Is your fear of handling Airbnb guest issues keeping you from investing? Do you worry about bad reviews impacting cash flow and future bookings?
If so, you should listen to Episode 10 of the Host Coach Airbnb Podcast where we share our 3-step approach to handling guest issues with grace, how to navigate cleaning oopses, and the best practices for resolving issues outside of your control.
After listening to this episode you will know when to issue refunds to maintain guest satisfaction and when to call Airbnb support to protect your Superhost status.
Topics discussed in this episode:
- Our 3-step approach to handle all guest issues
- The best way to deal with the “Big 3” situations outside of your control as a host
- When to involve Airbnb support with a problem
- Refunds - when to issue them and at what dollar amount to prevent a bad review
- How to respond to bad Airbnb reviews to salvage future bookings
Today we're going to unpack how to calmly and effectively navigate guest issues, cleaning oopses issues outside of your control, refunds, and negative reviews.
If you remember from last week's episode, as soon as you launch your Airbnb listing, you have entered the realm of hospitality industry and to err is human. And, there are a lot of humans interacting with your Airbnb. So it's impossible to be in hospitality and not have issues. Fortunately, we've developed a three step approach to handling guest issues.
Our 3-Step Approach to Handling Guest Issues
Number one, listen to the guest complaint -the whole complaint. Don't interrupt. If you're a woman, you're smiling right now because we like to say what the problem is and have someone listen to the whole problem before they jump in and try to help us. People want to be heard. Guests want to be heard too.
Step two, sincerely apologize for the issue. People can tell if you care and say, "Oh my gosh, I am so sorry. Let's figure out the best way to handle this situation." which leads into step three.
Work with the guests to come up with a solution that works for them. Ideally, give them options. Some guests are going to want the problem fixed while they're there, and some guests just want you to know about the problem, be sorry about the problem and then fix the problem after they check out.
For example, we had an issue where all three of the lights on the porch of a cabin had burnt out and a gentleman messaged us and was really unhappy about it. And we swooped in! We said, "Oh, we can have the housekeeper come and install those lights."
The guest said, "I don't want my stay interrupted." So this is an instance where you need to have lots of options. We said, "okay, what would you like us to do to rectify the situation with the light bulbs being out on the front porch?" He said, "I think I'll just go into town and pick up some light bulbs and install them myself, and you can reimburse me." That is not a solution I would've thought of!
In that scenario, there's a lot of things we could have offered. The handyman can come, the housekeeper could drop off bulbs. If the guest wanted to install them, the guests could buy them and install them themselves, or we just know about it and then take care of the issue after they check out.
Pro Tip: Make sure to keep all this guest communication, all this messaging on the Airbnb platform.
Use the inbox in Airbnb as opposed to texting or phone calls. If you do get a phone call from a guest, then what I recommend to do is go back into the Airbnb platform and summarize that conversation. We talked about this. We're going to bring in the light bulbs by this time, we'll reimburse you.
This we do for two reasons. One, it's a clear message to the guest of what has been communicated, what the expectations are. And two, we've created a record within the Airbnb messaging platform for if in the future, for some reason Airbnb support needs to get involved. So you've got everything clearly communicated on the platform. Instead of the he says, she said they called. I promised them this, and they misinterpreted it. It's all there cut and dried.
How to Handle Missed Airbnb Cleanings
Next up is what do you do about missed cleanings? And if you're a new host or an almost-host, I'm sure you're sitting there thinking, I'm never going to miss a cleaning. I'm going to keep my calendar a hundred percent up to date. I'm going to hire the most amazing housekeeper, and that's really not an issue. I am sorry to tell you that at some point, and it may take time, there's going to be at a cleaning oops.
For example, one of my favorite housekeepers looked at her calendar on a Friday and saw that there wasn't a cleaning until Monday. So, she took her kids camping and they were in a zero cell phone service zone. We had a cancellation and a re-booking for different dates that she was unaware of. We assumed she knew from the calendar update and she missed the cleaning.
So what do you do with a missed Airbnb cleaning? Profusely apologize! Say, oh my gosh, I am so sorry. We have an amazing housekeeper. Let me call her and find out what happened. Tell the guest, I am going to refund your cleaning fee. That is number one out of gate response: Super sorry! I'm going to refund your cleaning fee.
