The Art of Complaining (What Would You Have Done?)

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Our Labour long weekend getaway was a last-minute decision. As we usually do in this case, we searched for a good deal on Expedia and booked a chain hotel by the airport—we have a car so we don’t mind being outside the downtown core.

Best Western, Radisson, Quality Inn… these brands are all the same to me. They provide a clean room—if bland–room with all the basic amenities.

Except when something goes wrong.

On our second day, when we came back to the hotel at night, a printed sheet of paper was taped to the elevator doors, warning guests that the City of Toronto was expecting a water outage due to repairs between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

I checked the time on my iPod—10 p.m. Well, that would be inconvenient—we were coming back from a full day of touring Toronto Island and the city and we all needed a shower.

Once in a room, I turned the tap on. Water flowed and I figured the problem had been fixed.

The next morning, when we got up, no such luck—we had no water.

I bumped into the housekeeper in the hallway. “I know, I know,” she said apologetically. “Water outage. And it’s not just the hotel, it’s the entire block! Look, the Tim Hortons is closed as well!”

“When will the water be turned back on?”

She made a face. “During the day? Tonight? I really don’t know!”

I double-checked with the guys at the front desk and they didn’t know either, but they gave us a few bottles of water we used to brush our teeth and wash our face.

We spent the day in Niagara Falls and came back late at night. As I walked into the lobby, Mark in my arms, my first question was “Is the water back on?”

The guy at the front desk nodded enthusiastically. “It is! Sorry about that!”

I shrugged. “It wasn’t your fault. Plus you probably had a hell of a day hearing complaints about it!”

I worked in customer service, including in a call centre. I check out Not Always Right and I have just read Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality (by Jacob Tomsky). So I didn’t want to be that bitchy customer, venting my frustration on a poor guy just doing his job.

We took showers, brushed teeth and all was forgotten about the incident until later in the night, when I realized out Wifi password was no longer valid. “I’ll ask the front desk for a new one,” I told Feng.

I went downstairs. The front desk was pretty busy and there were five people in front of me. The first couple sounded angry—I pricked up my ears. “This was simply unacceptable,” the woman ranted. “A hotel without water! I won’t leave until I get compensated fairly. Get me the manager.”

Meanwhile, the manager was busy with another angry guest. “One free night? I don’t think so. There was no water the entire morning! This is not a way to treat guests.”

This is when I realized all the hotel guests were now coming to the front desk to get something out of the water outage. And boy, some were vindictive! I couldn’t hear what the final settlement was but the manager seemed to be on the verge of crying.

I felt like an idiot waiting in line for a totally unrelated issue, the old Wifi password in my hand.

What should I do? Ask for compensation as well? See, my French genes had programmed me how to protest against policies, against the government or against life in general. But I am not skilled at getting a free meal for poor service or whatever compensation and/or freebie people feel they are entitled to when a business treat them badly.

Hell, I can’t even get an airline to give us a hotel room when we were stuck at the airport because of flight delays. The only time I successfully negotiated another room was when our hotel in Paris was infested with bugs.

But on the other side, if the hotel was compensating some guests, I’d feel like an idiot not asking for it.

Then came my turn.

“I… ahem, I need a new Wifi password. And by the way, are you going to compensate people for the water issue today?”

The front desk manager looked at me. We both sighed. It had been a long day.

“Free parking for the three days of your stay?”

“Sure.”

“There you go. Have a great evening!”

“You too!”

In the elevator, I smiled at my reflection in the mirror. Well, I had gotten something out of the morning inconvenience, and I didn’t have the threaten, argue or beg for it. Yay!

When we left the following day, people were still complaining at the front desk. I couldn’t help thinking some were milking it. I mean, okay, not having water for a few hours had been inconvenient but the issue had been fixed, and it wasn’t the hotel’s fault in the first place. I don’t think it entitled them to a free stay or a massive refund.

What do you think? Are you good at getting appropriate compensation when things go bad? What would you have done in my shoes?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

19 Comments

  1. The Canadian in me would pipe up and complain if the company was clearly at fault, but here in France I am quiet in all cases. There is a way of getting what you want in France; you have to flatter the person you are speaking with by making them feel that you are totally at their mercy and that they have all the power. Then they may relent. I still have my “direct attack” reflexes, though, so I let my husband do the talking most of the time. Blowing your top usually gets you nowhere here.

    If a hotel in Canada put up a sign saying that the city cut off the water supply, I would believe them. If I was staying in a major hotel chain, I would go down and try to get some freebies (like free parking) without being too harsh. If a company has a stupid policy/weak excuse for a problem, I would “attack”.

    If the service is bad in Canada (not very often), I lower the tip. My husband and mother-in-law were in shock when they saw me doing that. When they go to a restaurant, they are used to being at the mercy of the restaurant, like mice or something (joke, of course they are not mice). They would just pay the full tip.

    • You are so right, in France when you complain you have to flatter the person and somehow agree that it’s nobody’s fault, or find a common enemy. It’s a whole different approach!

