Dealing with guest conflict is one the hardest things employees face in the service industry; if poorly managed, an on-property complaint can escalate to a bad online review and negative reviews can frighten prospective guests away and put a permanent scar on the reputation and revenue of your business.
When guests take the time to bring an issue to your attention, consider it a gift. They’re giving you the opportunity to make things right. The way you respond will have a decisive impact on the outcome.
Here are 6 guidelines for managing guest conflict in a way that prevents negative reviews and leaves guests feeling positive about you and your business.
1. Manage expectations
Guests arrive at your door with expectations of the quality, value and service your business will provide. If expectations are not met, conflict can result.
Preventing conflict starts with setting realistic expectations of the experience you provide. Ensure that descriptions, imagery and other information on your website, promotional materials and listings on third-party sites are an accurate reflection of your business.
Avoid superlatives in promotional materials like “best value”, “ultra-luxurious” and “uncompromising service” unless you’re confident you can deliver every time. Businesses are often called out in reviews over such claims. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver.
2. Be aware of triggers
Complaints in reviews are often less about the problem than about how staff handled the problem when it was brought to their attention. Triggers are things an employee does or says that make a guest angry. The more emotional a guest becomes, the harder it will be to reason with him.
There are three types of triggers:
Visual triggers: include gestures, body language, facial expressions, posture, personal presentation and environment. If your jaw is clenched, you avoid eye contact or your arms are folded, the guest may interpret this as apathy, inflexibility or even aggression. A messy workplace or disheveled appearance may also indicate a lack of concern. Show guests that you care by establishing eye contact, using open body language and ensuring that your surroundings are tidy and professional.
Verbal triggers: are related to the things you say. Interrupting can escalate a tense situation, as can telling guests they are wrong, refusing to accept responsibility and citing policy. Avoid saying things like “You should have” and “I can’t”; instead, tell the guest what you can do.
Vocal triggers: are related to the tone, volume and speed of your voice. Speaking too quickly can confuse or irritate a guest, whereas speaking slowly or loudly can come across as patronizing. Strive to speak clearly, with a strong, confident voice and a soothing tone.
In face-to-face interactions, visual and vocal cues play the dominant role. On the telephone, you must rely on verbal and vocal cues to convey meaning. In social media and email, you are limited to verbal cues, so choice of words is especially important.
3. Maintain a positive attitude
Be aware that you too have triggers. If a guest says something offensive or untrue, you may become annoyed and less willing to help. Work hard to control your triggers. Remind yourself that it’s your job to please customers, and sometimes that means setting aside your own feelings.
Attitude is key. Rather than dread having to deal with upset guests, think of these situations as a welcome challenge. Tell yourself, “I can handle this. I’m going to turn this guest around.” A positive attitude and great service can help you calm down even the most irate of guests.
4. Understand what upset guests want
Most people are reasonable. They don’t expect perfection, and they understand that mistakes can happen. Their needs are simple. They want:
An empathetic ear. Put yourself in the guest’s shoes. Traveling can be tiring and stressful, and hotels can be intimidating and confusing. Put guests at ease by reassuring them that you understand and are here to help. Introduce yourself and use their name to establish a rapport. Don’t deprive them of their need to vent. Give them your full attention, listen carefully and ask questions to clarify the situation.
An apology. A sincere apology is sometimes enough to appease an upset customer. People want acknowledgement when they feel they’ve been wronged. It may not be your fault, but that shouldn’t stop you from regretting that they’re upset and wanting to rectify the situation.
A quick solution. The longer it takes to fix the problem, the more upset the guest is likely to become. If guests are bounced around and made to repeat their story, it will increase their feelings of being hard-done-by. Don’t assume they’re looking for compensation. Rather than impose a solution that might not be the right fit, suggest a few options and work with the guest to find a mutually satisfactory solution.
Follow-up. Tell the guest how and when you will follow up. Be sure not to make promises you can’t keep. Record details in the guest’s profile, inform colleagues of the situation, and take the necessary steps to ensure the problem won’t recur. A follow-up call from management or a note and amenity to the guest’s room will reinforce your care and concern.
5. Support, train & empower staff
Management should provide employees with guidelines, training and empowerment to resolve issues quickly and effectively. If staff know how far they can go to appease upset guests and that management will support their decisions, they will act with more confidence.
If a guest’s demands are unreasonable, weigh the costs of fulfilling the request against the risks of not doing so. Suggest meeting the guest partway. For example, you might say, “I’m not at liberty to comp your room, but as a gesture of our regret we can offer a 25% discount. Would that be satisfactory?” If you’re not authorized to offer compensation, say you’ll discuss it with a manager and let the guest know when to expect a response.
If a customer threatens to write a bad review if you don’t give in to unreasonable demands, handle the situation with your usual courtesy and professionalism and work hard to find a solution. Review blackmail is against TripAdvisor’s terms of service. Go to TripAdvisor’s Management Center and complete a review blackmail form. If the guest follows through with the threat, dispute the review, referring back to the form.
6. Perform temperature checks
Rather than wait until departure to ask how the guest’s stay was, when it might be too late to fix problems, perform temperature checks during the stay. Ask open-ended questions like, “How is your stay going so far?” Be on alert for signs of trouble and follow up to ensure the guest doesn’t walk out the door upset.
By showing genuine concern and going the extra mile to turn around upset guests, you’ll not only prevent negative reviews, you may even generate positive reviews. With expert handling, upset guests can become your greatest advocates. Make it your goal to change the story from “We had a problem” to “Staff did an amazing job resolving our problem and we’ll definitely be back.”