• Stephan Busch

Hotel & Restaurant Complaints are for the Boss only!

Living with complaints

Complaints, people shouting, screaming and threatening you are nothing anybody is looking forward to but we all have to live with it in hospitality. If possible without developing an ulcer or something worse. We don’t want to argue with a guest or prove him wrong ( even though he might be) as this is neither in the business interest or to our own advantage.

In Hotels & Restaurants we live with the rightful complain that the service might be slow, the soup not hot, the elevator out of service and we live with the guy who brings the match box full of cockroaches into the hotel to get a complimentary stay. Hotels and restaurants are just wonderful places to complain.

So how not to take it personal and grow an ulcer?

Complaints have an effect on you!

I had many of the this nasty unpleasant experiences when guests shout at you, point the finger at you or your staff and are over excited and hard to calm down. This has personal as well as physical effects on you. When you deal with such a situation the first time you might be even shaking, breathing hard and you will need sometime to get over it. You will think of quitting and you feel really bad up to physical pains.

Personality makes the difference

We all have experienced the nasty guest who enjoys shouting at the young lady at the reception and changes his behavior radically when a senior person, a personality shows up to handle his complaint. First of all you will need this personality on your payroll and that is sometimes already a problem as nowadays young and thus cheap inexperienced staff are preferred in hospitality.

Telling how to deal with complaints does not help!

It is always easy to say not to take it personal. I love it when I hear that in trainings. But on one hand they want us to bring in our personality, live the human to human business and when it comes to complaints I should react how? Turn into a concrete pillar? If someone tells me to be happy I don’t become a happy person. I am happy because of many different factors that influence my life. One of the important factors is my personality and attitude and how I developed. And this helps me also with complaint management. Not because you tell me. Show me! Guide me!

I often wonder if many hoteliers realize how many employees decided not to care at all after they were told not to take it personal.

It takes years of coaching, experience and personal development to come to the stage of not taking it too personal without not caring at all. It’s a fine act of balance that you need to help your staff achieve to feel comfortable and confident to deal with complaints. All trainings for complaint management tell you not to take it personal – few can explain how !

Training ? Yes ! But not too much !

The simple basic information how to deal with guest complaints can be trained and told very fast. Don’t spend too much time on this. Most students and hotel employees will tell you after a training session that they new 90% already of what you have just told them.

You will just provoke sentences like “ I want to see him when the Myers are coming to complain about the breakfast again“.

“Easy to say – not easy to do”.

“Wonder if he has ever been in our shoe’s ?”

You do not help them not to take it personal but that is what they are looking for.

Being an example and coaching.

How many times have I witnessed the scenario that when the guest came to complain the manager slowly closed the door and disappeared out of sight – leaving the employee alone. The example you are setting here is easy.

You create the wish of the employee ,who is facing the guest alone now, to be promoted soon to the manager position so that he – instead of you - can hide from than on and forever. No training session will help anymore. The wish to hide behind the door, the easy way out, has been created. No other option was available. Avoid the guest complain!

Complaints are for the boss!

When I started in hotels complaints were always a case for the boss. Might it be the Chief Receptionist at the Front Desk or the Headwaiter in the restaurant. Never were the young ones allowed to deal with guest complains. This was serious business that young employees had to learn slowly by observing the experienced. Even when the complaint was directly made to a young employee an older one would step in and take the heat and deal with the situation.

Clearly this has multiple advantages for the hotel, for the guest and for the staff.

1) It was the hotels reputation that was held up by a senior staff member.

2) The guest felt better and taken serious when a more senior position listened to his concerns. The higher the better!

3) The senior staff member had the experience and the judgment that the young one was still lacking. He had solutions in his sleeve and the young one could watch how they got pulled out one by one. A different solution out of the sleeve for every scenario.

4) The situation could be resolved fast because the senior knew how. No need for the guest to wait and let the anger grow.

5) The staff could take care of their normal work. The Guest that complaint was taken care of , the other Guest still needed our service and attention. Especially when you have complaints in public - at the Front Desk - you want to get the guest away from the desk where other guest are standing and listening. At the same time you get the guest in a more comfortable surrounding.

6) The young employee felt safe and protected. His confidence grew the more he learned and observed. At one point he was sure and confident enough that he could deal with the situation by himself. And more important he learned that it is his duty in the future to protect his employees in those situations.

7) Instead of creating the wish to have an office to hide in - the confidence to be able to deal successfully with difficult situations had been created.

