The Art of Listening: The Key to Successful Complaint Resolution
By Erik Van Slyke Managing Director, Solleva | October 10, 2010
Customer complaints are a regular part of the hotel business. Even hotels known for service excellence receive a daily litany of grievances from dissatisfied guests. Some complaints are clear, direct and easy to understand. Others are expressed more subtly, less verbally, and in the worst case scenario, by a lack of repeat business.
No matter whether the feedback is justified or nothing more than the grumblings of chronic complainers, the way we resolve the complaints of guests makes a lasting impression. Our ability to listen, in particular, can give us important clues to help us navigate the interactions effectively.
An event sales manager once explained, half in jest, that his job would be much easier if he did not have to "deal with customers." Of course, he realized the flaw in his statement, but he expressed something most hotel employees have felt at one time or another.
"The challenge with customers is that simple issues often are complicated by emotions," he continued. "If customers would only present their problems objectively, we could have a logical conversation and create solutions. But that's never how it works. All too often, the complaint comes at you like a personal attack. No matter how I try to meet their needs, I end up spending more time dealing with their emotional reactions than solving problems."
The most powerful influence affecting our ability to resolve conflict is human emotion. According to research by Roger Bennett, professor of marketing at the London Metropolitan Business School, nearly 50% of customer complaints are motivated directly by the desire to vent frustration. Even when the customer is not consciously aware that venting is part of their agenda, other research suggests that the negative emotion motivating the desire to complain is still lurking near the surface of the conversation. As a result, and despite our hopes to the contrary, resolving customer complaints is always dependent upon navigating emotional issues.
The reason for this is best explained with a brief explanation of how the human brain works.
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