Muzzling the Guest From Hell
By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | October 2008
Consider momentarily two of the responses received from my previous article "Besting the Guest from Hell"
"I had the misery of dealing with such a guest when I was the GM for (named) Hotel. Sadly, this cretin called the corporate offices and lied and slandered me ruthlessly. I had worked with that company for four years, increasing occupancy and profits. Yet, this one creature, behaving similarly to the Presidential Suite creep in your article spouted off about legal action and my tenure quickly changed into being micromanaged. Needless to say, I resigned within a year. It seemed his celebrity superseded anything I had done. I did tell everyone in my city and chain about his behavior and we were protected from his ilk. I believe your bad guest list is a wonderful idea. I hope it takes hold. I thank you. It is rare that I respond to an article, I felt yours required positive feedback."
"Thank you for telling the truth-such a rare thing now-and addressing a topic near and dear to many service people's heart. Although no longer employed in the Hotel/Restaurant business, my eighteen-plus years in the business, unfortunately, left me with more memories and stories of the bad guest than the good. Throughout my time in the business, I compiled these stories in my head and contemplated my first book, to be titled 'The Customer is Not Always Right.' Without ranting on with these stories, but sticking to my intention of giving you good feedback for your article, my one comment would be that the select few who behave this way do it because they have consistently gotten away with this behavior. When managers empower employees to treat these people correctly, and their success rate goes down, maybe they will learn that far more is achieved with honey."
Without wanting to undermine application of the dictum, "The customer is always right"-invaluable in gracefully resolving genuine customer complaints from guests who are merely poorly served, cantankerous, or difficult...even if they do often embellish their complaints with hyperbole for effect-I feel the time is ripe for a counterattack on those whose intent is not to right a wrong but who make a habit of trying to obtain something for nothing.
For such is the definition of a criminal, whether bopping one on the head and running off with one's wallet; "making" vast fortunes through hedge funds and other manipulations of virtual money at the expense of the actual, physical economy; or hopping from one hotel to another without exchanging the valuables required to pay the wages and bills. It does not matter how many platinum cards guests carry or tailored suits they wear: if their intent and activity is to maneuver for a free ride by manufacturing complaints out of whole cloth instead of enjoying good service delivered in good faith, then they are criminals.
So what to do? Well, it's time we applied some good old hospitality technology to what is probably an age-old problem. "Besting the Guest From Hell" recommended adopting the Butler's traditional "Black Book" of employer misdeeds and character issues. We would upgrade this tool, a hard-backed book filled in with a stubby pencil or quill pen, to a 21st Century Web-based databank solution administered by one or two individuals. Having the same general purpose as a sexual offender list, the Hospitality Black Book would differ in that the list would not be open to the general public or even anyone in the hospitality industry, but only be accessible by the administrators, with oversight by an industry board of advisors. Said information on egregiously offending guests to be solely in the form of facts: date and time of criminal acts; location; exact specifics on what the guest said or did without any opinions or conjecture thrown in; the outcome of the guest's actions; and a sworn attest from the person(s) making each report.