The Sure-Fire Way to Get Negative Reviews – and How to Avoid Them

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what happens when things go wrong at a vacation rental and how easy it is to screw up all the goodwill you have created with guests by simply mis-handling the situation.

When I say ‘mishandling’ I mean not having the systems and procedures in place to manage a breakdown, or a failure in a facility or amenity. It also means understanding fully how guests feel at that moment and not projecting your own emotions or way of thinking onto them. Finally, it means not shifting responsibility onto the guests for a failure on your part to convey the information they need to operate things correctly.

That’s tough talk, I know, and I will probably get push-back from those who think their guests ‘should know better’ but I am unapologetic on this one. Our mission is to create an effortless experience for our guests and if that means being a little more forgiving, tolerant, and guest-centric, then it’s a small price to pay for happier guests.

Here’s one example:

Guests arrive at a home and immediately turn the refrigerator down to the coldest setting thinking this will get their beer chilled quicker. What often happens is explained very simply in this great appliance manual – but put simply, the heat from the warm beer (and all the other stuff packed into the space) has to go somewhere, and as it passes over the evaporator (which has just become really cold because it was turned too far down) it creates a large amount of frost. Basically, the appliance just can’t cope and shuts down. This will happen in even the newest fridge, so when the guests call to say ‘the fridge is broken’, the response should not be ‘That’s impossible, it’s only a few months old’.

Usually, the only way to resolve the issue is to remove all the food, turn the fridge off and wait for it to defrost before reloading it.

By which time, your guests are not happy.

There are groceries everywhere and butter is melting in the heat. Mom is upset because the babies milk needs to be refrigerated or it will go off. The kids want a cold drink.

And the beer is still warm!

Their vision of arriving on vacation, unloading all their stuff then heading to the patio, cold one in hand to relax at last, has now become a distant memory, as frustration and often, anger, takes over.

They do not want to be told it’s their fault. They just want it fixed.

If you haven’t told guests that the fridge is set to an optimum temperature and they should leave well alone, you can bet your bottom dollar they are going to do this. And if you haven’t anything in place to manage the outcome, they will forget any WOW factor that greeted them when they arrived.
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The Troubleshooting Bible

Here’s where you create your TSB – the manual that covers every…and I mean EVERY….eventuality. It starts with a brain storming session that identifies every amenity and facility you have and drills down to all the things that could go wrong. Not just, ‘the hot tub breaks’, but goes into specific problems that could occur:

  • The water has gone cloudy
  • The water smells funny
  • There’s a gunky ring around it
  • It’s making a funny noise
  • It’s not warm enough or it’s too hot

Then for each issue, plan what you would do if you were faced with the problem.

  • Could you handle it immediately?
  • Is this something guests could manage themselves?
  • Would this have occurred if there were better instructions?
  • How can we ensure guests don’t reset the system inadvertently?
  • What is the worse case scenario – the tub has really broken down?
  • How soon could it be resolved if it’s not a quick fix
  • Do you have the contact information for a hot tub repair facility

Then do this for the TV/DVD; the internet; the laundry; the water and septic system; even the small appliances.

Your TSB (of which there will be several copies) should then be the go-to manual for any issue that arises and will allow your housekeeper or caretaker, or even your 17-yr old, to talk through any situation with a guest, and if necessary call out the correct person to rectify the problem. The exercise could also identify those little things you could do as a preventative measure.
In my vacation homes, there is a neatly printed label on the refrigerator thermostat that simpy states:

Please do not adjust the temperature of this fridge

In the front of our Welcome Book there is a Quick Start Guide that gives guests the immediate things they need to know – as they probably won’t read the rest – and one of the first points written in bold tells them if they do adjust the temperature it could result in over-icing, and the appliance failing to cool altogether.

Finally, if something does go badly wrong, you also need to be clear in your own mind how you can make the guests happy. This genuine review from a VRBO listing shows how it should be done:

Wonderful hosts when things did not work out
So, we walked into the house and the temperature was 41 degrees. What we learned later was that the new furnace had a faulty ignition and a power outage in the previous days has stopped the furnace and then it could not automatically restart. We called the property manager who asked us to try a few things and then realized it was a bigger problem than just pushing a particular button. So he got in touch with the owners and got a furnace repairman out there. The owners treated us to a very fine dinner in Breckenridge while this all was being fixed. So nice to have the problem addressed, along with the acknowledgement of the disruption to our plans that evening. After that, everything was wonderful and we would definitely stay at this house again.

Owner response: It was unfortunate to have the brand new heater go out, but we sure did appreciate your group's understanding that some things are just out of our control. We were happy to treat you all to dinner while we had the HVAC guy fix the issue. You all were a great group and hope to see you again! p.s. the heat is working great again!

We’d love to hear your stories of what’s gone wrong in your place and how you managed to recover the situation like these owners did. Or, if you learned something from it that you can share with others.