How to deal with chronic complainers when you work in hospitality
Whether you’re just starting out in hospitality or a seasoned veteran, there’s one challenge that nearly everyone in the industry has to face at some point: chronic complainers. Some, like front desk staff at hotels, customer service reps, or wait staff in restaurants, may bare the brunt of these well-known characters, but nearly everyone in the industry will likely face the issue at some point. The majority will be pleasant. Some will be delightful. Others – these chronic complainers – may make you wish you had chosen another path entirely. Fortunately, there are ways to handle these ‘negative Nellys’ without sacrificing your self-respect or damaging your employer’s reputation.
It starts with an attentive, responsive and consistent complaint resolution process:
Take the time to listen to every customer who complains. Don’t interrupt or make excuses; listen carefully and ask questions so you can uncover the real issue at hand. Some customers – whether dining at a restaurant or staying at a hotel – are just having a bad day and need an opportunity to vent. Others have problems that truly need solving. It’s your job to figure out what that problem is if you want to have any chance at solving it.
Thank the customer for bringing you his/her concerns. You can’t fix real problems if you don’t know they exist. Let complaining customers know you appreciate their time and empathize with their experience. This should immediately begin to diffuse the situation – even with irate complainers – as it will make them feel valued and understood.
Offer a sincere apology and take appropriate action. Whether it’s a pillow that hurt her neck or a steak that was too well-done, the issue may not be your fault, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to apologize. Whenever you’re dealing with guests, you’re an extension of the establishment and brand, so you’re essentially apologizing on its behalf. This can be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry that you had this problem/experience/disappointment.”
Determining an appropriate action to resolve the situation can be a bit more difficult. If a customer didn’t receive what he ordered or a dish wasn’t prepared as requested, get a new order out. If her room was too loud, move her to a quieter area. These are simple fixes and should be executed as quickly as possible. If the complaint involves a less tangible amenity or expectation, you may need to ask the guest what you can do to resolve the issue to his/her satisfaction.
Record the details of each complaint. This is the most important step if you want to reduce the possibility of a guest becoming a chronic complainer in order to score free upgrades, meal discounts, or otherwise take advantage of your hospitality. Note the customer’s name, address and phone number along with the reported problem and how it was resolved.
Let the customer know you are going to do this so someone can follow up to ensure she was satisfied. Your supervisor or manager can then check in with the guest at a later time – which can improve customer satisfaction in the event of legitimate complaints – and the very existence of the record may deter problem guests from becoming opportunistic complainers in the future.
This record can also be valuable if you later discover your customer has left a negative review online. Whoever is responsible for managing your digital reputation can respond to the negative review with pertinent details about how the problem was resolved.
If your employer maintains a record of complaints and resolutions, it will make it easier to identify chronic complainers over time, especially in the case of large restaurants or hotels where guests may interact with different employees at every visit. If it becomes apparent that a customer is lodging frivolous or made-up complaints in order to get free stuff, management can then use the record to justify telling him to take his business elsewhere rather than continuing to reward the bad behavior.