whole amount, yes.
Chris: Yes, and that can put you in a situation. So, you know, it is hard to deal with unresolved guest complaints. I think, to some degree, you have to use your judgement in terms of if they’re really pushing hard for something, whether you feel like you should actually give it to them anyway, whether you think it’s reasonable or not. But, ultimately, if you feel like you’ve been fair then, at some point, you might need to, kind of, stick to your guns and say, ‘Well, you know, look, we feel that this is fair and proportional compared to what the situation is,’ you know?
Chris: So, we’ve talked about just why complaints are important. Obviously, you want to avoid those bad reviews.
Chris: And, of course, as we’ve said, it’s real important feedback on your business, isn’t it?
Ritchie: Yes, yes, it’s a fantastic opportunity. Take it as an opportunity to improve your business and, yes, to improve the guest experience.
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