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The service recovery paradox is as simple as it is timeless:  A dissatisfied guest who becomes satisfied is more loyal than the guest who never had a problem. What isn’t so simple is the act of service recovery itself. The hospitality industry as a whole has been committed to service recovery for some time. The brands, operators and employees all understand that things happen and that part of the daily routine is handling guest complaints. What differs dramatically though is how hoteliers handle complaints, and the ones that do it well have a distinct advantage in creating loyalty. Our study reveals where the difference-makers excel.

Hotel Industry Fast to React to Guest Problems; Lacking Follow-up

Using over 11,000 data points gathered over 525 unique upscale hotel visits from 2013, Coyle analyzed service recovery ‘moments of truth’ where a significant complaint or extraordinary guest need was present.

First the good news: we found that leading brands are fast to react to guest complaints. It appears that the training that many brands have invested in over the past few years is paying off. Unlike years ago, today’s employees are immediately accessible and greet the complaint with their full attention. The upset guest can find someone right away that can help. After that things start to slide a bit. Now that the upset guest has our ear, they get a sense of empathy or an apology from the staff less than 75% of the time.

Things improve a bit with the staff accepting the problem and gathering information, but it all falls apart. Simply acknowledging an issue and taking action does not complete the service recovery life-cycle. In fact, according to our research, follow-up is the most critical component of the service recovery process.

Guest complaints and issues are often complex and multilayered.  For example, a billing issue raised to a hotel employee at checkout may be the result of several lukewarm touch points that manifest as a single “issue.”  Therefore, meaningful follow-up is essential to ensuring the guest is wholly satisfied and doesn’t have any lingering negative sentiment.  Service recovery follow-up happens to be the most significant area of opportunity for hotel operators.

We consistently see how lack of follow-up causes an incomplete service recovery, resulting in overall dissatisfaction. Surprisingly, many times employees are quick to take quick action and remedy a situation, but do not communicate that the issue has been resolved, leaving the guest unaware that their requests have been remedied.

Simply put, following up not only ensures guest satisfaction post-service recovery, it is also the most effective way for hotel operators to outperform competition. We can debate how much an optimally handled service recovery increases guest satisfaction over flawless service, but the sure thing here is that when something does go wrong, following up with the guest is definitely the next step up for the industry. Isn’t that what a friend would do?

About Coyle Hospitality Group

Founded in 1996, Coyle Hospitality Group is a leading provider of mystery shopping services, industry benchmarking data, and market research to all avenues of the hospitality industry. Utilizing a global network of over 15,000 qualified evaluators, the company gathers and then aggregates feedback, providing unique and actionable insights to help clients stay ahead of the competition. Clients include: Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Morgans Hotel Group, Daniel Boulud, and China Grill Management. Please visit

Contact: Jeff Gurtman / 646.756.4209

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April 17, 2014 11:45am

Liz says:

So true. Today’s guests expect a quick response, especially thanks to social media platforms, which allow a complaint to be aired for all to see (specifically other guests). What truly sets a brand apart is whether or not it communicates effectively with the customer that an issue has been resolved. It shows they actually care about a guest, not just taking care of an issue.

April 17, 2014 12:01pm

kate says:

Agree 100%. Following up also offers a platform for the guest to privately voice any concerns, additional complaints or suggestions they may have arrived at during their stay. It shows that the staff not only care about their customers, but are striving to improve. This speaks volumes to guests.

April 17, 2014 12:26pm

Emily says:

I completely agree. I recently stayed at a five star hotel, expecting superb service. The staff was certainly (over) eager to please, but when it came to follow through and follow-up, they left us high and dry. I left thinking I would never stay at this hotel or its affiliates again.