How to Get Your Guests to Complain (and Improve Your Hotel)

As success coach Marilyn Suttle once said: “Thank your customer for complaining and mean it. Most will never bother to complain. They’ll just walk away.”

It may sound backwards, but you shouldn’t dread a guest vocalizing when they’ve had a negative experience — as long as they’re telling you personally and not the entire internet. On the contrary, it’s something to welcome. The guest complaint is what will show you where you are going wrong, from both a service and operational perspective. It is only by accepting negative guest feedback that you will know how you can improve. And, as we’ve covered before, it enables you to resolve your guests’ issues while they’re still on the property, thereby turning dissatisfied people into brand advocates.

Of course, it would be great if you knocked it out of the park every single time. It would be ideal if every guest was satisfied — better yet, blown away — by your hotel’s service. Unfortunately, in the real world, this is never the case. Even the most highly-rated properties on TripAdvisor have negative reviews.

Look at it this way: Huffington Post found that for every one guest who bothers to bring up an issue, there are 26 others who don’t say anything at all. This means your guest experience is satisfying fewer travelers than you think. And where do you suppose those guests are going to go after they’ve had an unsatisfactory experience at your property? To your competitor, most likely, but one thing is for sure: they’re disinclined to return to you.

There are numerous reasons people seldom complain to management, even if they have valid concerns. Some of them just can’t be bothered to make the effort. Others don’t feel it would change the outcome of their situation. And then there are those who shy away from confrontation, and those who feel they may be penalized for voicing their concerns.

Now that we’ve covered the why, here’s how you can get your guests to speak up.

Encourage them to come to you for anything they may need, at any time

What do your staff say when they hand your guests their room keys? Chances are it’s something like: “We hope you have a pleasant stay.” This is a lovely sentiment, but it’s passive. By merely hoping the guest has a pleasant stay, you’re telling them their satisfaction is out of your hands — that whether or not their stay is pleasant is a matter to be decided by fate.

Instead, make sure guests know your staff are always available to listen to their concerns and resolve them to the best of their ability. If necessary, change the dialogue at the front desk. Have your staff say, “We are here around the clock. If you need anything at all, please let us know. We want to make your stay a perfect one.” This gives guests the assurance that staff will listen and take action should an issue arise.

Empower staff to resolve guest problems

As we’ve covered, one reason guests do not complain is because they feel nothing will get done to resolve their concerns. There is an impression that front-line employees do not have the authority needed to adequately deal with negative situations when they arise.

This viewpoint is not unfounded; many employees in customer-facing roles shy from making major decisions out of fear that they will lose their jobs. Instead, they toe the line and cite company policy, even in situations where company policy does not apply or seems absurdly prohibitive.

This is why it is crucial to empower your staff to do what they must to keep guests happy, and make sure your guests know they have that power, too. Employees at Ritz Carlton Hotels, for example, are authorized to spend up to $2,000 to keep a guest happy, according to Forbes. When staff are empowered to make decisions, and frequently show that they can, guests will take notice and have more confidence in approaching staff when an issue occurs.

Take advantage of smartphone technology

Many guests do not bring their issues to management because they do not want to make the effort. To them, it’s easier to just leave the property and never come back. After all, there are thousands of other hotels out there to choose from. This is why it is so important to make it painless for them to bring up their concerns.

A mobile guest engagement solution is the most convenient way to connect guests with staff at any time, and from any place. Guests do not even have to be on the property to communicate with hotel staff; they can be at the café on the corner or taking in the city sights. Most travelers — 75 percent, in fact — say a smartphone is an essential travel companion, and carry it with them almost everywhere they go. A mobile guest engagement solution gives them a direct link to hotel staff at the touch of a button using their preferred device.

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