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How Can You Turn an Upset Guest into a Fan of Your Hotel?

By Sam Astorino, The Hamister Hospitality Group, LLC 
January, 2009

We've all been there: a guest approaches the desk, upset and yelling about a problem. Dealing with upset guests is one of the most disagreeable tasks for any hospitality professional. However, with the attitude and technique, we can turn problems into opportunities. Here are my best tips on how to gain loyalty through calm conflict resolution. 

Step One: Bring Calm to the Situation and the Guest 
Take a deep breath before answering the guest in a very calm voice. Invite the guest to move to a different part of the desk, out into the lobby, or to any other suitable, quiet place. This lets the guest know that he or she has your full attention. Managers should step into a situation if the front desk agent needs their help. 

Step Two: Action Plan 
Once the guest is calm, come up with an action plan and tell the guest how you are going to assist them and make the situation right. That might mean asking maintenance or housekeeping to attend to the matter, attending to it yourself, or taking further measures.  Nine times out of then the guest is only looking for a fair resolution to the problem. 

A guest recently complained that his key was not working. I apologized and made him a new one, but a few minutes later he returned. This time he was even more upset because he had to come down to the front desk a second time. Instead of making another key, I accompanied the guest to his room in order to learn what the problem was. I found out the guest had two adjoining rooms and that he had bolted one of the doors from the inside and left through the other door; he was trying to get in through the bolted door. We entered through the other door and found that the key worked when it was not dead-bolted. The guest was grateful for my help. By attending to the problem myself (instead of giving the guest another key or asking maintenance to check on the problem), I won the guest's gratitude and loyalty.

Step Three: What to Do if the Guest Does Not Calm Down 
Still try your best to keep a calm voice: if you raise your voice for any reason you will make the situation worse. You can be firm to get the point across, but you should never raise your voice. This will only set people off. Show confidence in your resolution by contacting the manager on duty and asking him or her to speak with the guest. 

I previously worked at a timeshare/hotel property where home owners decorated their units according to their personal taste. Although there were decoration guidelines, no two units were exactly the same. A guest became very upset with me when she did not get the exact unit that she wanted, even though we never guaranteed that guests would receive the unit of their choice. She screamed at the front desk agents, including myself. She used bad language, threatened me with a law suit, and demanded my bosses' contact information. Although the unit that she wanted was occupied, we did offer a comparable unit. My boss and his colleagues supported my position. I learned that day that you can't please everyone: you have to stick by the regulations your company while trying to please a guest. 

100% Satisfaction 
Both Hilton and Hamister Hospitality, LLC, our management company, promise 100% guest satisfaction. Although a comped stay should be avoided, it can be necessary. I was working the late shift one night when a guest called down because her fire alarm had gone off. It was 3am. When she checked out in the morning, she told me that it went off twice while she was getting ready to leave. I told her that I had invoked our 100% satisfaction Guarantee and that she would not have to pay for the night. She said, "Thank you! That is fair." I apologized for her inconvenience and she went on her way. This unfortunate situation turned into a win because the guest was pleased with how I handled the situation. 

When you work at a front desk, you are bound to have a guest who will be upset about something. Don't take it personally: most of the time the issues have nothing to do with you. If you are confident in yourself and your support system you can make almost any situation better for the upset guest. 

Sam Astorino is a Hamister Hospitality Group, LLC manager. Feedback can be sent to him at . For more information on The Hamister Group, Inc., a growing hotel and healthcare management company, see

Hamister Hospitality Group, LLC 
Sam Astorino

Also See: Golden Opportunities Lie in Handling the Cranky Guest and the Next Guest in Line / Brandt Ford / The Rooms Chronicle
Taming the Guest from Hell / Steven Ferry / May 2008

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