Managing Your Ego During a Confrontation with a Guest

By Ashish Modak General Manager, LUX* Belle Mare | February 14, 2016

Recently at a get together of various leaders from the hospitality world, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet up with a lot of people from various hotels. Some new introductions happened, as also it was a great opportunity to meet up with old friends after a long time. As is the want with us hoteliers, the discussions – even when they are casual veer around to the topic of what is happening with each other's hotels and invariably special cases that one has witnessed in the recent times! As we were busy sharing our anecdotes and both pleasant and not so pleasant experiences of the recent past at our hotels, an old friend and a very seasoned hotel manager shared the below story -

At his hotel in the previous week, he had witnessed a unique situation. There was a young couple on a holiday. At the weekly manager's cocktails, this young lady walked up to him and began accusing him of attempting to murder her – literally shouting at the top of her voice. Several guests in the vicinity were stunned as the scene continued for a few minutes. The Manager clearly taken aback by the accusation took a few moments to react and his initial attempts to take her away from the rest of the guests failed. The lady it seemed definitely wanted the rest of the guests to know of her accusation. Eventually, the manager walked her to a comparatively quieter area and she began explaining her issue.

The lady was gluten allergic and the hotel was informed prior to her arrival. In spite of a restaurant plan being made for her, she chose to follow her own plan and the previous evening had decided to try the main buffet restaurant at the hotel. It so happened that the buffet tags for a couple of preparations had got misplaced by the service team or by carelessness of some one from the hotel team or another guest and she picked up a dish, which was identified, as gluten free but was not. The same evening after her dinner, she was seen at the bar enjoying a few drinks… to give the exact number 17 rum shots. The CCTV camera in the bar had recorded the same. Later in the night, the lady took unwell and to her the cause of her feeling sick was the gluten in the food she had and nothing to do with the 17 rum based drinks she had consumed. The cause and how and why of the buffet tags can be debated till the end of the world. Not withstanding the eventual actions taken by the hotel to reach a solution, the story got me thinking of the several situations in the past I had witnessed and how I would have reacted in a situation like this.

As my friend continued with the story, we could clearly see how hurt he felt that evening and while handling the case. It was a recent case and his anger and humiliation was written all over his face. The question he posed that evening to us has remained with me. The question was – "Have we chosen this profession simply to get abused by anyone and everyone?" Many of my colleagues from around the world would agree with me that with changing times and with the powerful social media tools as armament, the tendency of a few people to blackmail and use social media to get back a part or entirety of holiday expenses is not rare anymore. It seems more and more obvious that there are experts in this field who use every possible opportunity to exploit any situation to earn back elements of a hotel stay.

Coming back to the issue of verbal abuse of hotel managers or senior employees by irate guests; over the years, all of us who manage hotels or have managed hotels at some stage; have experienced first hand such encounters with unpleasant guests who launch a vitriolic attack on the manager simply because things are not going as per their expectations or because something has gone wrong and they expect the manager to be the post rightfully or otherwise, to express their emotions.

In hotels and especially at leisure holiday destinations, what we set out to provide for are unforgettable moments and hence the chances of the stay not going to the client's expectations or (being a service industry) things going wrong can spell disaster for the guest. This is naturally then thrown out in whichever way it suits the client best at the person who is said to be in-charge – normally the manager of the establishment or his deputy. This is totally understandable from the guest perspective but can be extremely distressful for the employee concerned. The big question then is how should one handle this situation?

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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.