Are Al­ways Right Even When They Are Not!

Hospitality 9ja - - Content - Doug Kennedy

Com­ing up through the ranks in the ho­tel in­dus­try, I re­mem­ber well hear­ing my man­agers use the old adage “The cus­tomer is al­ways right.” At one ho­tel they even put a sign up that said: “Rule num­ber one: the cus­tomer is al­ways right. Rule num­ber two: when the cus­tomer is wrong, see rule num­ber one.” In re­cent years I have learned that the orig­i­nal phrase dates back to 1909 and is now cred­ited to Harry Gor­don Sel­fridge, who was the founder of Sel­fridge's de­part­ment stores in Lon­don. Of course in the ho­tel busi­ness we re­fer to our cus­tomers as guests, but the idea is the same.

Afroms my front­line ca­reer pro­gressed

be­ing a bell­man into ho­tel man­age­ment and for many years now into the eld of ho­tel train­ing, I have long since re­al­ized that of­ten cus­tomers are at out wrong. Some­times, the cus­tomers them­selves are the cause of prob­lems that oc­cur. Yet one thing I have learned for sure is that any ef­fort to prove guests wrong will surely fail. At most, it will re­sult in hav­ing them sim­ply fail to re­turn next time, thus re­sult­ing in a loss op­por­tu­nity for re­peat busi­ness. At worst, it can re­sult in us tram­pling on their emo­tions and caus­ing them to blast a ho­tel's rep­u­ta­tion via so­cial me­dia and on­line guest re­views.

When it comes to our most fun­da­men­tal needs as hu­man be­ings and as ho­tel guests, food, cloth­ing and shel­ter are cer­tainly at the top of the list. Well at least food and shel­ter; there are some re­sorts I've done train­ing for over the years where cloth­ing is an op­tion! (Read­ers – please be ad­vised that the ho­tel staff at these re­sorts – AND their ho­tel train­ers – are al­ways fully clothed!) Right be­hind those ba­sic phys­i­cal needs comes our hu­man need for val­i­da­tion. When some­thing goes wrong, what we need most is to hear some­one say “I un­der­stand how you feel” and “I apol­o­gize that this oc­curred.” Noth­ing good will re­sult from a ser­vice provider's ef­fort to place blame on the guest.

Re­cently I ex­pe­ri­enced rst­hand what it feels like as a guest to be blamed for a deciency in ser­vice, and in this case it truly was not my fault. While stay­ing at an up­scale ho­tel in New York City I found my­self work­ing late in my room as usual, so I de­cided to or­der din­ner from room ser­vice. I still re­mem­ber what a su­per­star of hos­pi­tal­ity the in-room din­ing op­er­a­tor was, as she pa­tiently helped me with ques­tions on healthy choices on the menu and took time to em­pathize with how tragic it was that I was stuck work­ing in­stead of en­joy­ing my visit to The City. When I called back for desert I was even more im­pressed, as she asked if I wanted to pre-or­der my break­fast! What's more, when I or­dered my cof­fee she specically asked if I pre­ferred cream or milk, which I cer­tainly noted as be­ing above and be­yond.

Next morning right on time came the knock on the door, and a friendly smile was on the other side as my room ser­vice waiter en­thu­si­as­ti­cally greeted me, tak­ing time to re­view my or­der to make sure it was cor­rect. “Wow,” I thought, “He sure seemed aw­fully happy to be work­ing at such an early hour.” When I sat down to eat the rst thing I no­ticed was that there was no milk nor even cream. I ac­tu­ally felt bad about it, know­ing the waiter had conrmed that ev­ery­thing looked per­fect just mo­ments be­fore and that he would have to make a spe­cial trip back.

With high ex­pec­ta­tions based on the great ser­vice so far, I called in-room din­ing once again to re­quest the milk. This time I got a dif­fer­ent op­er­a­tor, and when I ex­plained that there was no milk or cream on the tray her re­sponse was “Well, you have to ask for it when you or­der.” Now nor­mally I might have had some self-doubt as to whether I did in fact re­quest it, but in this case I re­called all too well how the op­er­a­tor be­fore had proac­tively of­fered me the choice. Be­ing in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness, I man­aged to re­strain my re­ac­tion to the hu­man emo­tions I felt when I was blamed for this er­ror. Sure enough the smil­ing waiter promptly brought the miss­ing item. How­ever, for most guests, com­ments such as these trig­ger a neg­a­tive, emo­tion­ally based re­ac­tion (or over-re­ac­tion) that can ruin an oth­er­wise pos­i­tive ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence.

If you have not done so re­cently, per­haps now is a great time to re­mind your hos­pi­tal­ity team of the proper way to han­dle guest com­plaints. First, train them to lis­ten at­ten­tively with­out in­ter­rupt­ing as the guest shares their story. Of­ten the guest will have a tale to tell about how the seem­ingly lit­tle thing that went wrong was re­ally a big deal for them. Show that you are lis­ten­ing by main­tain­ing eye con­tact and us­ing ap­pro­pri­ate (se­ri­ous yet at­ten­tive) fa­cial ex­pres­sions. Next, ex­press em­pa­thy and un­der­stand­ing by say­ing some­thing such as “I un­der­stand how you might feel” or “I can imag­ine feel­ing the same way.” Now the most im­por­tant part – apol­o­gize – even if it is not your fault nor even the ho­tel's fault. Some­times we in the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try have to apol­o­gize for things well out­side of our sphere of inuence such as the rain that spoiled their va­ca­tion or the late ight that ru­ined their busi­ness plans. Then it is time to re­solve the prob­lem, of­fer­ing al­ter­na­tives if pos­si­ble. Giv­ing the guest a choice leads them back to a ra­tio­nal line of think­ing.

Fi­nally, the main les­son I wanted to share as a re­minder in this writ­ing, never try to prove the guest wrong, even if they are!

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