When the customer isn't right: how to prepare your hotel staff to deal with rude guests
We’ve all heard the old saying, “The customer is always right.” Well, not always. Retaining a stable service staff that’s happy and providing the best possible customer care is accomplished by keeping them from being mistreated in any way. You know they work hard and should not be subject to any level of abuse from a guest. Your staff needs to know that you care and will go the extra mile for them.
Strategies for Handling Difficult Guests
It makes sense to put some strategies in place for dealing with rude guests that result in satisfying the paying customer (if possible) while respecting your staff’s efforts to do their jobs. Steve DiGioia, a 25+ year veteran of the restaurant and hotel industry, is a customer service trainer, author and speaker, dedicated to training & leading teams of professionals toward one goal: “to strive for excellent customer service and guest experience.” No manager wants to hear that a customer is upset or unhappy, but what should you do or say? What’s the most simple and effective way to handle the situation?
Here are 5 suggestions to help your employees diffuse a heated situation:
1. Be sure your staff knows to get management involved so he/she can intervene and handle the problem. The answer isn’t always to give the guest a “credit” or comp their room. If the employee has made a mistake, that makes sense. If not, you don’t want to encourage this behavior on future visits or with other properties you manage.
2. When you are engaged with a disgruntled guest, your first step is to actively listen. Try to understand what is motivating the complaint and if it’s a legitimate problem. Most people just want to be heard and understood. That goes a long way toward mitigating the problem and finding a solution that works for everyone.
3. Offer staff training in “emotional skills.” Employees need to develop a willingness to learn and be optimistic and warm along with demonstrating empathy and good self-awareness. They spend a lot of time interacting with guests. When employees learn to control their emotions, are positive in managing the guest’s expectations and act in a rational manner, it can de-escalate a problem and become easier to find a suitable solution.
4. Head off a problem by ensuring that new or inexperienced employees are not left alone to handle the front desk or other customer-facing positions. Managers or supervisors should provide support by allowing the new hire to observe an experienced employee in the position. Also, providing an opportunity for employees to take a short break after a difficult customer interaction can give them a chance to regain control and come back to work in a better frame of mind.
5. Sometimes, you have to “fire” the customer. If a guest has a history of combative behavior and creating stressful interactions, it may be wise to suggest they might be more comfortable at another hotel. Trying to retain disruptive customers creates undue stress for your employees and can cost more than the value of the business they bring to you.
Needless to say, these skills apply in all areas of hospitality. Whether you’re dealing directly with guests or managing staff, having the interpersonal skills to successfully handle difficult situations will be a huge benefit in advancing your career as an effective leader and making sure your staff are well-prepared.
Boosting Morale on a Regular Basis
No matter what’s going on day-to-day, building a strong team means doing a few extras to keep your employees fresh and engaged. According to Mike Michalowicz, author of several business books, speaker and former business columnist for The Wall Street Journal, there are some simple things you can do to right away to build the positive energy that translates to superior customer service and maintain morale.
Mike offers these tips to get the ball rolling:
- Have a brief morning “huddle” every day – hold a standing meeting to talk about what’s working and share progress.
- Break out of the rut – change things up in small ways to add a little variety to the daily routine.
- Remember to talk about “why” – share the wins and how someone’s day was made better because of a kindness or courtesy you’ve shown.
- Say “Thank you” – say it and mean it. People love to be appreciated.
- Listen – meet regularly with small groups or individuals to understand the challenges they face. Take the time to really understand the need and act on it.
- Do something unexpected – Occasionally (or maybe monthly) hire someone to come in and do neck-massages, order in a group lunch, take an hour and provide some entertainment or fun activity.
Of course, careful selection of employees at the hiring stage is critical. Whenever possible, screen for staff that displays initiative, can cope with stress and be flexible as well as sensitive to others’ needs. There has to be an emphasis on personality, energy and attitude as well as experience and education. Employees must feel supported by management and be given the skills to manage difficult situations. The best hotels have happy guests and happy staff.