Chocolate Pillow | Complaint Handling lesson 1
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Complaint Handling lesson 1

05 Apr Complaint Handling lesson 1

Welcome once again to my weekly blog, I hope you enjoyed last weeks entry!

This week I want to talk about complaint handling, and offer a few little pieces of advice that may help you out when dealing with complaints (or even whilst complaining!). Now I recently had cause to complain to a large holiday operator about the pricing of my holiday, specifically about the pricing of upgrade options. The general notion of the complaint was that they were trying to charge me more than advertised for the upgrade to my booking, in fact nearly 4 times as much!

The communication went something along the lines of me phoning and asking for the upgrade and being told a different price to the one I saw advertised, which I naturally queried. I was told this was as per their T&C’s of booking as the upgrade cost was fixed at the time of booking.

Unfortunately the holiday company chose the wrong person to play with; I am what would be known as a ‘professional complainer’ in that when complaining I ensure that I have as much evidence as possible to prove my points, and often will complain out of pure principle, not in order to get something out of the complaint. Hence I asked where in the terms it stated that the upgrade prices were fixed. This request was met with ‘well it says it in there’, again I asked where specifically, what clause? The response being ‘I don’t know, I will just go and find out’.

This brings me to the first point for staff – know what you are talking about! Do not simply state things without being able to back up what you are saying. Know where information is and how to find it quickly and most importantly, do not refer to clauses in terms or anything of the sort without being able to prove where such a clause exists!

Whilst I understand it is vital to ‘tow the line’ when it comes to company policy, any organisation will not move forward, adapt and adopt it’s customers needs in to policy without being challenged from time to time. I am not saying that you should march to the directors office and start demanding change, I am talking about managers using complaints like this to develop policies and procedures and ways to deal with such complaints, then passing these on to others.

In this complaint, I have now taken the matter to an external ombudsman after sending around 7-8 emails, all requesting details of the exact clause stating that the offer I saw was new customers only, and also to prove that the terms of my booking state that the upgrade cost is fixed as soon as I pay the deposit. I have never had these details given to me, instead I have simply been ‘fobbed off’ with assumed clauses – where something is done because everyone says or does it but no one knows why!

This brings me to my second point – never allow a complaint to escalate out of control. Respond to every detail of the complaint, no matter how minor and be honest about it. Honesty plays a huge role in complaint handling, if your team messed up, or if you messed up, admit it! Defending a poorly handled situation is futile, as by that point nothing can resolve it, you just have to do what you can to offer assurance that things will change.

It would be unfair for me to dispense this advice without telling you what I would do in this situation, the answer is simple and has one of two outcomes:
Provide the evidence of terms as requested, within the first email response, and explore the upgrade options with the guest to see if there were any possible alternatives that were nearer the price they were looking for
Provide the upgrade at the advertised price if I cannot prove any terms exist. Holding someone to something that you cannot prove or even reference quickly, states that as a company you are inflexible, unwilling to address concerns and are utilising your market position and company size to bully your customers in to submission. Never do this as a company…ever… I really mean it! Never!

One cardinal rule for any hotel is to be flexible. If someone cannot come due to bereavement or illness, do not just cancel and forfeit the booking deposit, offer an alternative date where possible; basically show some compassion, be human, and care about your customers! As a guest, please be aware that we will try to accommodate everything we can, but do not be ridiculous with your requests (for example, booking on a promotional sale offer and asking to be upgraded to an executive suite for free is pushing it a bit far).

I do not know what will come of my complaint, nor if anything will change because of it in the future! Now it is not the money, it is the principle! I have now changed tour operator for my future holidays, to someone who actually makes things clear on their bookings!

One vital piece of information for anyone making a complaint is to be nice, not rude or aggressive, to the person dealing with your complaint. You are dealing with human beings, and screaming at someone and making demands will not usually help your cause! Friendliness engenders favours and genuine concern, aggression breeds contempt.

Next week I will talk about compensation and making offers to resolve complaints. The above points and more are covered in my book ‘how to be a hotel receptionist’ available from and on the amazon kindle. So enough shameless promotion and before I go I will leave you with a story I was once told, one that demonstrates a powerful point about things being done for no actual reason:

A cage contains 5 monkeys. In the centre of the cage is a pyramid staircase, with some fruit at the top of the stairs. All the monkeys explore the cage and one spots the fruit. They head up the staircase towards it, but as soon as they step on the staircase, the other 4 monkeys are sprayed with water. Another monkey tries, and the same thing happens. A third monkey heads toward the staircase but is stopped by the other monkeys who attack him. Now all 5 monkeys have learnt that stepping on the stairs means they get sprayed with water.

Now 2 of the monkeys are taken out, and replaced with monkeys who have never seen or been in the cage before. Immediately, one of the new monkeys spots the fruit and heads towards the staircase. The 3 original monkeys attack him, and the the other new monkey joins in the attack because he wants to be part of the group. The 2 new monkeys have learnt that stepping on the staircase means getting attacked, but they do not know why as they were not sprayed with water, only the original 3 monkeys know about the water.

Now replace the remaining 3 original monkeys with new monkeys. As one approaches the stairs, he is attacked by the two monkeys that were put in previously. Again they all learn that approaching the stairs means that they will be attacked.

Now you have no original monkeys in the cage. None of them get sprayed with water, and none have ever been sprayed with water. None of them go near the staircase as they will get attacked. But why do they get attacked? Simple… Because that is the way it has always been!

Matt Shiells-Jones

Husband, Author, Hotel Manager and ambitious 'old cat lady'

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