This is a guest post by James McCullough
In this first post about reputation management, I will point out some of the causes for a minor problem to heat up and become a larger fire, and how to minimize that damage.The following example just happened this past week with one of my client’s hotels. A common issue with hotels from time to time, overbooking, quickly turned into something much more. The full review is quite lengthy, but this was the first line shared on both the Facebook wall and a TripAdvisor review:
I would not recommend staying at this hotel and I am unimpressed by our treatment.
If this guest was hoping to get noticed, they did an exceptional job at getting everyone’s attention. Not all smoke signals are this obvious, so be sure to read all reviews that you find thoroughly to make sure you don’t miss anything.
We booked our room online 3 weeks before our 5 night stay. 2 days before we were to check in we received an email confirming our stay. When we went to check in they could not find our reservation. Supposedly they had a power failure and lost our reservation, and because of that they were now double booked. Strange that if they “lost” the reservation given the fact that a confirmation email was sent to me just 2 days before.
Remember that saying, “honesty is the best policy?” Sometimes, telling the truth is much better, especially when the alternative is using trigger words like “lost.” Using words like lost gives the impression that the Front Desk agents (and the hotel) don’t care to do their job to the best of their abilities. In this case, there was a power outage, but the CRS sent an email to the Front Desk with the reservation details because it couldn’t connect directly to the PMS. The Front Desk agent who was working that day failed to enter the reservation properly and filed it away. Telling the guest at the time that the agent had been let go already (which did happen) lets the guest know that the hotel does genuinely care about the operation. This was a case of something having gone missed, but the staff and management can learn from this situation to improve the overall operations.
Since they were double booked they gave us the only available room they had for our first night which was the Presidential Suite. Nice room, but the next 2 nights they would have to put us in a different room. The 4th night we would have had to move to a different hotel, and our last night would be in a different room back at the hotel. We told them that this wouldn’t do and that we needed the manager to contact us once she was back at the hotel.
The Manager would not see us right away and sent a rude and condescending young girl to inform us that she found us a room at an inferior hotel for the final two nights of our stay. When asked why we were the ones being shuffled around when we were already there and checked in and the other reservation would not arrive for another 3 days giving Skky Hotel plenty of time to contact them and put them up at the other hotel we were met with snide remarks, bad attitudes and invasive answers, as if we were being difficult.
I added the italics to point out some of the actions that happened that added fuel to the fire.
The decision to move the guests was the wrong choice in this case because the hotel was a bit slow on some of the other nights the guests were staying, but I want to focus more on how the information was relayed to the guest.
Reputation management begins with the frontline staff. As mentioned previously, you want to put an end to the fire as quick as possible, ideally stopping it while it is still smoldering. Having a guest wait to see a manager only allows that fire to begin to grow more to a point where any solution is never going to be good enough. Let keep going and it could take you having to offer to pay those guests to stay with you to make them happy.
There are two things a guest wants when they are upset: to be listened to, and to have their problems resolved.
Having any manager talk with that guest would be beneficial to both parties, as long as they were willing to listen and be concerned about what happened. If that manager is not able to resolve the problem themselves because the solution is outside their department, at the very least, they will be able to bump the concern up the chain of command and put more urgency on it than the Front Desk agent may have (i.e. “There is a guest complaining about staying in the Presidential Suite tonight…”)
The one thing a guest never wants when they are upset: to feel like they are being a problem.
Remember, the problem is the hotel’s responsibility in these kind of situations. Talking down to guests, rolling eyes, trying to do something else and ignoring the guests, is only going to make matters worse. Trying to resolve the problem as soon as possible is the best course of action for three reasons:
1. It puts the guest at ease, allows them to unwind and start thinking about how they may have over-reacted. More often than not, the sooner you resolve a problem, the more likely they will come down afterwards to thank you for looking after it.
2. The Front Desk agent gets to focus on the next guest, whether it’s a phone call or in person, or other task. The longer a problem goes unresolved between a Front Desk agent and a guest, the more it starts to eat away at the agent’s mind and hinders their ability to stay positive through the remainder of their shift. The more verbally violent episodes can easily stick with a person for days, if not forever, and are hard to ignore. It can easily place doubts in the minds of the agents as to whether they are cut out for the job. I never want to see an otherwise good agent leave because one guest yelled at them.
3. The longer the episode continues, the more likely it is the guest will mention it in a review- even if the issue was ultimately resolved. Like the Front Desk Agent who will find it difficult to forget a verbally abusive guest, the guest is unlikely to forget their experience and sharing it publicly will help them. If it gets solved right away, they may still mention to friends, but they won’t talk about it in a review because it was insignificant during their full stay and trip.
… When we said that we were leaving (after being there for less than 2 hours), and wanted to ensure there would be no charge our credit card, the rude front desk girl said there might be and she would have to check with the manager. She checked, and we were told there would be no charge, “we were free to go” her exact words! Indeed! The manager didn’t even have the decency to come out and try to make things right or anything. If I was the owner of this hotel, I would seriously consider making some major staff changes unless you like losing money by customers walking away.
If coming to an agreeable resolution is impossible, it is still important to try and keep that guest happy as they leave the property. They will either leave with foul thoughts about the property, or leave with a more positive image, saying things like, “At least the agent who carried our bags out to the car was friendly.” As the guests depart the hotel, encourage them to give your property another try in the future after you have had some time to find solutions to the cause of the problem. If they are staying longer in the area, offer them coupons to your restaurant. At the very least, drive them to their new hotel or pay for taxi fare, and offer to pay for the phonecalls so they can notify people that they changed hotels.
A small gesture may be enough to put an end to the fire and make the guest have second thoughts about writing a negative review about the hotel.
With the second post on reputation management, I will share ways to resolve issues after the guest has left the property, and you found out in an indirect way. Also, I will share some tools that will allow you to spot those black plumes of smoke rising in the air and prevent it from becoming a wild fire.
This is a guest post by James McCullough from Foursidesconsulting.