Then going back to what does the guest want offer to have the housekeeper come clean as soon as possible. Most guests are going to be happy with the cleaning refund and having the housekeeper come take care of the situation immediately. However, there are some guests that do not want to see the housekeeper. They don't want their trip interrupted, or they may have arrived really late at night. In this case, it's another reason why we tell you to always have a duplicate set of linens so your guests can use clean sheets and towels and just put the other dirty linens for your housekeeper to pick up when she swings by the next morning.
Most guests will be satisfied with the cleaning refund and having the housekeeper come by while they're out at dinner. If the guest is still unhappy and sharing their frustrations, I go ahead and issue a half night's refund. It's way better to give that refund and avoid a really negative review!
One time I failed to acknowledge a guest's complaint early in our hosting days, and it resulted in a one-star review with a line by line review as to what they found deficient. It took me months of lowering prices to overcome that bad review. I had to lower prices and get five-star reviews to bury the 1-star review. It literally created a in a drop in our bookings. That one star review it cost us thousands of dollars.
So you may be like, "Oh, I don't really want to refund a half night's stay because this person's being really critical about a very small thing." But if you look big picture, it is well worth $150 refund on a $300/night stay to avoid major issues. Learn from my mistake. Take guest complaints seriously and be sincere and empathetic.
How to Handle Airbnb Issues Outside of Your Control
How do you handle issues outside of your control? Even if your Airbnb is sparkling clean and all of your amenities are working, there can be factors outside your control that can impact a guest satisfaction.
Power outages, internet outages, and water outages are what we call the typical big three. They happen and the best way to handle them is with immediate communication, honesty, and empathy. So, if a guest reports an outage, immediately message them that you're calling the utility provider. Do not wait, call the utility provider, and then message the guest.
Let the guest know, I understand that there's an outage. I am taking care of it immediately. Then when you do have information from that utility as to how long it will be till power is restored or water's restored. Communicate that to the guests and any other pieces of information from the call.
A lot of our rural Airbnb cabins are in an area where the power company is fantastic. They resolve power outages faster than where we live outside of Washington, DC. So letting city guests know that gives them a lot more comfort. We can say, "Hey, this team is amazing, and usually take care of things much more promptly than in urban settings."
Do not ever cancel the booking. Let the guest do the canceling. If they do want to cancel and leave, if you cancel, you could risk losing your Superhost status. So as a Superhost, we're given up to 1% cancellation grace. So if you have only 50 guest bookings and you have a cancellation, you'll be ineligible for Superhost status.
And that's step three, which is allow guests to do what's best for their situation. Some will choose to stay and see an outage as an inconvenience, and they'll go hiking. They'll go out to dinner, they'll do something different, and some will want to leave early. And as Culin said, that's fine. Give them the grace to leave early. Just tell them they need to request the early cancellation from Airbnb.
Some planning ahead for these types of emergencies can go a long way. You can have a power outage bin. We keep one in our cleaning closet. We keep extra supplies in there like batteries, flashlights, and a lantern. We've started using these lanterns that are capable of charging a cell phone and that gives people a lot of peace of mind. A lot of calmness to not suffer through the power outage or water outage.
Giving a source of light in the darkness really does help calm the situation. As a guest, you are not in your own home, you're somewhere new and suddenly there's no light. If there's a lantern and you can charge your cell phone, all of a sudden it can go from scary to fun. And we actually had guests message us once that the power outage and playing board games by lantern and candlelight turned out to be their children's favorite part of their week long visit.Talk about turning like bad things into good things!
When to Issue an Airbnb Refund
As for refunds, a small refund goes a long way to making guests feel heard and accommodated. We refund our cleaning fee for all minor issues. The gas fireplace not working, a small cleaning issue, some dirty dishes found in a cabinet, any small disappointment. 99% of the time, it's worth the $70 to ensure a positive experience that leads ends up leading to a positive review.
If a major amenity is missing or not usable: the hot tub is green or the oven goes out or the heat goes out, the Airbnb policy that we follow is a half night's refund for a missing major amenity. A refund coupled with empathetic solutions is the best way to handle a majority of issues you'll encounter.
We've said the word empathetic a couple times, just in conversation. True empathy is what hospitality is about. So as a host, you can feel defensive and frustrated, but please put yourself in your guest shoes. How would it feel if you were, a small family and saved up to go somewhere nice for the weekend, and all your kids wanted was to sit in the hot tub and look at the stars, and the hot tub doesn't work. If you can put themselves yourself in their shoes, your response is going to be much more in line with what they're hoping for.
We keep talking about hot tubs as examples, because we always have problems with hot tubs. There was a really nice couple that had in their booking, double checked to make sure the hot tub will be running. And it was. They got to the cabin and of course there was an issue and the lady was like, "I'm really upset. This is what we were looking forward to. You said it would be right." I agreed with her.
