|By Steven Ferry, July 2006
“You call this a five star-hotel?” I’ve been in Motel 6’s that provided better service. You people are all the same, slipping service standards and all you are interested in is tips. It’s freezing in here, the A/C doesn’t work, the bed’s too small, the place stinks, I’ve been kept waiting by room service again, although why I bother eating here I don’t know, the food tastes atrocious, everybody says so. Get me the manager!”
Not your favorite type of guest. They come, they complain about everything, and when it comes to checking out, they complain some more and loudly until the alarmed manager perhaps comps their stay. Sometimes they set up the employees to fail, such as happened once when a guest ordered breakfast from the butlers whom I was training at a newly opened hotel, and also from room service. He requested different items for different times. When the butlers and room service independently delivered the requested items at the requested time, the guest complained they were early/late and had forgotten items. This upset the employees initially until they compared notes. At checkout, the guest listed these and myriad similar “failings” and demanded the entire week’s stay for himself and entourage in the Presidential Suite be comped.
Yes, one can blacklist such people, but what about those who then call in under a false name, or have someone else do so? And what about this being the first time such a character and his/her entourage comes to your hotel—as happened with the gentleman mentioned above? Once he had gone, a quick check with two large chains found him blacklisted.
In defense, does one create a national database of blacklisted guests? Butlers in London used to have their little black book with information on “employers to be avoided.” Word of mouth still exists in the butler community along this line. But in the larger hospitality profession, apart from in-house blacklists, any national database would be suicidal in our litigious society.
So what is a hotel to do with the guest from hell, whether they go the whole way and demand to be comp’d, or just create havoc for one and all during their stay? It seems we must suffer them with smiles on our faces and daggers in our hearts. Except that just results in personal anguish for all employees touched by such people, financial loss for employees and the hotel, as well as reduced service for other guests, as employees are sucked into trying to keep the antisocial guests “happy” and mute their disturbances.
After centuries of serving often cantankerous employers, the British butler, working with a modern understanding of the mind, has something to offer in answer to this question, as you will discover in Besting the Guest from Hell.
Besting The Guest From Hell
The basic answer to the guest from hell is to focus on educating employees on this kind of personality and then letting them have fun predicting what the guest will do or say next. When employees recognize the characteristics in a guest, they also know why they behave as they do, see them for what they are, and can predict how they will behave. Employees no longer think “mea culpa” and “mea lose my job” when assailed by such guests. One sees through the intensely mean-spirited and unjust smokescreen and confusion to a miserable individual whose only ability to create an effect has been reduced to upsetting others.
With such an understanding, one can still provide the smiling service expected of one, but without the dagger in one’s heart. For violence, expressed or unexpressed, only exists in the absence of understanding. The analogy I like to draw is the martial art of Aikido. The basic principle is not to resist or try to stop the antagonist’s motion, but to redirect it. In other words, one does not present a target for the opponent to connect with.
By empowering employees, one un-empowers the antisocial guests, for the only power these actually have is that generated by the employee in responding to the unjust and unkind remarks. An individual in a lunatic asylum thinking he is Jesus has no followers outside the asylum. He has no power. But if people outside the asylum give weight to his words and form a cult, then he would have power. It’s the same with the guest from hell. Recognize his or her ravings as those of a lunatic who has yet to be labeled as one (and may never be, because in real life such people can sound very convincing and may even have numerous letters after their name, titles in front of it, and great wealth), and he will have no power. React or give credence to his claims, and one empowers him.
That’s the philosophy part. What about the application?
The inescapable truth is that such people are completely incapable of telling the truth. The angry, noisy type will at best twist the truth to make their point more egregious, or at worst, blatantly lie in a manner that is most destructive to the target of their ire. Those who are too timid to be angry, sometimes known as “passive aggressive” or “covertly hostile,” will be most ingenious in their complete perversions of the truth, covering their tracks with great finesse.
The only thing an employee can do wrong is to believe anything such
people say. The only correct way to deal with the information such people
give is to start from the premise that whatever they just said is not true.
This is particularly important when dealing with irate or covertly hostile
guests for managers who might feel inclined to act against employees based
on the guest’s utterances.
So how does one recognize such guests? The angry ones are not hard to recognize, although they may be unpleasant to confront. It is the ones who smile while stabbing you in the back, either with some statement that makes less of you in some way or talking derogatorily about you behind your back, who are more difficult to nail down. This is the schemer who, if called on his real activities, will insist you are misunderstanding her or being overly sensitive, etc.
Apart from their general attitude affecting their ability to tell the truth, other warning signs include the following:
That’s the time to a) alert all employees dealing with them that a guest has dropped in from hell, and b) have each, while still providing superlative service, note in writing each and every instance of chicanery. There are all sorts of language and communication skills that can be employed to handle even these guests smoothly, based on techniques and attitudes developed in part over the centuries by butlers.
Most importantly, being forewarned and on the lookout for nefarious behavior will put the employees in the driver’s seat in handling the situation, rather than just becoming upset over the guest’s actions. Secondly, if they hand these reports in to supervisors or the Rooms Manager (who can do additional research with other hotel chains), he or she can prepare a report in time for that guest’s checkout. Then if the guest demands to be comp’d or partially comp’d, you are ready for them. And if they come back later with trouble, such as legal suits, demands for redress, complaints to Head Office, then you just yawn, dig out and send off the report with a cover note.
Had the GM of the hotel that comped the Presidential Suite for a week, confronted the gentleman (security in attendance) with the documentation of his exact actions (which in his case included smoking persistently in the no-smoking suite despite repeated requests not to, necessitating a hefty cleaning bill for the hotel), and his history of criminal actions at other hotels, the guest would have backed down, said it was all a misunderstanding, and never had the gall to show his face at that hotel again. Or he might have blustered with legal threats and in all probability taken it no further.
Which brings us to one last point of philosophy: what drives these people? Without becoming too technical, they have no self respect, they do not feel they can produce decent and admired effects (what most of us are happy to and strive to do), or indeed produce anything at all. In other words, they are parasites. They consider their positions in society weak as a result, and so their constant effort is to weaken and undermine others, in the expectation that their own position will be less weak as a result. They are actually criminals, whether the law has caught up with them or not.
So, don’t let them intimidate or frighten you into cooperating in their criminal ways. Doing so will only compromise and degrade your view of mankind, from which the majority of your well meaning guests hail (come).
Nothing I am proposing is meant to imply that one does not seek in every way to provide superlative service to every guest. Just do it with your eyes open, paperwork in place, and a healthy dose of ethics and probity (moral correctness) if a guest from hell tries his or her ways on you or your fellow employees!
If any of this is not clear or needs amplification, feel free to write.
* Based on the works of Mr. Hubbard, with information on all the characteristics for the guest from hell available at http://www.scientologyhandbook.org/SH11_1.HTM
Reprinted with permission from Hotelexecutive.com"
Professor Steven Ferry trains butlers in hotels, hotel condominiums, private villas, resorts, and private estates; spa butlers in facilities with spas, and corporation employees on a variety of topics. He is Chairman of the International Institute of Modern Butlers (www.modernbutlers.com) and author of the best-selling industry texts, Hotel Butlers, The Great Service Differentiators and Butlers and Household Managers, 21st Century Professionals. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
|Also See:||The Future Hospitality Professional / Steven Ferry / October 2005|
|The Likelihood that Any Single Hotel Will Be the Target of a Terrorist Act is Very Small Indeed; Deterring Terrorism in the Hospitality Industry / Steven Ferry / October 2004|
|The Hotel Butler - Recognizing the Value Butlers Bring to the Bottom Line / Steven Ferry / February 2004|