By Janet Hawk
To quote the title of a book by Janelle Barlow, “A Complaint is a Gift” – that is, if you accept it as such. As anyone who has dealt with the public can tell you, it doesn’t always feel that way. Many times, it feels like a personal attack and can be a truly stressful experience, for all parties involved. We, as a society, have lost the ability to communicate effectively and it is never more evident than when things aren’t going our way or how we think it should be. It happens to the best of us. We are human, after all, and we all make mistakes (on both sides of the counter, so to speak).
We believe that great guest service is what makes loyal guests, ultimately leading to successful businesses. It is a habit for all of us to look at service situations for example (both good and bad), as we go through our day. Personally, I feel that there is far more to learn from those great or bad experiences as they leave the biggest impact. I recently experienced a bad situation that reminded me of some important points that bear repeating (I will not mention the company name as this is an opportunity to learn, not bash).
I flew into a city to work with a client a month ago and needed to pick up my rental car. It had been a long travel day as I had just left another client in another state and arrived late at my destination, so I was tired. I was ready to get to my hotel and get to bed! Apparently, there was a policy change at this particular site and it caused a big problem for me.
This particular company was my “go-to.” I had moved up the ladder to platinum status; I was a regular customer. The agent said they needed a “landline” phone number, or he would have to cancel my reservation. I explained I only had one cell phone which functioned as my home phone as well as my work phone as I am an independent consultant. I asked why they needed the second number. The agent responded with the usual, “It’s our policy.” I asked to speak to his manager and got the same response. So, my reservation was canceled, and I proceeded to the next counter over to try and rent a car. As I stood in line, I saw the manager call the agent at the new counter to “warn” her about me. I approached the counter and was given the same speech. Feeling EXTREMELY frustrated, I went to the NEXT counter.
I asked two questions:
- Do you need two numbers to rent a car? (Nope! And he looked at me like I was crazy for asking.)
- Do you have any cars? (Yes! And at a lower rate than the counter where I was platinum!)
I was finally able to get in a car and get to my intended destination that included a comfy bed.
The following morning, I called the 800 number to lodge a “formal” complaint. Having called the 800 number of several other companies, I really wasn’t hoping for much. My complaint was forwarded to the regional manager, but the employee was less than sympathetic.
TIP #1 – Equip Your Team
Those who answer your incoming calls deliver your guests’ FIRST impression. So many times, they are not equipped with dispute resolution skills. EVERY team member should have proper dispute resolution training. Excellent guest service skills are vital in every situation, good or bad, and every team member (front and back of the house) needs to be trained and given the tools to properly handle all possible situations. Anything less is doing a disservice to your team and your guests.
On with our story …
Amazingly, I received a call an hour later. The manager did apologize and then, explained the policy (thank you). He said they have started asking for a second contact number because they had received so many fraudulent numbers. They had just upgraded their entire fleet and should an immediate recall occur, they needed to get in touch. I asked if they would have accepted my hotel number. He said absolutely, in fact, that would be preferable.
TIP #2 – Explain “Why”
Telling your team “WHY” gives them a proper perspective and helps them explain your policies and procedures to your guests. This is a “secret weapon” to use to deescalate difficult situations. We, humans, want to know why and not just blindly follow “rules” or “because someone says.” It shows your guests you care about the level of service they receive. “It’s our policy” is never a good response to a guest’s question (and one of my personal pet peeves!). It’s a cop-out. Explain the reason for the guest. If you don’t know, ask your supervisor or management. The more you educate the guest, the better the experience for them.
Policies and procedures change, that is a given. But, so often, we don’t fully explain the whys, whats, hows and what ifs to our team members. This can be a big communication breakdown and causes a huge amount of stress to your guests AND your team. Don’t just send a memo; talk to your team! Make yourself available for questions, and offer them alternatives when handling these changes for guests. If it’s a major policy or program change, make sure there is plenty of management support for your frontline team members. Don’t send your frontline out alone. Support them! No one likes change, and it can cause stress on both sides. Give your team the tools to do their best in every situation when dealing with guests.
Now, the rest of the story …
I told the manager I would be back in the area several times throughout the next year and really didn’t want to deal with this again. He then suggested I use “Brand X” instead. I was stunned! “You are referring me to your competition?” Then, he explained they are sister businesses and that their “ditch the counter” option would be better for me for a few reasons and explained why. Cool!
He sent a follow-up email with instructions to setup my new account and told me to send my member number to him once I signed up and he would give me some free rentals (WOW!). Once all of this was completed, I explained what I did for a living and said this was a great training opportunity for not only his team, but one I could use as well for the properties I work with. This is a great example of customer recovery!
TIP #3 – Follow Up!
This is probably the most important part of customer recovery or dispute resolution and it is rarely consistent. This is where the great hospitality professionals flourish and exceed expectations, thereby creating loyalty. This isn’t just for those difficult situations, however. Those who really excel as hospitality professionals are constantly following up with their guests. Yes, it takes time, but it shows your guests you care about their experience. I can’t tell you the number of times in my career where we were able to correct a process or problem simply because a personal follow-up call, letter or email was sent. It’s the secret sauce to excellent guest service!
This is exactly why I try to not lose my cool and threaten to “take my business elsewhere” or anything like that when these incidences occur. I didn’t like it when guests did that to me and, as we teach in our guest service programs, you want to have the opportunity to WOW them with your customer recovery skills whenever you can. It’s like my Granny told me, “you attract more bees with honey.”