How High-maintenance Guests Become Repeat Customers

By Rita Anya Nara Author, The Anxious Traveler | March 02, 2014

In working with travelers who have emotional health problems, I've connected with a number of people who I can only describe as high-maintenance. This personality type feels their needs are more important than others, can't be easily pleased, expect perfection every time, and usually have expensive taste – even if they happen to be staying at a budget hotel. The high-maintenance personality can be disapproving, snobby, and unappreciative, with an infuriating sense of entitlement and oblivion to almost everything except their long list of "must-haves." While the majority of high-maintenance guests are women – and most of us can think of the last one that walked through the door in a pink blaze of problems and perfume – there are plenty of high-maintenance drama kings out there who exhaust every possible convenience you offer within 24 hours of check-in in (plus a few things you wouldn't ask of your best friend, much less your host).

So, why should you bother even trying to pursue this subsector of clientele? For one thing, they usually like to travel, so you're going to keep running into them. Second, they're an available market, if you will; plenty of hotels and individuals just aren't going to put the effort into wanting them back. Finally, high-maintenance guests are usually at their worst the first time you host them, and their behavior becomes more tolerable once you (and they) know what to expect. If you're already expending the effort to make a high-maintenance guest happy the first time around, it makes sense to keep them as an investment.

First, here are some truths about high-maintenance guests...

They're looking for dependable and consistent service as much as the average guest. Think about what keeps your typical customer coming back: trust in your brand, prompt resolution of their concerns and problems, professionalism with a personal touch, and reliability. The high-maintenance guest is looking for more or less the same when deciding if your hotel can be their "home away from home." In fact, the predictability of your good service may be the only platform on which all their needs and wants can balance without toppling over.

They want to get to know you. Yes, high-maintenance people have an oft-deserved reputation for being self-obsessed, and selfish. They're also inquisitive by nature, and just because they're into airs doesn't mean they seek the same in others. For a personality type that values conquests and appearances so much, the high-maintenance person craves a personal connection more than you'd think – and more so than what we think of as "difficult people."

They often have a lot of influence. High-maintenance people like to announce to the world what kind of service they're provided. They don't necessarily have a lot of friends, but they usually have a lot of people who listen to them, either through their social circles, blog, or online hotel review sites.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

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.