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

Complaints Comment and Responses, the Final Post – For Now.

To conclude with this topic I am going return to a few of the comments and responses and explain how we see these issues. There was general agreement on Case # 1 so I will mostly comment on Case # 2.

Chris Parrot wrote:

“Refunding the cost of this meal/excursion would be fine if it had gone wrong in some way, but a straight refund is probably insufficient where they actually said they didn’t want it in the first place.”

My response:

Once we have decided that a refund is due a number of factors go into deciding the size of the refund.  Chris mentions one of them here. Other factors are how badly we screwed up, the amount of pain and anguish we caused, to what extent the guest could have corrected the error by pointing it out at the time and the civility and reasonableness of the compliant taken as a whole.  The range for refunds goes from the full amount to three times the full amount paid. Taking all these factors into account we decided on only a full refund for the lunch and three times the amount paid for the room at Monteverde Lodge in Case # 1.

Admittedly these determinations are at least somewhat arbitrary.

Chris Parrot also wrote:

“A gesture of goodwill (a payment), [for the substitution of the airplane. MK] if the explanation of the circumstances at the time hadn’t been handled well, might be suitable here.”

My response:

I agree. The question is, since I was not there, how can I determine whether the explanation was handled well. Unless the person who gave the explanation tells me that he blew it (and it happens on occasion, the only criteria I have is the reasonableness of the complaint as a whole.

Shannon Borrego wrote:

“CRE should state in the itinerary that they will do their best to provide the services requested but that they reserve the right to substitute planes (or whatever else needs to be substituted) should an unforeseen problem arise.”

My response:

We have that in our Terms and Conditions.  Everybody who buys services from us agrees to abide by them.  Almost every time I buy something on line or over the phone I agree to abide by terms and conditions that I have not read.  I suspect that is the case with most of the persons who buy services from us.  Adding more Terms and Conditions to the itinerary would almost surely result in our guests reading and remembering less of what is most important for them to know both before they decide to buy and during their vacation.

The way I see it is that we have to have the terms and conditions, but when we have to resort to them we already have a problem.  Common sense and fairness rather than the Terms and Conditions need to be the criteria for whether or not we owe refunds and how much.  If we stuck strictly to the Terms and Conditions we would give a fewer and smaller refunds than we actually do.

Our genera policy is that the benefit of the doubt goes to the guest. But we do not want to create a situation in which we reward extremely unreasonable or unscrupulous people from taking advantage of us.

Your frank comments on this topic have been very helpful.  Please keep them coming.

Coming next week….

In another comment Glen Glines wrote:

“The secret to CRE success is picking the right people to be the face of CRE. Perhaps the next step is to, once in a while, say no to the wrong client.”

Actually, when we spot prospective guests who we do not feel are good fits we encourage them to reconsider. In next weeks post I’ll share with you two such cases.

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Comments and Replies

  • At August 04, 2010
    4:21:18 pm
    Shannon Borrego said:

    Hi Michael,

    As usual, your comments bring everything together and make the most sense! Not to belabor the point, but I just wanted to clarify something I said in my comments–when I suggested including a sort of disclaimer about adventure travel in the itinerary, I meant actually include it in the section where you list the day-by-day activities for the guest, not in the section of Terms and Conditions. You are so right–people barely read that part. I have received printed itineraries in which there are gentle reminders about the sometimes inconsistent nature of travel in out-of-the-way places. These reminders usually recommend going into the trip with the understanding that I’m “not in Kansas anymore” and to expect some bumps along the road.
    I never cease to marvel at CRE’s dedication to taking the high road in each and every circumstance.
    Okay, on to the next topic!

    • At August 04, 2010
      5:21:25 am
      Richard Walsh said:

      Hi Michael,
      I think that your explanation goes beyond what is necessary to show that you are deeply concerned about providing fair and honest service to your clients.
      My wife and I have traveled all around the world numerous times and we do so knowing that there are risks of getting sick, delayed, hurt or even killed. Accidents and acts of god do happen. My wife and I have gotten sick, hurt, delayed, have been through numerous hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Most events go with the territory and we do not need to read a contract to know that you go at your own risk and traveler beware. An entire industry called ” Insurance ” is based around just such catastrophes. You can get sick at home or in your local restaurant. When you travel you risks are increased tremendously and if your not willing to accept that then Don’t Travel. I myself have gotten as sick as a dog in Cancun, Mexico. The Doctor that treated me said that it could have been a very clean restaurant yet a fly landing on the food could have contaminated it. How can you expect anyone to prevent that. If anyone is at fault it probably was the fly. I think I am going to demand that the fly gives me my money back. As a savvy traveler you must have heard of Montezuma’s Revenge and warnings not to drink the water. I am sick and tired of people who think that everyone should pay for the risks we take upon ourselves. I agree that someone should be held liable when someone is purposely careless or criminal. Knowing that you are in a business that requires satisfied customers it would be obvious that you would never put your clients in a situation that would not have their best interest in mind.
      My wife and I have rental property in one of the most beautiful resorts in the world. We also try to please our clients to no end. Yet, out of every 50 clients you will get one who wants a discount, free night, money back etc. because the weather wasn’t sunny or they did not enjoy their meal at one of the local restaurants, or their child got sick eating a snail or a bicycle had a flat tire. Many of these mishaps are unpreventable and have not been done on purpose. However, many renters will work around them and a few will do nothing but complain and blame everyone. To those few I wish them luck and thank whomever that they may not want to come back. Some people expect you to be God. We do everything possible to give our renters the best vacation possible. Some you can never please and you have to write off.
      When traveling, especially in remote parts of the world you can not expect to have the airline schedules and health department inspections you have at home. Weather and Maintenance of equipment can change your plans instantly and has very little to do with someone being at fault. What is more important to me is, ” Has the tour company or hosts done their best to make the uncomfortable situation as best as they can within their control”? I think you have and that you do not have to beg for forgiveness for something that is beyond that scope. You have been kind enough to offer an apology and compensation to try and be fare. I do not believe that any sane individual would fault you at your attempt. You offer a great travel service and I would never hesitate to use it again. Do not lose sleep over the occasional mishap that is beyond your control. Good Luck, Richard and Rose Walsh

      • At August 04, 2010
        2:59:44 am
        Chris Parrott said:

        A good point about Booking Conditions – if you have to fall back on them, you’ve probably got a problem already.

        Even so, Booking Conditions work both ways. They protect the Tour Organiser, but also the client too – “This is what we promise we will do”.

        But Michael’s right, if a client feels he has been short-changed in some way, the last thing he wants is some smart-a*s* saying “May I refer you to clause 2.3.3 of our Terms”. I confess to having done this in the past.

        Lawyers also tell us never actually to admit liability, in case the client seizes this as an opportunity to take us to the cleaners. But (so far) I’ve never found this to be the case. If you get it wrong, coming clean from the start wins you friends – and a complaint handled well will create a client who “champions” your company even more than one who simply had a great holiday.


        • At August 03, 2010
          7:49:40 pm
          Diana said:

          I don’t need the blog and don’t care about the bad experience someone had with CRE. I will say I found the guides with CRE to be superlative when I went of a couple of tours in 2004. I had a bad experience with Intrepid in Spain a year ago in which the guide handled a situation between travelers on a tour badly (another guest swore at me and all the other travelers in this small group apologized to ME on how poorly the situation was handled.) Your responses are far more level headed than Intrepid’s and the fact you, as the head of the company, took enough interest to respond to the client, makes points in my books. Intrepid did not do that much.