Whether you’re working for a hotel, thinking about buying your own Bed and Breakfast, or you just started renting out a property on AirB&B, one of the most important aspects of your business is keeping guests happy. Unfortunately, one of the worst things about operating a hotel or other type of guest lodging is dealing with unhappy customers.
If you work in this industry, however, you probably have already seen that customer complaints can be categorized. Once you learn how to categorize each of these complaints, though, you’ll be able to arrive at a solution to the problem faster.
Things You Can’t Control or Fix (Easily)
Probably one of the most obnoxious categories of complaints are about things that you cannot control or fix. These customers are either looking for someone to vent to, or they want you to fix a much bigger problem in their life that you’re just not equipped to deal with. Examples include:
1. I arrived late.
Nothing is more frustrating to a person on vacation or a business traveler than dealing with travel delays. They spent tons of time and money booking the perfect trip, and it can seem as if the whole thing is ruined before they even arrive. Whether their airline booked them on a later flight or their car broke down, there just isn’t anything you can do about something that already happened.
Nonetheless, expect this complainer to expect you to refund their money for the unused hotel time. While there are hotels who will do that to keep a customer happy, it can be incredibly frustrating to a small business owner who is now expected to pay out of pocket for a problem that they didn’t create. Suggesting travel insurance can help solve this problem (some hotel owners even offer their own “protection” packages to mitigate this issue).
2. I got lost finding your hotel.
Because of GPS this is becoming a less common complaint, but it still pops up from time to time if someone misenters an address or the location is not clearly marked. Again, there is virtually nothing a hotel owner can do about something that happened in the past, but there are ways to mitigate the situation.
Make sure that your hotel is publishing the correct address and driving directions on all literature and websites that relate to it. You’ll also want to make sure that you have good signage around and leading up to the hotel.
3. I need more space.
It’s obvious to a hotel owner that it is impossible to change the physical size of a room, and yet it’s not uncommon for people to show up complaining that their room is too small. The best way to stave this off is to include as much information as possible about the size and layout of the rooms as you can on your website and all other 3rd party booking sites. Include a lot of pictures, and actually list the size and number of the beds and the overall square footage of the room.
Even with all these precautions, however, it’s not uncommon to get customers who will still complain. “The room looked a lot bigger in the pictures” is probably the most common complaint. It isn’t uncommon, however,to discover that their room is “too small” because they brought extra people on their trip, or that there was some sort of personal problem that arose that now makes it difficult for members of their travel party to sleep in the same room.
While some hotels will hand over an extra adjoining room to keep a customer happy, this practice can get pretty expensive fairly quickly. Instead, firmly insist on at last charging extra for the extra guests. If there really is a problem in which the room dimensions or size and number of the beds was advertised incorrectly, however, you’re likely stuck handing over the extra room or offering a partial refund.
4. I need amenities that aren’t included in your hotel.
Like most industries, some customers expect champagne service for beer money. Complaints about amenities usually stem from a person booking your hotel when they are used to higher level of service, they are the result of a mistake in the advertising, or they are the result of a customer reading an advertisement wrong.
For example, the term “breakfast available” can be interpreted to mean that a free continental breakfast is provided with the room, or at the very least that there is a restaurant on the property. Similarly, “free coffee” is often interpreted by customers to mean that there is a coffee pot in the room, when in reality you may simply have one urn in the lobby.
Avoid these issues by being as clear as possible in the advertising. If there is a frequent recurring complaint, however, it may be time to evaluate the business and see if it can be addressed. For example, if customers continuously complain that small items are missing from the hotel room, then it may be time to include those items in every room.
5. I want more time or extra rooms.
Customers who want to extend their trip or need to book extra rooms after they arrive aren’t always a problem, and at least they’re better than the ones who expect to be handed an upgrade or extra room for free. If your property is booked out, however, it’s possible for them to become agitated very quickly.