Once I started myself to deal with complaints there was always someone senior there to advise me . Afterwards I was criticized or complimented how I dealt with the situation. Different option were pointed out how it could have been done better.

I was once send into the hotel lobby to listen to the complaints of an old lady who was a frequent loyal guest and always had her tea and cake in the lobby. When I came back after half an hour I told the headwaiter about her long list of complaints and that I do not know how to deal with her.

He simply ask me how I got away from her after half an hour? On friendly terms? Nice and polite?

I confirmed of course that I finished it on a nice note without any anger between us but that I felt that I could not solve her problems.

He than told me that this was perfect as that the lady came over twenty years , seating in the same place and complaining to whoever she got a hold of. This was fine and the situation had even improved as her mother had passed away five years ago and the two of them had the same complaint habits. The headwaiter explained me that she did not come for tea and cake only. She came for tea and cake and to complaint ! More for the last one than for the tea and cake. She never bothered other guest so this was totally acceptable. She was a guest with a habit and we learnt how to deal with it. As long as I worked in this hotel new staff were send to her to learn this lesson and she always taught them well.

It was a great way to learn not to take it personal. It was a business problem that had to be solved . You learned that it was your responsibility and that you had to find solutions but you learned not to take it personal. I also learned that you do not always have to solve a problem. Sometimes you only have to listen !

When I moved on in different hotels and different countries it was a shocking experience for me to see that this behavior was not common at all. Managers hiding from complaints could be observed. Managers blaming junior staff in front of guest . Managers and supervisors blaming their staff for mistakes to the upper management. It was disgusting but I soon realized that I was lucky. I knew better. Even tough at that point they were my boss - they had never learned how to really deal with complaints and problems and keeping their dignity. I felt pity for them. I still do!

All the years that I spend as a manager in different hotels I always did what I had learned at the beginning of my career. I told my staff that once there was a complaint and they did not want to or did not feel comfortable to deal with it to send me in. Throw me to the wolfs!

Most times an unbelieving look was the first reaction. Understandable and not surprising when I recalled what I had witnessed over the years in many hotels. Once they tried it out – what staff member wants to let that offer pass? - and send me into the first difficult task the whole situation changed. They could observe me without being in danger. They could judge the boss without being harmed. After that I could teach them what I had learned . They gained confidence , learned how to deal with the situation and I won their trust and respect.

If you need to face the tough guy – you have to be tough!

Early in my career we had in a German hotel a dinner for 14 business man. All in suit and tie. One of the young apprentice waiters served them beer. At one point he lost balance of the tray and poured six half liters of beer over the head of one of the Gentleman. That is quite a volume of liquid to wet you right through .

The shouting started immediately ! The headwaiter appeared right away , helped the guest , apologized and with one small gesture send the young waiter in the back to safety. The headwaiter continued to help the guest. Offered a Jacket right away send a bellboy to the washrooms with towels to assist the guest and apologized and sympathized with the guest and his situation. He even offered a room and clothes to change.

Once the guest was in better conditions the headwaiter promised that all cost for dry cleaning and other cost should there be any will be of course covered by the hotel. However this guest didn’t want to calm down. The shouting even intensified . When it was clear that all did not help the headwaiter changed his approach but never lost his calm.

He simply explained the guest that in this hotel young people get trained for the hotel industry and that unfortunately situations like the one experienced right now can occur. However his apologize are given , compensation offered but if that guest does not calm down immediately and starts again behaving like a guest he has to ask him to leave the hotel right now.

The guest looked astonished and than started even louder to shout for the General Manager. At this point another waiter appeared and together with the headwaiter gently took him by the arms , grasped the coat from the bellboy (ordered by the headwaiter in advance) and brought the guest out on the street. That was almost the end of that story. Later one we found out that this gentleman was a lawyer for one of the stakeholder of the hotel who made profit by asking for reduced payroll , more apprentices ( cheaper) and higher profits. That was worth a few beers!

I never forgot this lesson . Whenever I was beyond doubt that the guest was over doing it I ask them to leave. Personally and physically it makes you and your staff feel much better.

Not to take it personal and stay healthy is your responsibility. Work on it because you are responsible to assist guest who ask for help, help your staff, protect the business and make sure that all of them have fun! Fun is the best against ulcer!

“A complain is a gift!”

I am sure you heard that one. There is truth in it but I know that we sometimes wish we wouldn’t get so many gifts!

© 2017 by Stephan Busch