How negative reviews can bring positive results

pig I am sure we all get that sinking feeling when something unforeseen happens while guests are in our property. We do our utmost to make it beautiful; have it well prepared for guests’ arrival, and make ourselves available for help if required. Conventional wisdom would also dictate that a well-handled problem should deliver more satisfied guests. And pigs might fly!

So, three days before Christmas, a group of seven adults checked into the cottage. We don’t normally accept all-adult groups in party season, but these checked out on all our screening processes. They’d received our pre-arrival package that pointed out the water to the cottage was sourced from a well, and – since the drought of last summer – if the water was overused, the limiting device would kick in. This meant the water would stop running until the well was replenished – usually after about 45 minutes. We also stressed that showers should be short and spaced out, and the dishwasher and washing machine should not be used at the same time. Our personalized Welcome letter stressed the importance of water conservation and reminded guests they should be careful with water use.

On Christmas morning at 12.15am – yes folks that is quarter after midnight – I heard the phone ring. Thinking it was Santa stuck down my chimney and calling for assistance I raced to the phone to find a plaintive guest telling me there was no water and she could not clean her teeth, wash her face, or do the dishes. She demanded to know what we were going to do about it, and could we get a plumber out there straight away. I commiserated of course and suggested she use the drinking water provided in the water cooler for teeth brushing; and put the dishes in the machine for washing in the morning, but regretted we could not find a tradesperson at that time of the morning on Christmas Day. I then asked her to let me know if there was still an issue with the water when they got up, and we would see how we could help (the group were checking out later that day).

This was the first year in many that we’ve had kids in our household for the big day – our son and granddaughter were over from UK – so when real morning arrived and the festivities began, I freely admit I forgot to call and check that all was OK. By the time I remembered, the guests had left so I assumed all had recovered and they had enjoyed their stay. Not so, it seems as later on that day (when they got home) the Flipkey review was published.

The one and only problem that we experienced was the water shortage. The well system I believe had malfunction and although it is winter and we tried our best to save water by not turning on the dish washer or washing machine during the day on Christmas eve from around 6 pm all the way to 3 am there was almost no water even for flushing in the washrooms and the dishes were all piled up in the kitchen. One of us stayed in shower for about 2 hours and finally we had to warm up drinking water in pans to help her out while she was shivering in the bathroom. It was very inconvenient and we had to call the owner to see if there's anything we could do but she said there's not that she could do and no one even called us a day after to check if we were doing ok without water. The owners had informed us ahead of time about the well system for water in the agreement but never told us about the shortage even with all the conservations. Also the cottage was supposed to be equipped with wifi but it wasn't working prperly and there was no wireless coverage for the cellphones and we were disconnected from the world for 3 days. Other than that it was a great vacation!

After 40-odd five star reviews, the 3* felt like a kick in the teeth, and I really let it get me down. I know there was a situation that impacted our guests’ stay, but I felt the feedback was unfair. In particular the internet access was working perfectly before and after their stay; the water had been fine for twelve sets of guests before them and three after, and until the post-midnight call on Xmas Day we knew nothing of any issues affecting their stay.

There! I’ve had my little rant, and shall say no more about the 6 bags of unsorted garbage we had to separate after their stay…..oops that was a little more rant.

Am I making a point? I don’t know really. I just wanted to share this because every so often we all get a bit of jolt after thinking we do the best for our guests and are reminded we cannot please everyone. I feel OK about it now and the ridiculousness of the review has gained more of a comedy element each time we read it. Surely no-one would stand shivering in a shower for two hours waiting for the water to come back on? And interestingly, that was not mentioned at all in the post-midnight conversation so I am guessing the water came back on for long enough for her to step in the shower and (dare I say this) get lathered up. Which is why she was up until 3am I guess?

Thanks for listening folks……I needed to get that one unloaded and as I re-read this I appreciate it was a minor incident where a legitimate complaint was perhaps warranted. Guests are needier these days and in places like ours where there is a rustic aspect to the luxury we provide, we may need to be more specific about the limitations of a system.

And the positive results that came out of all this? I have been banging on for months about the need to deal with the water supply and ensure it never runs out again for our guests. The plumber is booked for April when the ground unfreezes and he’ll put in a heated line to bring water in from the river; install filtration systems, and we should never go dry again.


Sometimes it does feel good to rant…. ah, the freedom of blogging. I have been hesitant to put listings up on Tripadvisor for the community I manage solely because I truly am terrified of negative “feedback” that could likely have NOTHING to do with my quality of service or lodging. You see, my vacation properties are in the Dominican Republic – essentially a thirdish-world “Tropical Paradise”. With this, comes many “headaches” surrounding day-to-day life. Unfortunately, some clients have difficulty dis-associating the lack of consistent internet, spotty cell phone service, random opening and closing of surrounding businesses, and of course the ever-changing “functionality” of the condos themselves due to the salty oceanfront air. Any ways to turn positive complaints into positive results could really be a goldmine for vacation home owners!

    Heather Bayer

    The great thing is that most people who use reviews to plan their vacations are educated and savvy enough to read between the lines of the negative stuff and use their own judgement to evaluate the comments. Responding in a timely and appropriate way without resorting to defensiveness is the key to turning them around. Prospective guests who see that a complaint has been handled well are more likely to take a positive view of the issue, I think.

Mary Jackman

Thanks for the rant. It is good to know that others out there who try their best still every once in a while get an “unhappy camper”. We once kept part of a damage deposit because the guests spilled red kool aid on the carpet. So we charged them extra for the cleaning. Not the whole carpet cleaning, but $50. There review stated the following: “We should have known that the owners were too particular with their rental when they offered a Rental Help Book that explained where everything was in the condo.” We laugh about the review now, but at the time we felt a little abused. LOL

    Heather Bayer

    Thanks for the comment Mary. It reminds me of the 1* review we got a couple of years ago when we charged guests $300 for a damaged hot tub cover (the one and only time we have ever hit a damage deposit). It was clearly damaged by someone sitting on the middle front of the cover, and two people either side trying to lift it up, because the polystyrene was cracked in the same place either side. In the review the guest did not dispute her kids had broken the cover – simply said the whole issue had spoiled her vacation and we were at fault for that. Amazing. And yes, we laugh at that one too.

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