Checking out? Please give me your “but”

As the old axiom goes, “The worst complaint is the one that is never mentioned.” That’s why in my hospitality training workshops I always try to shift the paradigm of my participants into seeing guest complaints as second chance opportunities.

As I often say, we should encourage guests to voice their concerns and celebrate negative feedback. Better that a guest shares their issues and complaints with us while they are in-house rather than waiting until they leave and going online to post a negative guest review.

Of course all hotel managers would prefer that a guest bring a service gap issue to our attention when it happens. However, despite all the table tent signage that has been placed in guests’ rooms to encourage them to notify a staff member if service falls short, very often they do not do so. As a result the best time to solicit guest feedback is during the check-out process.

While many guests these days use express check-out, there are still plenty that stop by the front desk for their zero balance receipt, to turn in their key, or to ask for assistance with luggage storage or transportation. This is the perfect time to try to get to the guest’s “but.” (Please note the spelling!)

The first step to getting the “but” is to truly let the guest know you care by demonstrating empathy. In other words, rather than just indifferently saying in passing “How was your stay, good?” take time to let guests know you sincerely care.

Part of this is training your front desk colleagues to use the proper phraseology and an open-ended question such as: “So tell me, how was your stay with us?” However the most important part is to convey sincerity with body language and eye contact so they understand that you really want to know.

If they know you truly care, most guests will give you their “but”; they will start by saying something positive, then point out one shortcoming. Typically they will say something like “Overall, everything was really great, but…” and follow with an issue or concern, then end their commentary on positive note by saying “Other than that, we had a wonderful stay.”

In this scenario, most guests’ “buts” are small and relatively inconsequential, so the response should be to thank the guest for bringing it to our attention, assure them that we will address it in the future, and wish them a fond farewell. However, if the guest has a bigger “but” to share, be sure to also so empathy and understanding to the above. Validate their concern by also saying, “I can imagine that was an inconvenience for you and I apologize that we fell short of your expectation.”

So when you have your next front desk meeting, remind your staff that the next time they encounter a guest at departure, be sure to go for the “but”.

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