“It is better to try to keep a bad thing from happening than it is to fix the bad thing once it has happened.” (English Proverb)
For any owner or property manager who has ever received a negative review, these are wise words and just to take this a little further, muse on these words by Benjamin Franklin in a letter sent to the 1735 issue of The Pennsylvania Gazette on the topic of fire safety:
“In the first Place, as an Ounce of Prevention is worth a Pound of Cure, I would advise ’em to take care how they suffer living Coals in a full Shovel, to be carried out of one Room into another, or up or down Stairs, unless in a Warmingpan shut; for Scraps of Fire may fall into Chinks and make no Appearance until Midnight; when your Stairs being in Flames, you may be forced, (as I once was) to leap out of your Windows, and hazard your Necks to avoid being oven-roasted.”
What we can extract from the analogy is that sloppiness in any form can have dire and far-reaching effects. Putting measures in place to prevent a poor outcome is by far the best way of eliminating the potential of an incident, serious or otherwise, that could lead to damaging feedback.
This is not to say that you’ll never again get a negative review. We’ve all had the guests who surprise us with a damning testimonial for things completely out of our control:
- “The power went out in a storm and I couldn’t charge my phone.”
- “I should have been warned the road might be icy in winter.”
- “My baby was bitten by a mosquito and we had to leave.”
- “I know the pool was unheated, but it was too cold to use.”
What we can glean from these and thousands of others is that every review, whether it’s good or bad, contains nuggets of information we can use to predict future satisfaction. They often arise from completely preventable scenarios and taking steps to avoid them can save you time, stress, and the potential for negative reviews.
Reviews are also an indicator of trends and patterns in the guest experience. What you learn from this reservoir of suggestions, recommendations, and ideas can help you change and improve the services and amenities you provide, and ultimately help you rise above the competition.
Take some time to explore not only the reviews of your properties, but those of your competitors too. With some thorough research, here are twelve insights you will discover:
- What Guests Really Like About Their Vacation Home
You may be surprised that it’s the little touches that mean the most, from the way the place smells when guests arrive to having their names written on a chalk board.
- What Could Have Been Done Better
See a negative review as a gift to let you know how you can get it right next time . . . then make the change.
- How Your Competition Might be Winning Your Clients
Reviews allow you to be a spy in your competitor’s camp. They give you a glimpse into what they are doing that is pleasing their guests . . . and what you can do too.
- The Amenities that Guests Find Important
Pinpointing the favorite amenities and features helps you to keep up to date on your guests’ preferences. You might be surprised to find that the most helpful feature in a winter property is the ergonomic snow shovel and the heavy-duty extension lead.
- Whether Your Photos are Doing Their Job
The comment you don’t want to see is, “The photos didn’t do the place justice.” That just means your photos are not good enough.
From your research, compile a list of potential issues and create a prevention plan for each one. Here are some examples that are listed in the last six insights:
- The Property Was Not as Described
“This was described as having views of the water, but it was one block back with only a partial view from the porch—very misleading.”
Being economical with the truth of a situation will generally come back to bite you with a complaint that the property was not “as described.” Nobody wants surprises, and if the reality doesn’t match the description and photos you’ve provided (because you have omitted a significant feature), a complaint is bound to follow. Being transparently open about the shortcomings of a property can bring you more satisfied customers because people appreciate honesty and candor.
Prevent this by: Avoiding superlatives and being upfront with the negative as well as the positive aspects of the property.
- Beds are Uncomfortable
“The twin beds were squeaky and not terribly comfortable.”
This is a prime cause of complaint—just read a few poor reviews and this will probably be mentioned at some point. There really is no excuse for uncomfortable sleeping options in any room—and that includes the twin-bedded rooms that you might think will be used only by children.
Here’s a rule of thumb—if you wouldn’t sleep in any of the beds in your vacation rental, don’t expect your guests to be happy about sleeping in them either.
Prevent this by: Testing out every bed in the home personally, ensuring all mattresses are new or nearly new, and not settling for cheap mattresses in the secondary bedrooms.
- Guests Run Out of Stuff or Expected Items are Not There
“There was no backup toilet paper, no washcloths, or absorbent bathmats.”
Being clear on what is provided and what is not is crucial, but it’s equally important to ensure that if an item is to be supplied, it is there when your guests arrive. That way, if they are to purchase their own replacements then they are already aware of this. Setting expectations is key to satisfying guests.
Prevent this by: Sending guests a list of the provisions that will be there on arrival. Ensure a complete check is carried out between rentals and resupply when required.
- Place Was Not Clean
“I was very disappointed in the cleanliness and how worn out everything was. The fans have so much dust built up on them I don’t believe they have ever been dusted, and there was long black hair in the bathroom and master bedroom (obviously not mine).”
Don’t ever give a guest cause to complain about cleanliness. By doing a thorough clean at the beginning of the season and allowing enough time on changeover to cover the areas that can cause issues through the busy months, complaints can be avoided.
Prevent this by: Using a checklist on each changeover to ensure nothing is missed. Use block capitals on your checklist to say “LOOK UP,” “LOOK DOWN,” and “LOOK UNDER.” Have a schedule for replacing furniture and furnishings and move the schedule forward if there are early signs of wear.
- Facility Was Not Available and Things don’t work
“Many problems with the refrigerator not working, showers that leaked from second floor, hot tub that was dirty. When you pay 10,000 per week you should get top quality experience. I would not recommend this property to anyone else.”
Things happen during rentals that will make a facility unavailable for the next guests—perhaps damage to a hot tub or sauna, a damaged boat, or an appliance that breaks down unexpectedly. However, if you don’t let the incoming guests know, they will be upset at the loss of a facility they were expecting to have available—and it’s amazing how great the impact on them can be.
Prevent this by: Being proactive and letting future guests know promptly if there is a potential of a feature or facility being unavailable.
- Teflon and Other Worn Out Stuff!
“The pots and pans were not usable. Teflon peeling off and not very appealing. They need to change the toilet seat, shower curtain, and bath rugs. Would make a big difference.”
Even in top dollar properties, complaints of this nature are common. They usually relate to small items that have seen a long period of wear in homes that are consistently rented. Swapping Teflon coated pans with stainless steel can make the difference this reviewer was referring to.
Prevent this by: Not allowing anything to wear out before replacing it. The cost of a bad review is far higher than the expense of buying new equipment and furniture.
- Construction and Neighbor Issues
Your guests arrive for their peaceful vacation and are greeted by construction going on at a neighboring property or a wedding taking place over the weekend. Although situations of this kind are not preventable, the surprise element certainly is. Letting guests know about things that may happen during their stay reduces or removes the surprise altogether, and the honesty you deliver creates a higher degree of trust and confidence.
Prevent surprises by: Asking your neighbors about any planned events or building plans before the season begins so you can forewarn your guests.
Reviews are so much more than an opportunity to pat yourself on the back and bask in the glow of compliments about your home and the service you give. They deliver the information you need to be proactive and to create an environment almost impossible to complain about.
Heather Bayer is co-founder of The Vacation Rental Formula and host of the Vacation Rental Success podcast. She is also CEO of CottageLINK Rental Management, a property management company based in Ontario, Canada. She will be speaking at the VRMA Europe Conference in Amsterdam in March and at VRSS17 in Toronto in May.