I said, "You know what? I'm frustrated as your host, but if I was a guest, I would be really frustrated. Also, I'm really sorry. This should not have happened. We're issuing you a half night's day refund. Please know, this was not at all what we thought was going to happen." That guest turned on a dime. She said, "I feel like you're really connecting with me. I feel like you're empathetic. We understand mistakes happen. Thank you for the refund." And they eventually left a five-star review.
Airbnb guests will notice nine times out of 10 that you are empathetic and you care. Everyone knows that life isn't perfect. And if you can use empathy, refunds, and all the tools in your toolkit to show that you're a great host, again, you're going to end up most of the time with five-star reviews.
There's always that one guest out of 10 who isn't reasonable. So even if you've had excellent communication and provided the refunds and solutions the guests still aren't feeling satisfied - you can feel that vibe. And when that happens, we want to get ahead of it. We want to contact Airbnb support. We want to be the ones we initiate with Airbnb support, and let them know what's going on. Sometimes they'll have suggestions, but you really want to just be the first person to get ahead of a potentially sticky situation and outline what you've done. And they'll put that in their call records. So, if potentially a guest needs to contact Airbnb support, they've heard your side of the story.
It's kind of like getting to mom first when you're a little kid and had a fight with your brother. Whoever gets to mom first and says their side of the story is typically a little bit more likely to not get punished in the situation.
Also, my dad has this term is called the percent dissatisfied, and what that means is there's a small percentage of the population that is just never happy. No matter what you do, they're not going to be happy. So don't let them get under your skin or ruin hosting for you. Be professional and also be relieved that you're not in a long-term rental relationship with this percent dissatisfied person. It's two or three days. Do your very best and move on.
How to Handle a Bad Airbnb Review
If you do eventually get a bad review, and it's going to happen. Don't overreact! Stay calm and digest the review. Was it factual or was it possibly blown out of proportion? We have the capability to respond as a host to that review, and we want to do that non defensively, non aggressively, and in a tone of professionalism.
Be polite, brief to the point. We don't need to ramble. We're writing this review not to respond to the poor review that was written to us. It's not to throw mud back at the person, the guest who wrote the bad review. The purpose of our response to the bad Airbnb review is for other future potential guests. They're going to read the bad review and then they're going to read the host response to that review.
I have a great example of this. We had a gentleman who said he loved his stay in private feedback, but gave us a four-star review, which rankled me a little bit. His reason stated in his review was he was really disappointed in the fishing of the pond in our neighborhood. He had expected to catch more fish. So, he rated our cabin's status on a pond in our neighborhood, not on how beautiful, not how clean and on all of our amenities.
It took me a minute to digest this man's review. I did not write the response the same day, because I was really mad. But, I came back and I wrote "I'm so glad that you told us in private feedback how much you enjoyed the cabin and how cozy it was and how it met all your family's needs. As for the fishing pond, I'm terribly sorry that you were disappointed. It's fishing not catching. That's part of the excitement. and our son typically has done really well there." So anyone who reads this man's review and then reads my response, realizes the guy's a little bit of a nut and they're going to laugh it off and realize no one's perfect.
There are weirdo guests - but we're hosts that care about our property and about hospitality. It's like that review in Mexico. We went to a resort in Mexico one time and there were all these positive reviews and one guy complained about the placement of the chairs on the pool deck . I was like, "Okay, we know this place is great if that's the worst thing that anybody can say about the property."
The other good thing is from every bad review, there's the silver lining of learning something. If you learn from it, you're not going to have that issue happen again, and you're not going to get more bad reviews. Maybe you need a new housekeeper. Maybe an amenity must be replaced or removed, or perhaps you simply just need a better plan for dealing with power outages.
Don't let one bad review spoil your hosting experience. Focus on the positive. You have amazing guests. You'll get to help plan some of the happiest moments of their lives. Birthdays, anniversaries, proposals, honeymoons, baby moons. All those things. You also get to build a great team and relationships with those team members.
Airbnb investing success is all about the community you create. So make a good one, enjoy the good stuff. And remember, on top of hosting these great stays, you're also generating cash flow for your own financial freedom. It's a win, win!
Keep listening every Tuesday as we share the software, mindset, systems, and tools needed to maximize your cashflow and create financial freedom to do more things you love with the people you love. Please share this episode as a resource with anyone that could benefit. Our joy is in your success.