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How to handle guest complaints
April 23 2013

Hoteliers can turn negative feedback into positive by taking an empathetic approach.

Highlights
  • The key to dealing with negative feedback is to show empathy with the customer's point of view.
  • Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but dealing with it in a constructive way will reflect your professionalism and reputation.
  • Give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen.

This is the final part in a two-part series about understanding and dealing with customer feedback and complaints. Read the first part here.

In part one we discussed why complaints are a good thing, and how to encourage guests to give feedback—both good and bad. In part two, we discuss how to handle complaints in a positive way to achieve a win-win scenario.

Dealing with negative feedback
It can be easy to get defensive when we receive negative feedback. What we need to ask customers is what led to their perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way. The key is to show some empathy with the customer's point of view.

Even if we disagree with complaining guests, something happened to trigger their perception. Listen to what they’re saying and turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologize (even if you're apologizing for the guest feeling upset) and demonstrate what changes you've made, if appropriate.

Online reviews
This same principle applies to online reviews. How you respond to an online review will not only influence your reputation with the guest in question but also with anyone else reading the review. Ignoring your online reviews (good or bad) can give the impression you don’t care. Even worse, being defensive suggests you’re denying any problem exists, which can make the situation worse.

Show people you appreciate the feedback by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. For example, register with TripAdvisor and set up a Google alert on your hotel so you know when people are talking about your business online.

Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but dealing with it in a constructive way will reflect your professionalism and reputation. Take the discussion offline as quickly as possible by asking the negative reviewer to call you. This provides an opportunity for you to get more details and have a better chance of resolving any issues without having to share the discussion with the rest of the world.

Don't be concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child-friendly establishment, this might be seen as a positive for some potential guests.

Additionally, watch out for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can engage with your guests and respond accordingly.


Empower your team
Give your team the skills and authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them on how to ask for feedback, and just as importantly, how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is better for the customers because it gets them a quicker solution; it’s better for the team because dealing with the problem gives them pride; and it’s far better for you because it means you don't have to always been involved.

Don’t assume because you've told people how to do something they will be able to go out and deliver it consistently. Let your team practice in a safe environment based on different scenarios. Also, set up their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the guest compensation and at what point staff might need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handles complaints and give them feedback after the event, giving them the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

The LEAF list
Additionally, use the LEAF checklist as a guideline to help deal with complaints in the future.

Listen: Listen to the customers and identify the problem. Show them you're listening, and reflect back to the customer to show them you've understood. Park the emotion, and focus on the facts.

Empathize: Apologize to guests to show that you understand they’re disappointed, but don’t take it personally. Customers aren’t interested in excuses. Even if the problem wasn't your fault, show that you're looking to come up with a solution for your guest’s peace of mind.

Action: Ask customers what they would see as an acceptable solution, and offer alternatives so they feel like they are in control. Look to overcompensate by at least a few percent, but it’s not always about throwing money at the problem. Tell the customer what you’re going to do and not why things went wrong.
 
Follow up: Check that the customer is happy with the outcome. Learn from the feedback and look into recurring trends to prevent similar complaints from happening again, and then pass that on to your team so they know how to resolve similar situations in future.
 
With the right approach, complaints can turn a negative into positive. You can’t always get everything right, but when you don’t, you have to fix it.

Caroline Cooper is founder of Naturally Loyal who helps businesses to get more sales through their existing customers. Caroline specializes in working with hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses, helping them build loyalty through giving customers outstanding experiences and staying on their radar to trigger repeat business. She is author of the ‘Hotel Success Handbook’.

The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of HotelNewsNow.com or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Columnists published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.

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