Chocolate Pillow | How to respond when things go wrong!
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How to respond when things go wrong!

10 Jan How to respond when things go wrong!

It is not very often that I hear something that changes my ethos on customer service – every day I see hundreds of articles and tips that provide advice on handling situations, and indeed I have myself been guilty of writing a few of these articles too!  Not so long ago, I heard something that actually changed the way I respond to feedback from guests, from someone who has now, quite rightfully, been elevated to the position of my boss (you know who you are!).

Too often, feedback is met with a positive or negative response, and actually finding some neutralising ground in the feedback conversation can be quite difficult as you either end up in an ungratified state or a defensive state.  To expand:

  • When someone gives positive feedback, most people are very unsure of what to say or how to react; often the response is a simple ‘It’s no problem at all’ or ‘Awww, Thankyou!’.  This is human nature and dealing with positive feedback is often more difficult than dealing with negative feedback – you end up unsure quite how to deal with the praise as most of the time, you are dealing with negative comments or complaints.  This is an ungratified state as the positivity is diminished quite quickly with a simple response – no-one really ends up truly gratified from this.
  • When someone gives negative feedback, it is human nature to become a bit defensive, often without realising it.  Take for example the guest who says that breakfast service was slow; whilst you may not say it, you are thinking ‘well there were 400 people for breakfast so what do you expect?’ and sometimes this is verbalised as a simple apology and offering of the excuse of ‘It was very busy this morning and we did try our best’ or similar.  This is the defensive state that everyone takes because you know how hard people work and the lack of recognition of this can cause you to defend people’s actions.

This article is about the negative feedback – positive feedback is great when received, but the negative is much more important to deal with.  All too often people hit a defensive state (it is a bad psychological and psycho-social trait that we all engage in); put simply, someone is (on a primitive psychological level) attacking you and your environment, so naturally you wish to defend and offer justification.  All too often we hear people jumping to defend departments and people.  Take for example the guest who complains that the room neighbouring them was noisy and kept them awake; a normal response would be to ask if they contacted reception to tell us and if anything was done as a result.  This is a good response, but it does 2 things – it acts as a defence, but also infers the responsibility sits with the guest (which is essentially true  as failure to notify us means we cannot do anything about it).  However from the guest perspective, we should be ensuring their stay is as comfortable as possible and this includes making sure that other guests are also behaving themselves – why weren’t the floors being monitored to ensure minimal noise, why should they have to ring us to tell us people are being noisy when we should be checking the floors regularly? – these are the thoughts that run through guest’s heads when we respond in a defensive manner!

I have talked before about the magic question in complaint handling – ‘How can we resolve this for you?’, but here is the magic response to negative feedback:

What could we do differently (or have done differently) to change or improve the situation?

Whilst it may seem strange, using this phrase actually helps to neutralise quite a lot of negative emotion surrounding complaints and does several things:

  • It shows you are listening
  • It says you want to change things
  • It says you are being proactive to find a solution
  • It prevents you becoming defensive and demonstrates you accept their point of view

You can of course then follow with the magic question – how can I resolve this for you? – but of course, it is important to use the right tone when saying this to avoid sounding patronising.  What you are doing with this question is actually saying to the guest that there are no excuses (you can offer an explanation but ensure you do not offer an excuse – an excuse is a defence, and explanation describes why the events happened but also accepts the guests point of view), you are accepting their point of view and are allowing them to tell you, from their perspective, how you could have managed the situation to their satisfaction.

In fact, using this question can lead to processes being changed to suit the guest preferences.  Take for example the guest who complains that the television isn’t working; the TV’s are programmed for each room and cannot be simply swapped with another TV set, so the only options are to have no TV or to move rooms.  By using this question, you are actually not going over old ground and are allowing the guest to explain to you why the options presented were not suitable; you may find a magic solution hidden in there somewhere!  The guest could respond with ‘well, just give me a TV that had BBC one on it’ (so perhaps a standard TV set could be purchased with a portable arial to cover these instances in future?), or they may say ‘Well I didn’t want to move rooms because I didn’t want to have to shift all my belongings’ – in which case you could ensure that future policy dictates that staff move all the guests items.  Or you may even find that the guest says ‘well, there was nothing much more you could do’ (but even then, they suggest something could be done as they said ‘not much more’ could be done, so what more could we have done?).

The key here is ensuring that when dealing with the negative comment, you are using it as an opportunity to learn – you may get lots of complaints about queues to check in or out, and a guest may suggest having an express check-in for regular guests or a system to check-in online or perhaps check out at breakfast if they have a zero balance or similar; they may suggest something that is entirely revolutionary and changes how you do things; but without asking, you are restricting yourself to finding solutions from only the people who work for you – you have a huge field of imagination and ideas in the hundreds of guests you see every week so why not ask them for their suggestions and ideas?

So there you go – ask this question next time you deal with a complaint and you will find that guests get more on your side with things – you are introducing collaboration in to the complaint handling arena, allowing the guest to feel they are part of something – imagine being a guest who suggests something and then returns to the same hotel a few weeks later to find that they have implemented that suggestion – how great would you feel that something you suggested is now being used to help you enjoy your stay more!

I have used this technique ever since, and I will honestly say that it defuses a situation fairly quickly and actually stops the whole negative aspect of arguing over minor details – it also ensures that guests feel valued and gives you a good external perspective on the situation.

Do you have any more suggestions on this idea?  Let me know in the comments!

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Matt Shiells-Jones

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

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