How not to do Customer Service

My wife and I took the opportunity  of traveling down to Strahan on the west coast for a few days.  We were quite excited about the cottage we were staying in, an old chapel dating from the 1870s.  On the Strahan Colonial Cottages website it looked like a very romantic spot, the ideal place for a few quiet days away.

Well, when we arrived our initial impressions were favourable, the cottage did have a romantic air to it, and we settled in for the next few days.  Well, apparently this was too good to be true, and our experience soon turned sour.  The problems started on the first night, when the smoke alarm went off shortly after midnight, and got worse from there.

I won’t go into the full details of our problems just yet, but the list of problems we had is as follows:

  • Smoke alarm prevented sleep from midnight till after 5:30am.
  • When we tried to contact someone about the problem with the smoke alarm, we were unable to get through to anyone (we were told the next morning that they person whose contact details we had was unavailable that night, due to working elsewhere)
  • After an electrician was called in to fix the issue with the smoke alarm (a flat battery), the smoke alarm was removed entirely, leaving no smoke alarm in the cottage.
  • The “king size” bed advertised on the web site was in fact two smaller beds pushed together, and which moved apart when the bed was used, leaving a gap between them to roll into during the night.
  • When we made the bed after our second night’s stay, we found cockroaches in the bedding
  • Light fittings in the cottage did not have bulbs
  • Out of three remotes for electrical equipment in the cottage, only one had working batteries

Sure, some of those problems are only minor, but the fact that we had them tends to indicate that the people running the place aren’t taking care of it.  I would have thought that things like missing light bulbs or flat batteries would be dealt with quickly, rather than being left for multiple guests to deal with (based on feedback in the guest book).  With this in mind, I sent a very restrained email to the operators, outlining the problems we had, and requesting a refund (we’d left a day early after finding the cockroaches).  This is the email I sent:

“Hello,

My wife and I stayed in the Church cottage from 26/12/11 to 29/12/11, and I would like to pass on some feedback about our experience.  From the first night our experience was, to be frank, quite unpleasant.  What we expected to be a king size bed in fact turned out to be two separate beds pushed together, which moved apart, as we found out shortly after going to bed, making for an uncomfortable night’s sleep.

In addition to this, the smoke alarm fitted in the cottage went off around midnight, and proceeded to go off periodically until about 5:30 in the morning, with anywhere from 30 minutes to 5 minutes between alarms.  We resorted to trying to sleep, unsuccessfully, downstairs on the couches, as the volume of the alarm was at least tolerable down there.  We attempted to contact someone at around 3am in order to get the alarm fixed, but was unable to contact anyone.

When we finally spoke to Russell the next morning he informed us that he would have been uncontactable, due to working elsewhere.  Russell advised us that he would arrange for an electrician to fix the alarm for us, and when we returned to the cottage later that morning, we arrived just as the electrician was leaving.  He advised us that the issue with the alarm was a flat battery.  After the electrician had left, I noticed that the alarm had not had a battery replaced, as I assumed, but had in fact been removed entirely, leaving the cottage with no smoke alarm at all.

Following the previous night’s brief period of uncomfortable sleep in the upstairs bed prior to the problem with the smoke alarm, my wife and I took advantage of the fold down double bed downstairs.  While this allowed a more comfortable night’s sleep, we were shocked to find, when we made the bed the following morning, that there were two cockroaches in the bedding.  This was enough to put us off the rest of our stay, and we made the decision to leave a day early, rather than continue our stay.

In addition to these rather major problems, there were a number of other issues which detracted from our stay.  We attempted to use the DVD player and TV, and discovered that out of 3 remotes (for the TV, Stereo and DVD player), that only one remote had a working set of batteries.  Also, we discovered on the first night that the kitchen had a light globe missing from the light fitting from beside the stove.  We ended up taking a globe from another light fitting in order to have enough light to be able to see properly while in the kitchen area.

Based on the information and photos available on the cottage’s website, we expected accommodation of a considerably higher standard than what we experienced.  Given the unsatisfactory nature of the time we spent in the cottage, I would appreciate being refunded the amount that we paid.  I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.”

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the operators to give us a refund for all three nights, but I thought that they might have the decency to perhaps refund us for one night.  As it turns out, I couldn’t have been further off the mark.  This morning, I received the following reply from the operators:

“Wow. you just got  married  and this  is  the way  you see  the  world,  did you  not  read  the  guest  book 99%  happy  people,  yes  there  is  always 1%  and  you  must  be  one  of  them,  Well  I  checked  location  of smoke alarm  myself,  and  it  could  have  been  reached,  so  simply taking  the  battery  out  yourself  would  have  helped ,   the  world  is full  of  worse  things  than  cockroaches  so  if  that  totally  ruined your  holiday  I  so  feel  sorry  for  you,  Apparently  you  abused  the electrician  ,  a  dear  man  who  goes  out  of  his  way  for  all  in strahan ,  I  had  a  basket  of  chocolates fudge  etc  to  give  you  but after  <name removed>  spoke  to  you  he  said  not  to  give  them  to  you
We  do  our  best  to  help  our  guest  and  after  all  the  cottages  are COLONIAL  thats  why  people  choose  them  and  not   BEST  AND WESTERNS,etc,   and  <name removed>  did  let  you  stay  for  $195  per  night  as it  is $230  per  night  he  was  doing  something  completely  un neccesary,
ther  will  be  no  refund  ,   <name removed> .   think  you  cancelled  original dates  and  <name removed>  changed  dates  for  you   to  busiest  time  of  year to  help  you, ( especially  considering we  have a   NO CANCELLATION.POLICY)”

So, that’s apparently how the people who run Strahan Colonial Cottages believe customers should be treated.  There are a few things that concern me with this response.  For starters, they’ve glossed over the fact that the smoke alarm wasn’t functioning properly, and their solution to the issue is apparently to just disable the alarm.  Also, they’ve ignored the fact that the solution to a flat battery was to remove the alarm entirely.

I’ve responded to this email this morning, resisting the urge to make a smart arse response.  I’ll be interested to see when/if I get a response from them, and if I do, what they have to say…