The art of handling complaints

Most people usually go into the hospitality and/or service industry because they generally enjoy meeting new people, creating relationships and making people happy. The well-known hospitality person is the one that feels rewarded by delivering excellent service and seeing a delighted guest.

When we enter this business, however, nobody warns us that a significant proportion of our time will be spent not with delighted smiling guests, but trying to resolve problems and issues for unhappy ones.  As it’s National Smile Month, here are our solutions for turning an unhappy guest into a forever grateful, loyal and happy one.

Here are six golden rules to help you on your way:

1. Active listening – listening is an underestimated skill, but sometimes it’s all your guest needs.  However, we tend to listen while waiting for our turn to talk. We listen to someone through our own view of the problem or whatever they are saying.  It might be the 100th time you’ve heard that particular issue but consider that the guest in front of you is saying it for the first time.  Consider the guest’s individual situation and the reasons why they have decided to come to you. To quote the author Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand.”

2. “Become the change you want to see” (Ghandi) – come into work with a solution-focused mind. If you genuinely want to help your guests, they will notice this on your behaviours and actions and be grateful, even if you can’t always say yes nor do anything for them, they will see you have tried.

3. Don’t take it personally – from time to time, you might have an irate guest that takes their frustration out on you. We know, it’s not fair, it wasn’t you, it’s not your job and it’s not under your control. They don’t realise or don’t seem to care. The secret is not to get discouraged by those few unpleasant experiences and realise the criticism is not directed towards you personally.

4. Avoid instinctive reactions – someone is rude to you; the natural tendency is to be rude back. It’s only normal to feel that way.  However, it’s even more powerful to choose not to mirror them. It is in your interest to get the situation resolved, so next time someone is rude to you, choose to be extra nice and professional to them and you could be surprised by their reaction.

5. Say ‘No’ but offer alternatives – a lot of people get nervous about saying ‘no’ to their guests. You’ve been trained to please people, how can you deny their requests? Unfortunately, there are situations where you will have to.  The secret of saying ‘no’ to a guest and still leave them happy is to suggest an alternative to their problem. I was once surprised at a shoe shop, when I asked for half-sizes, the assistant politely explained: “Well, we don’t have half-sizes but we do have insoles”. It was so simple! I left happy and they sold more to me than just a pair of boots.

6. Follow up – approach each problem as an opportunity to gain another loyal guest. Where appropriate, contact the guest afterwards to find out if their issue has been resolved. They will probably not be expecting it and will definitely appreciate your gesture.

Any business and its people should welcome complaints. How else will you know where you can improve?

Ultimately, complaint handling is about practice. The more you experience, the better and more confident you become at it. As Albert Einstein once said: “The only source of knowledge is experience.”

By Ana Canabarro

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