Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

Complaints: Response to Case # 1.

The week before last I posted a complaint from a guest at Monteverde Lodge who spent a miserable night because of a series of maintenance problems.  Management at the lodge neglected to offer adequate compensation on the spot and the guest wrote us asking for, “a full refund of at least one night.”

Twelve of you responded to my request for feedback on how the complaint should be handled with very clear well thought out suggestions.  There was general agreement that a considerable refund was called for and it would have been better if the refund were offered at the Lodge.  I could not agree more with both points.

Below is our response and the guests reply, both of which predate the July 6 post.

Dear [Guest’s Name],

As per my email of Friday, I’ve now had a chance to speak with the manager of Monteverde Lodge, Andres Valverde, and understand what took place.

First of all I want to tell you how sorry we are that you had to change rooms twice while you were at the hotel. What happened was that we are in the process of remodeling the bathrooms at the lodge and the rooms that were directly above you were the last to be remodeled. As a result of the problem you experienced, we discovered that there was a fairly serious problem with the plumbing.

I also want to apologize because this was not taken care of before you left Monteverde Lodge. Ideally, we wouldn’t have let you go home without a formal apology and some form of compensation for what took place.  In all honesty, I think our managers were a bit overwhelmed by the remodeling project and didn’t react properly to the situation. Both Andres and his assistant, Arelis, understand this now and I doubt it will happen to them again.

We are going to issue a full refund for lodging to your credit card. By copy of this email, I am asking your Travel Planner, Jose Huertas, to issue the charge back today. This would be in the amount of $636. It normally takes 2-3 weeks for the credit to show up on your credit card statement. Please let me know when it does.

I am curious as to why you felt that you were being treated like second class citizens? Could you please expand on that? What made you think that other people were being treated better than you were? While it’s true that there’s no way to give everyone the same service and the same priority all of the time and it’s also true that it’s almost impossible to have a hotel where all rooms are equal, I am concerned that you felt strong enough about it to mention it. Was your comment a result of what happened with the rooms or where there other things that made you think you were being given inferior service?

I would really appreciate it if you could give me some input on this so that we can correct it for future guests.

I am glad that you found the lodge lovely despite the annoyances and hope that you thoroughly enjoyed the rest of your time in Costa Rica. I look forward to hearing from you.


Natalie Ewing

Chief Marketing & Guest Satisfaction Officer


Dear Natalie –

Thank you for your prompt action.  Your offer of full compensation is exceedingly generous.

Regarding the “second class citizen” comment, I was referring solely to the room issue.  I found it odd to be essentially alone in a wing which seemed to be awaiting upgrades at a time when the hotel appeared to be less than full.  However, I think it was probably a case of overactive imagination on my part, and not a fair appraisal.  It’s impossible to get the full picture when you’re a guest at a hotel.  What I didn’t mention, and really should have, was how consistently courteous all the staff were.  For example, our request to have an extra bed removed was accommodated immediately and cheerfully.  We were always greeted on our return to the hotel, and the service at the bar (where we sometimes took up residence by the fire!) was impeccable.  Lastly, the correspondence with Jose prior to our trip was helpful and efficient.

In short, despite the room fiasco, my overall impression of Monteverde Lodge was very favorable, and in fact I had already recommended your company to a friend who would like to use a full-service tour operator for a future trip to Costa Rica – even before receiving your kind email today. If it would make a difference to you, I’d be happy to give you top marks at Trip Advisor or a similar site (I won’t mention the flood – promise).  Indeed, we fell in love with Costa Rica and consider our time there to have been one of the best family vacations we’ve ever had.

So again, thank you for responding to this issue in a manner befitting a top-notch organization.


This post is already running long so I’ll just make one comment for now.

In her comment Michelle wrote:

“It really doesn’t matter whose story is more truthful the statistic facts remain that a disgruntled customer is likely to spread the worst news multiple times over than a happy customer who invariably says nothing.”

You may have noticed from Natalie’s email that she did investigate before deciding what to respond.

We do this routinely because we think, among other things, it shows respect for our people to hear their version before responding.

I will comment on more of the comments in future posts.  Please keep the comments coming they are very helpful.  We will be using them in our training material.

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Comments and Replies

  • At July 21, 2010
    8:41:29 pm
    Jennifer Fletcher said:

    Resolved in a kind, courteous & generous manner,using the golden rule : what you would have wanted yourself.And proving what a superior organization CRE is.You now have a loyal client for life.
    Nothing lowers a business/service,etc. more in my opinion than being told that it’s all my fault ….this does happen .For example,we’ll never buy Sony again because of that – having to battle to get fair service.Or willingly fly American Airlines!

    I must disagree with Michelle when she says that the happy customer invariably says nothing. I try to make a point of praising good service & making sure it’s understood that I’ll recommend the company/store/hotel,etc to friends & family. This includes seeking out the manager of a store to praise the teenage salesperson who is efficient & polite.
    Good service deserves quiet praise.

    • At July 20, 2010
      5:34:04 pm
      Shannon Borrego said:

      I am impressed with CRE’s response to this problem and the very generous refund that was given to the guests who had been inconvenienced. This is the standard of service that has attracted many of us to CRE in the first place. While some people will go out of their way to acknowledge exceptional service, I tend to agree with Michelle that it’s more often the disgruntled customer who goes to the trouble to write a letter. CRE took all the right steps in sending a personal response, explaining how the problem occurred and how it has been resolved, and in acknowledging the seriousness of the mistake by issuing a generous refund.
      In my opinion, the recent exchanges about complaints and how best to resolve them is useful for the insight it gives us as travelers. We are accustomed to viewing things from the perspective of the customer; we are now seeing the perspective of the host. I think it’s interesting that the actual steps taken by CRE to resolve this problem were more magnanimous than the suggestions offered by most of us.

      • At July 20, 2010
        12:57:00 pm
        Lia said:

        Dear Michael
        I don’t fully agree with Michelle comment that happy costumers say nothing. I also think that savvy travelers don’t necessary discard a resort because of some negative comments. We have stayed all over the world with young kids. I have read many negatives comments on hotels in Europe and South America because of inpatient and uneducated travelers that don’t do their homework on the local costumes and expect the rest of the world to fit the American way .I do however take into consideration how a resort resolves a valid complaint. We had the privilege to stay at Monteverde Lodge in October during slow season. Promptly left positive comments on trip advisor from the resort computer. We will be back in Costa Rica this October stopping in Monteverde again. I commend your commitment and respect to the local people and your guests. Thank you for preserving and maintaining the true feeling of Costa Rica.
        Lia, Irvine CA

        • At July 20, 2010
          12:20:58 pm
          ellen sporn said:

          Why are you writing about these experiences? I don’t find them particularly interesting or enlightening.

          • At July 26, 2010
            5:46:56 pm
            Michael Kaye replied
            to :

            Ellen, I am sorry that you do not find the posts on complaints interesting. From the amount of comments it seems like many people do and I owe it to them to take this topic to a conclusion. Let me know what you are interested in my covering and I will do my best to address it in the near future.

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              12:02:12 am
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