Insensitive Words Can Create Sensitive Guests

By Roberta Nedry President & Founder, Hospitality Excellence, Inc. | August 06, 2010

Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me - unless the words hurt my experience and make me mad. The first part of this classic phrase, usually introduced to young children, teaches us to be tough and not easily offended by what others say. However, using or choosing the wrong words or even a single word in communicating with any guest, customer or client can disrupt service delivery, even though the intentions may be good.

What are the words that make guests mad instead of glad? How can one little word or phrase lead to a big mistake? Understand how certain words and phrases upset guests and learn how to avoid them.

Recently, after a skiing trip in Utah, my resort services bill had a mistake for which I had documentation. I presented the sequence of events that led to the billing error, including dates, names and communications of all those involved. It was quite a thorough base of information and presented a clear picture of how the mistake had happened. It seemed fairly obvious and easy to fix. The supervisor I was speaking to listened and responded with the words, "I will have to research this and look into what you 'claim' happened." Her words turned my wonderful week long experience upside down and made me MAD. By using the word 'claim' she had thrown down the gauntlet and communicated that she did not believe me, that I may have been fibbing, that the customer was wrong. I had been so proud of my information. I was so confident that the mistake would be immediately corrected based on my thorough assembly of the facts. I was so pleased with my calm and pleasant demeanor in getting it resolved. And yet, when she said the word 'claim', my temples started throbbing and my blood began to boil. At that moment, we became adversaries. After spending a lot of money at this venue and enjoying a wonderful week long experience, this one person and her one word turned everything around. I would now leave this resort with a brand new negative impression. I left feeling she was not on my side and that my patronage was not appreciated. I doubt that is what this resorts management and marketing dollars intended. And, it was just one word.

Being insensitive to words and phrases that make guests sensitive can really mess things up for everyone involved. Think about some of the messes and emotions that happened from one frequent traveler's experience with words:

  • "I will look into it and if it just so happens you were right, I will address it internally"

    Here, the tiny word "if" could send someone into orbit. In this particular guest's case - it did! This comment actually came from a manager in response to this guest's distress over someone banging on his hotel room door, even though he had a 'do not disturb' sign on the door. The banging was from another employee and a guest stating that this was now their room and that the room was supposed to be unoccupied and clean. Since the current guest was still occupying the room and he was not checking out yet due to his wife, also in the room, recovering from surgery, this was an obvious mistake. And, yet, the manager had to determine "IF" the guest was right. Sounds like a very 'iffy' situation indeed After further research, this is what the manager discovered and shared back with the guest:

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In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.