Keeping the Cool 

Let’s face it, hospitality can be a tough business to be in. Not only do we have to contend with the strong personalities of our cohorts, we also get to deal with irate guests from time to time – which is not for the faint of heart. If you’re in the hospitality business, you have come across an irate guest at one time or another. The key to survival is to know how to understand your guests and effectively mitigate the damage.   

One of the recurring questions I hear come up at my hotelier retreats is this: how do we deal with them and not blow up?! Having worked in large corporate properties with often stressed out guests, where sadly being ticked off was the rule and not exception, I was able to speak to this and provide these insights:

It’s not about you – First and foremost, understand the guest’s irateness is NOT about you, it’s about frustration and the want to be heard. 98% of the time the guest is not actually upset with YOU, they’re upset with the situation. Being the manager or the guests service agent, you get the pleasure of hearing about it. So first thing’s first, remove YOURSELF from the dialogue that is coming at you. This will also help make for better judgment calls.

Be open to criticism – Again, understand this is most likely not about you. Then open yourself up to criticism. As the ambassador for your property and brand, let them explain the problem and think critically about how this problem can be fixed, and how you can keep this from happening again. As the ambassador, you will WANT to know what issues can be addressed for a better guest experience.

Actively LISTEN to the guest – Don’t just offer up something free to shut the guest up. This is just placating them when they really want someone to genuinely listen to them. During confrontation, look them directly in the eyes (but not in a hostile way), periodically nodding to convey you’re listening. Once they have done their rant, succinctly restate all the highlights they told you during said rant; this will REALLY show them you’re actively listening.

ALWAYS apologize for the situation – No matter who’s at fault (usually us), always apologize for the situation that happened to them. Be genuine about it, which is all in the tone. Never tell them right away that what they did was wrong or ask them if they did such-and-such. Don’t explain the situation away with back-of-the-house knowledge that is of no consequence to them. That’s a sure fire way to get more fire and brimstone.  Always acknowledge, never just react.

Give them options – No one wants to be told flat out “no” when making a request, especially when trying to rectify a tumultuous matter. Always, always, always offer guests options. This way they have more than one option and can decide for themselves what would be in their best interest. I myself always try to offer three different options, depending on the situation. Have them walk away feeling they were in control.

Touch base – once the situation has been alleviated or looked into (if it’s being researched), reach back to the guest and apprise them of any development on the issue or ask how they’re doing. This shows them you’re genuinely interested in their well being and willing to take time out of your day to acknowledge them. Perhaps send them a small amenity with a personalized hand-written note.