How to Respond When Guest Problems Arise

There are endless ways to innovate and improve guest experience, but the reality is that problems do arise along the guest journey despite companies’ best efforts. In hospitality, this could include issues such as an error in a client’s bill, room service sending the wrong item, or failing to offer the room that was initially booked.

Customers understand that mistakes happen, but they expect companies to actively work to resolve problems. In fact, research from Medallia shows that when consumers believe they have put in more effort than a company to resolve an issue, they are twice as likely to tell someone about the bad experience and four times more likely to stop purchasing from the company.

This is critical in hospitality, considering that 45% of guests believe hotels do not exceed expectations (20% also say their expectations are now higher than they were two years ago). Hospitality organizations must take action to stand the best chance of preserving (and strengthening) guest relationships, even with occasional bumps in the road.

A Two-pronged Approach to Problem Resolution

Hoteliers need certain processes to resolve issues (or ‘close the loop,’ as I call it) not only with guests but with associates to ensure they inherently understand requests and complaints. Employees are the lifeblood of an organization; they are entrusted with proactively responding to problems to ensure satisfaction and loyalty. At the end of the day, you need to focus on your employees just as much as your guests.

Let’s start by looking at today’s most common guest problems. A 2017 study conducted by hospitality app ALICE reveals that, despite rapid advancements in technology, today’s top complaints are all relatively simple and preventable:

  • Too hot or too cold in room (24%)
  • Unable to connect to Wi-Fi or feel that it is too slow (14%)
  • Too much noise heard from the room (11%)
  • Room is not clean enough (10%)
  • Problems with charges, payment and booking expectations (6%)
  • Maintenance issues (6%)

Consider the issue of unmet booking expectations. I can say firsthand that if a guest’s arrival experience (i.e. pre-booking, booking, pre-arrival, check-in) is exceptional, his or her entire journey will likely be positive. Make this more exceptional with the ability to check-in ahead of time (76% of guests believe this would minimize potential frustration). Or, customize communications throughout the reservation process to emphasize each guest’s individuality and preferences.

But these steps alone aren’t enough, and that’s where your employees come into the picture. Leaders should encourage associates to take three actions in line with problem resolution:

Respect consumer choice

A superior experience is about delivering service in the ways guests expect, on their terms. So, encourage employees to conduct pulse checks on how guests are doing throughout their stay and what would ultimately make things better. This could be something as simple as asking how a guest’s in-room experience has been so far, or what their ideal front desk experience would look like. Encourage employees to ask specifically about the abovementioned complaints that commonly happen in hospitality. This can help identify trends in problems to reduce or eliminate them in the future.

Don’t underestimate the power of honesty

In today’s age of transparency, guests respect brands that are upfront about an issue and how they plan to resolve it. A personal example of this that I can share was when a guest recently made same-day reservations for a feather-free room. We received the reservation and prepared the room, but mistakenly blocked it for another guest. The worst part was that this problem had occurred before for this guest, who was now claiming our reservation system was broken. And you know what? I agreed, admitting that we needed to take ownership of the issue by improving our system as well as internal communication. I even offered to buy this guest dinner, which led to things eventually lightening up with laughter and good conversation.

Be a customer empathy expert

Nine times out of 10, all guests want is empathy towards their situation. In fact, 58% would rather have the chance to simply express their anger/tell their side of the story versus a monetary remedy, according to a “Customer Rage” study from Dialog Direct. Hospitality organizations must cultivate a culture of empathy to stay connected with customer needs, starting from the top down.