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When Process Fails — And You Are Left Without Hot Water

After renting a penthouse in Manchester city, we discovered it had no heating or hot water. This is how what seems like a robust Airbnb process ultimately failed us.

Woman wearing yellow top on the phone with broken boiler and no hot water

Should an apartment in the middle of the second biggest city in the UK offer hot water?

A couple of weeks ago, we rented an apartment in central Manchester. The Airbnb listing looked great; a two-bedroom penthouse in a central location, £430 a night or about £1,300 for the weekend. We had gone through the amenities mentioned online and were looking forward to having a great weekend in the music capital of the UK.

However, we were quickly disappointed to find the place had no heating and… no hot water! But this was just the beginning of what turned out to be a surprisingly frustrating endeavour, due to Airbnb's rigid approach to following a predefined process, instead of common sense.

A Very Cool Apartment

After we discovered our apartment did not have heating or hot water, we reached out to the ‘host’ (Airbnb lingo, not mine) to try and get things sorted and we attempted a few amateur approaches to fix the issue, but nothing worked.

We stayed in the apartment for the weekend with no resolution, and when we returned home, we received a message from Airbnb asking about our experience in the penthouse we had just unhappily vacated.

They asked us, “Was everything okay?” to which I promptly said: No. The form continued to ask whether we wanted a partial refund.

Now, how much would you pay for an apartment you knew did not have hot water? I wanted to be reasonable, so considering the place was £430 a night, I asked for £100 off. A couple of days later, the ‘host’ (again, not a particularly stellar one, we soon discovered) sent us £30. This means the woman thought a day at a penthouse with no heating and no hot water was worth £400. Would I have booked the place for that price knowing what I knew then? Definitely not. But, as I said, we’re just getting started.

Airbnb’s Involvement

Soon after we received our 'hefty' refund, Airbnb called us up. We had been assigned a personal case manager! So, we went through all the communications and documentation, and they asked us: Did this listing say that the apartment had hot water?

airbnb phone app

Somewhat in disbelief, I checked the penthouse page, and no, it did not specifically state that it had it. To be honest, I can’t remember any place I have ever booked stating this - but then again, it’s not something you normally prioritise when looking for a rental, is it? Because, and correct me if I’m wrong, most people will take for granted a penthouse will have hot water. Perhaps you can’t make that assumption in other parts of the world, but in the middle of Manchester, and for that price? So, I carefully replied that no, the listing did not say “hot water”.

We then moved on to the next issue: Heating. Thankfully the listing did say that the penthouse had heating. Our personal case manager asked: Did you take any photo evidence that the heating wasn’t working? I thought for a little while and then replied: You mean… thermostatic readings? She said yes. I should have expected it; after all, who goes on holiday without their thermostat?!

When Process Fails

At this point, I wanted to move on from this whole business, so I let the thing go. But one thought remained: Was this a process failure on the part of Airbnb?

I think the biggest issue with this whole situation, apart from a host that might have been getting away with this for a while, stems from a lack of employee empowerment.

Airbnb has a process in place for dealing with customer complaints and handling any refunds that result from them. It’s a good process! The company is obviously invested in keeping guests happy, as they assigned us a real proactive human to deal with the issue. How often do you get that these days? They also ended up refunding us £200 out of their own pocket - I mean, they did get more than that in the fees resulting from us renting the place. But I digress; ultimately, the strictness of their process got in their way.

The representative had a set of steps they followed to the letter. Probably something like calling the guest, asking for evidence of whatever went wrong (then probably contacting the host and trying to resolve things to keep both parties happy). But a customer should not have to carry a thermostat everywhere they go to prove the heating there works. In this case, it’s ultimately the Airbnb person who should have the freedom to make a judgement call and say: You know what? I think that an apartment in the middle of Manchester, and for that price, should have hot water (also, considering the circumstances, I believe a £100 refund was more than reasonable).

Empowering Team Members to Make Sensible Decisions

Although we did try to arrange for things to get fixed with the host, once we had left the house, we only dealt with Airbnb. As I mentioned, I think their process was a good one; it does make a difference to be able to talk to a real person instead of just filling in forms. But ultimately, the process failed because the human was only able to follow their company's process to the letter. They had not been empowered to make sensible decisions, and we were still left feeling like things should have worked differently.

Person's head with lightbulb and cogs

I think this is just a wasted opportunity. Sometimes, things are not black or white. We weren’t talking to a computer; we were talking to a person, and that person should have been empowered to use their common sense and be able to take action.

Everyone makes mistakes, but when things go wrong, it’s how you handle them that matters. When the Airbnb person was on the phone, we could hear her embarrassment the second she asked us about the temperature readings. Processes can always fail, but most of the time, the reason they do is that you haven’t empowered someone to make a sensible decision.


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