      Ah, tipping… it sometime annoys me that people would tip 15% no matter how crappy the service was. I respect tipping but I think it should be an incentive for good service and a reward, not something “owe”, especially in Canada where we do have a minimum wage (i.e. unlike in some US states where staff is paid like $2 an hour).

  2. It is in our (Canadian) culture to ask for compensation or to complain on customer service. I’ve seen a colleague complaining about the cola being too flat at the restaurant. What the…?! In France, if you ever ask something or complain, to will get a shrug or no response. How many times I’ve told to my husband that if I were in Canada I would ask to see the manager. But sometimes I do make complains in France. I’ve got 10 euros worth of grocery at Leclerc Drive. I ordered my grocery online and they where late when I went to pick up my order, so I sent an email to complain. I’ve complained 2-3 times and got compensated each time. Ask and you shall receive.

    • Yes, the French shrug, “pas mon problème!” It’s exactly that. I’m happy to hear you were able to be compensated. France should have better customer service overall I think.

  3. In a situation like that where it wasn’t the company’s fault, I would only expect to do what they could to help, as they did by giving you the bottles of water. If, on the other hand, it was something that really shouldn’t have happened, you could expect actual compensation.

    That said, I’m also a big believer in adapting to the society you’re in. In North America, you’re paying for that compensation culture every time you pay for a service (if it wasn’t there, the prices would be lower!), so I wouldn’t feel guilty for asking either. And at least you were polite about it!

  4. I never ask for anything – I am always too shy too – it is part of a whole other problem related to initiative and conflict and another word I can’t remember, but that I got self help skills for! Sounds like that poor guy at the hotel had a rough day! Well done you for considering his feelings and needs in all of this too!

  5. Pourtant, je suis chialeuse de nature, c’est sûr que j’aurais pesté de ne pas avoir eu d’eau pendant qq heures mais je ne pense pas que j’aurais été jusqu’à demander une compensation.

    Pour travailler dans un hôtel, c’est tout un casse-tête quand il arrive un imprévu. La semaine dernière, la chaudière nous a lâché au boulot. Il faut savoir que nous sommes un petit hôtel-restaurant avec une ambiance rustique, campagne, conviviale et familiale. Bien sûr, cette panne est arrivée un samedi soir en plein rush au restaurant, mon patron étant au fourneau, ben les clients ont dû passer le soir et la nuit sans eau chaude quoi… J’imagine même pas la perte monstre dans la caisse de mon patron si tous les clients de l’hôtel s’étaient plaints et demandés une compensation. Un petit geste ok (comme ton parking gratuit, t’es partie de là en étant tout de même contente et satisfaite, c’est ce qui compte), mais faut pas demander la lune non plus. Quand ce n’est pas intentionel, quand la chambre est convenable, que t’es bien au chaud et à l’aise dedans, pas de bestioles, etc, tu peux ben te laver “à’ mitaine” pour dépanner 1 soir 😉 C’est pas pour autant qu’il faut avoir une nuit de plus ou se faire rembourser l’intégral. Enfin, ce n’est que mon avis 🙂

    • Je suis complètement de ton avis! Les compensations doivent rester raisaonnable, faut aussi se mettre à la place du patron ou du gestionnaire. Maintenant, tant que l’hôtel (ou le business) a une attitude correct, je pardonne pas mal tout.

      Et j’imagine la galère dans ton hôtel! Est-ce que les clients ont beaucoup râlé?

      • Oui après ça dépend vraiment de l’attitude du patron, à voir si ça se voit sur sa tête que c’est un gars qui encaisse et qui se fout du reste (genre arnaque totale) ou bien s’il est plein de bonne foi.

        Je n’ai pas eu d’échos comme quoi les gens ont demandé une compensastions, la plupart de nos clients viennent chez nous parce qu’ils recherchent ce type d’endroit typique et chaleureux, tu viens pas chez nous par hasard, c’est vraiment perdu dans la montagne quoi 😀 En général les clients sont compréhensifs là-dessus 🙂 Qqn de normal a plutôt pitié du patron qui trime comme un malade dans sa cuisine parce que la salle est plein à craquer et qui ne peut donc pas aller dans l’immédiat réparer la panne 🙂 Ouf, y’a pas que du monde pourri sur terre, ça fait plaisir à voir 🙂

        • Ouf, je suis heureuse d’entendre que tes clients ont bien pris la chose! Je trouve que je suis plus “cool” quand c’est une petite entreprise qu’une grosse multinationale aussi. Je sais que le patron trime derrière!

  6. WOW! My opinion is that it was not the hotel’s fault but it was very inconvenient. So i would have probably just ask for what the hotel could offer me (same as you did), but not try to take it too far.

    Something similar happened to my husband and I. The last hotel we stayed, the AC was acting up and it made noises all night. Not too loud, but definitely annoying. In the morning, before checking out, we told the front desk about the issue. They were very apologetic and gave us extra points without us asking for compensation.

  7. Pingback: The “Itchy & Scratchy Show” And the Hotel From Hell | Correr Es Mi Destino

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