How To Handle Guest Complaints - 4 Steps

Guest complaints... They never seem to get easier do they? Even if you are a top line manager, hearing a complaint from a guest makes us feel down and like we ruined their holiday. I will be telling you 4 steps to handle guest complaints. The good thing about guest complaints is once we learn how to effectively handle them, we can see this as an opportunity to shine through. In actual fact a guest complaining is sometimes a perfect moment to show them just how great we are, how much we care and if we perform well, our guests will be leaving with an unforgettable memory.

So how exactly do we handle guest complaints beyond your basic listen and give discounts? Well I will give you an example of a time that I royally messed up (while it was not exactly a random complaint, rather it was because of my action that I needed to fix the situation at hand).

So, At Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown New Zealand we had a lovely family staying with us over the Christmas period. We had a new staff member who made the reservations for their lunch at a gorgeous vineyard. However the vineyard lunch spot was in a different location to their headquarter wine making venue. The lunch spot was a 30 minute drive away and the headquarters which does not have a lunch spot on it was a 2 hour drive away. Anyways directions were printed out for the 2 hour drive away location instead of the actual lunch spot.

Now I had just arrived for my shift and the guest came up to me with the directions and asked me if they were correct. The name was the same and at that moment I could not see the issue staring me right in the face... So the guests left for their 2 hour drive and of course 2 hours later we got an angry phone call from the guests as they had just driven for no reason and missed their lunch.

I still cringe everytime I think about this incident because it was such a bad mistake on my behalf that it should never have happened in the first place. Worst of all I was the only one who was left in the front office staff besides my General Manager so I literally had to see the guests straight as they arrived back at the hotel. It was incredibly awkward to say the least. They still had 3 more days with us, how could I possibly make it up to them?

So now you have upset guests and you have to handle it. Lets go through the steps of handling guest complaints. I am going to use a simpler example below but at the end I will tell you how it went with my guests.


Turn off your computer, do not be distracted on anything else. literally face your guest and listen with both your ears to every thing they say. In my case they had a lot to say and while it can be unpleasant you have to listen. Most of the time guests who have small complaints just want to be listened too, they want to know that their voice is heard and that they are considered important in the hotels eyes. Make mental notes about what they are not happy about. Is it the room was not clean properly? The food too cold or bland? Find what the actual issue is within their talking.

2. Respond with empathy.

While not every issue is in our eyes the end of the world, just rememeber that these guests will be paying large amounts of money to be enjoying their time, and especially if they are bringing a loved one or family along, the pressure on the guest for them to really enjoy is high. Expectations will always be high and rightfully so.

Once the guest has finished saying what they need, they may be extremely irritated or upset, however it is so important that we remain calm. when we keep our calmness the guest is way more likely to realise that they don't need to be so stressed.

Start off by telling your guest that you understand completely what they are upset about, repeat the issue back to them to let them know you heard every word and simply tell them that you are sorry for this experience. for example:

"Mr Wheatley, I completely understand that the room not being cleaned properly is unacceptable especially for a hotel of our standards, for this I am so sorry. Let me fix this for you so that you can enjoy the rest of your stay"

You have used your guests name, told them you understand that it is not acceptable and you have outlined you will fix this.

3. Find a solution that is not just a monetary value.

So you have told your guest that you will fix this problem. With the example of the room not being cleaned properly, it actually is a simple fix but to emphasis the action you are taking I would ask the guest some questions so that you don't miss anything the next time the room needs to be clean. Ask your guest which part of the room was not clean properly and by doing this the guest now knows you are taking appropiate action.