In many cases, needing the extra time or rooms isn’t a matter of just wanting to extend a vacation, it’s usually the result of something going wrong on a trip. Whether there was a family emergency or argument, they likely really need some type of accommodation.
If you can, make relationships with another hotel owner in town who tends to have availability when you don’t. You’ll be able to send your problem customer over to them, and hopefully keep the customer relatively happy.
6. There’s a problem with a meal or excursion.
When customers book a vacation package, they tend to assume that any problems they have with anything during their trip can be handled by the hotel. Very few people realize that these packages are little more than a collection of tickets, meals, and accommodation from businesses that have very little to do with each other.
Even if your hotel contracts directly with the third party venue and they rent space on your property, there’s often little you can do if a meal or event goes wrong.
While you can try your best to direct the customer to make complaints through the third party, odds are that they’ve come to you because the other party hasn’t responded to their complaint. The best thing you can do is listen and tell them that you’ll look into it.
If you think there is a legitimate problem, call the third party and see if there is a way to resolve it. Sometimes all a customer needs is a local person who can help them be heard.
Of course, if you notice that you are getting continuous complaints about one venue in particular, it maybe time to end your relationship with them.
7. I don’t like the area or I don’t want to be here.
This is one complaint that you can’t really do anything about. Often, this complaint comes up when a vacation didn’t go as expected. When so many things go wrong that a person just wants to go home, a hotel manager can’t really help them, other than offer to try and rebook them a flight home. When customers come to you with these types of complaints, often they just need someone to listen to them.
As a hotel manager, I’ve discovered that customers often have these complaints when they have had something go wrong in their lives on a personal level. I’ve listened to plenty of customers complain about a whole host of things outside of my control, only to discover that the real problem is that they’ve had a fight with their spouse or that this is the trip they’ve discovered the serious health problems of a family member. While it isn’t in your job description, just listen to them.
Things You Can Control or Fix
1. The check-in process takes too long.
Customers who complain that they stood in line waiting to be checked in for too long might have a legitimate complaint. Look at your check-in procedures. Do you need to add extra staff? Time how long each interaction with a guest is taking. If it’s too long, look into why. Is the computer system too slow?
Are employees spending too much time selling room upgrades or excursion packages? If so, it might make sense to contact customers after they get to their room for these sales pitches. After all, how successful can your front desk staff be if they’re trying to sell to a customer already angry about standing in line for too long?
2. The hotel is filthy.
Complaints about housekeeping need to be addressed right away. Have cleaning staff on hand at all times and available to clean up spills, vacuum floors, or re-clean a room if someone missed something. If you’re getting complaints about a particular area on a frequent basis, then it’s likely time to re-evaluate your cleaning procedures.
By the way, nothing will bring down a hotel faster than complaints about housekeeping. No one wants to sleep in a filthy room, and even a rumor about bedding that isn’t changed or bathrooms that are not cleaned will cause a massive slowdown in bookings.
Make sure that you address these complaints as quickly as possible. Also, do not use housekeeping as an area to save money. No matter how many guests you have staying, make sure your common areas are spotless.
3. Something is broken in my room.
Similar to housekeeping, make sure that you address these complaints quickly. While things such as a broken TV are an inconvenience, other broken items might lead to serious problems. Broken furniture is a safety hazard, as are broken appliances. Exposed wiring and broken elevators can earn your business a visit from a local health and safety board and likely result in a fine or shut down.
If you’re a small hotel owner, odds are you handle maintenance yourself and you don’t like paying for an outside company to come in. While it can be costly, the lost business due to having a hotel in disrepair (or worse yet, one that is unsafe) will cost a lot more.
4. I don’t feel safe.
If a customer ever comes to you with this complaint, figure out immediately what has happened and what they need in order to feel safe. If they are being harassed or threatened, do not hesitate to call the police. While no hotel really wants the image of patrol vehicles out front, the public finding out that a person asked you for help and you did nothing will be a lot worse.