8 Tips for Filing a Complaint with a Travel Service Provider

Photo: Lindyy, through a Creative Commons Attribution License

Nothing is more frustrating than shelling out money for a hotel or flight and feeling like you didn’t get the service you were promised. Worse yet is when you feel like you were swindled or overcharged by a deceitful company. It can oftentimes feel like you are alone – one person against a huge company. The key to getting your voice heard is to communicate effectively with the company. The 8 tips below give some thoughts on how to get the best response. However, before you file a complaint, make sure you really analyze why you are upset. Filing useless complaints just to get free things doesn’t help anyone – and can hurt small business, especially in developing countries. Use your best judgement and save complaints for when something has truly impacted your traveling experience.

1. Be a sympathetic character
The first step is always to explain why you are upset. People working in Customer Service are just that – People. If they can relate to your problems, they are more likely to care, and if they care, they are more likely to try and help you out. Don’t just say “You cancelled my flight and now I’ll never make it to Texas!!” Tell them why you need to get there – “I am flying in to Texas be in my friend’s wedding and I really need to get there by today so I don’t miss it.” If your on your honeymoon, and your room is awful, tell management “I booked here because I wanted a special experience for my honeymoon and I don’t feel like you are providing it.”

2. Throw around numbers
Loyalty numbers that is. If you are part of a frequent flyer program, or a hotel points system, NOW is the time to tell them. Hand them your care or include your number in your complaint. Let them know how long you’ve been a customer. If Suzy Joe, who leaves her hometown once a decade, tells a hotel that she will never stay there again, they don’t really feel that that loss will impact their business. If you let them know that you have been staying with them every month for the last three years and have the rewards points to back that up, they will see what they are loosing when they lose you as a customer – money. A couple of free nights is nothing for them, especially if it means a future lifetime of profits as you continue to come back.

3. Give them a chance to make it right
When something goes wrong that you would like to see fixed, let them know right away. Don’t wait until  its too late. If there really is a problem with your room or flight, let the staff know and they may be able to easily resolve it. They might now even know you are dissatisfied. It could mean the difference between you spending an entire flight or stay being dissatisfied and something being easily fixed.  Once you are home, there isn’t much the hotel can do about the AC being broken during your entire stay – if you didn’t tell them how can expect them to have fixed it? If you do inform an hotel or airline of a problem and it is not resolved, make sure to note these interactions in your follow up (See step 6).

4. Remain calm and be nice
This one is important – don’t lose your cool. As soon as you get really angry, hysterical, or mean most people start to tune you out. They might appear to be backing down but really what they are thinking is “get rid of this person now – I don’t want their business!” Remember that the person you are speaking too is most likely not the one directly responsible for your bad experience – Think how many times at your own job you’ve had to deal with the fallout for someones else’s mistakes, and think about how much that stunk. It actually is much more effective to be nice to the person you are working with. Acknowledge that you know they aren’t responsible but that you were hoping they could help you out. It also helps to work a compliment into your complaint so they know you aren’t a total hater. Something along the lines of : “I was unhappy because I felt the quality of your service today was not up to your usual high standards which I’ve come to appreciate during my previous experiences with your company…” As the saying goes you will catch more flies with honey than vinegar- people are much more likely to help out someone who seems kind but frustrated than someone yelling in their face.

5. Be concise and direct
When something goes really wrong on your trip, its easy to let that feeling of frustration snowball to the point where you find fault with everything. But, its important that when you file a complaint that you don’t end up with a laundry list of issues. Not only will this cloud your real concerns, you will come off as a complainer and get zoned out: “And then my salad was missing an olive, and my pillow was kind of flat, and I think the maid looked at me funny….” Some people can’t be pleased – travel companies know this and if you seem to fall in this category they will assume that there is nothing they could have done to make you happy. If you focus on your one major issue, its more likely to get addressed.

6. Follow up
Once you have gotten home, if you feel that your issue was not resolved correctly, you should follow up with a formal written complaint – the easiest way is via e-mail. For complaints that may eventually result in a legal dispute (such as money  not being refunded or services not being delivered) its important that you have this documentation. Even if the issue is not that serious, its easier for a written note to be passed along to the correct person than for a phone conversation to be relayed. Make sure to note dates and people you spoke to about your issue when you were on site and reference any previous communication. As stated above, you should include any loyalty point information along with your name, contact information and the dates you used the company.

7. Tell them what they can do to help
When you file a complaint its important to be clear about what can be done to make you happy. If you simply say, “the service was horrible, I’m never coming back again,” there isn’t much they can do – they feel like they’ve already lost your business. Of course if you plan to never comer back, that’s fine. But if you really do plan on coming back but feel like you should be compensated for your last meal you should say “the service was horrible, I would like to be compensated for the cost of my meal with a free meal in the future. I hope that on the next visit the service is better.” Be realistic about what you are asking for – you aren’t going to get a free week at a hotel because they forget a mint in your turn down service.

8. Utilize Social Media
This last one can be the trickiest and should not be used in all situations. However, in cases where you can’t get your message across in any other way, social media can be a great tool. A tweet at the company’s twitter feed or a trip advisor review can go a long way towards getting their attention. Make sure you are 100% honest about your experience and leave out any overly harsh or negative words. Your goal isn’t to trash their reputation, its simply to share your experience so that it can be addressed – or at the very least to inform other travelers.

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