A negative hotel customer experience has the potential to affect a property's success in a variety of ways. Whether by raising an alarm while on the property or by harming your ranking with a poor online review, a hotel guest with a complaint can leave a lasting mark. Successful hoteliers and hospitality professionals understand how an unresolved guest issue can affect a hotel’s performance, and they place significant value on handling guest complaints smoothly.
In this guide, we are covering the ins and outs of hotel guest complaints — dealing with displeased guests in person, responding to online feedback, and so much more. We discuss why guests complain, different strategies for handling guest complaints, and which techniques can help your team turn problems into praises.
Uncover must-know tips and strategies for handling guest complaints
There are endless reasons that a hotel guest may make a complaint. Some complaints are based on physical concerns, such as hotel cleanliness or maintenance problems, while other complaints may pertain more to the guest experience.
One guest may complain about the service they received at your property. Another traveller may arrive and be surprised to find they did not book the room type they expected from a third-party site. You may even encounter a guest who feels they were misled by the sales team, an online offer, or a confusing promotion. Certain critiques, however, tend to pop up more often than others.
Common hotel guest complaints
Familiarise your staff with the most common complaints hotel guests make and take proactive steps to address potential concerns before they arise. Research common hotel mistakes and how to avoid them and train hotel staff to recognise and respond to common guest complaints, such as:
- In-room cleanliness concerns
- Unpleasant odours (e.g., smoke, pets)
- Problems with the temperature (too hot or too cold)
- Trouble with the Wi-Fi
- A lack of free services or amenities
- The hotel is too noisy
- Too much traffic near guest rooms
- Lack of customer service
- In-room amenities not working
- Broken elevators or other maintenance issues
- Other guests not respecting hotel rules
- Displeased with the food/food and beverage service
While a fair number of guest complaints are the product of hotel service or an issue with the property, others arise out of problems that are out of the hotel’s control entirely. Experiencing issues with a third-party site, not receiving an expected package, or getting stranded due to weather complications could cause a guest to complain. While those issues would be out of your control, the negative experiences could still lea d to an unsatisfactory guest stay and a resulting complaint.
Locating guest complaints
Certain guests are comfortable speaking up and are prepared to notify a team member if they're unhappy with an aspect of their stay. They may speak to the front desk staff, request a manager, or make a complaint to another staff member directly. But hoteliers cannot count on every guest to vocalise a complaint. Not all guests are comfortable with confrontation, and some would prefer not to make a complaint during their stay at all. In fact, hotels often receive post-stay feedback from guests who didn’t bring up a concern during their stay, but who made a complaint in a feedback survey or review after departure.
Regularly check the following places for recent guest complaints:
- Social media pages
- Your website
- Branded survey responses
- Online review sites (TripAdvisor, Yelp)
- Third-party booking sites (Hotels.com, Booking.com, Kayak.com)
- Front desk/departmental notes, logs, or “pass-alongs”
Keep your eyes and ears open for guest complaints so that you can respond to them as soon as possible.
The consequences of unanswered hotel guest complaints
Failing to respond to guest complaints in a suitable and timely manner can hinder a hotel’s performance in a variety of ways. For example:
- Failing to oversee guest complaints can lead to revenue loss. While correcting a guest issue could mean reducing the room rate, or comping a guest stay, failing to manage a guest complaint could cause a guest to choose not to return to your property. Losing revenue from one guest may not seem significant at first, but the cost of pushing guest after guest away can add up quickly. On average, it's five times more expensive to attract a new customer than to retain a current one. Putting effort into pleasing current guests can go a long way toward building hotel customer loyalty.
- Unanswered guest complaints can damage a hotel’s reputation. Dissatisfied guests may share their feedback on hotel social media pages, review sites, online booking sites, or within the community. Guests who had a poor experience at your property, or verbalised an issue that wasn't addressed by staff, may feel compelled to share their experience with others. When guests address their complaints online, their feedback could lead to lower online scores, a scorched community reputation, and a lower hotel ranking. Incorporate handling guest complaints into your hotel reputation management strategy.
- Negative online reviews can affect a hotel’s SERP placement. Online guest complaints and negative reviews can damage your hotel’s SEO ranking and placement on SERPs (search engine result pages). The algorithms used by major search engines take reviews, ratings, and rankings into account when compiling search results. When search engines find guest reviews flagged with negative industry phrases (e.g., “lost reservation”) regularly attached to your business, they will start to associate your business with those phrases, negatively impacting your hospitality SEO.
Responding to in-person complaints in 5 steps
Preparation is one of the best tools a hotel employee can have at their disposal when handling guest complaints face-to-face. When it comes to in-person guest complaints, however, any staff member could quickly be caught off guard and forced to think on their feet. Practice and preparation can ease the stress of responding to an unfortunate situation with an in-house guest. Handle in-person guest complaints in five steps:
1. Stay calm and listen.
Depending on a guest’s disposition when they approach you with a complaint, you may find it difficult to remain calm and not respond with emotion. As trying as it may be at times, the first step to effectively handling guest complaints is to listen calmly. Do not enter the conversation with arrogance or make assumptions about what is upsetting the guest. If a guest is coming to you with a problem, it's usually because they want to be heard. Hear them out.
2. Identify the type of guest to whom you are speaking.
There are different types of hotel guests that hospitality professionals inevitably encounter throughout their career. For example, there are guests who only complain about serious matters, others who are notoriously difficult to satisfy, and unfortunately there are even hotel guests who complain regularly to avoid paying full-price — or any price — for their stay. When dealing with a complaint, identify the guest’s energy, personality type, and choose a problem-solving strategy that fits the specific situation.
3. Find the real source of the complaint.
Sometimes, what we complain about isn’t really what’s bothering us. Consider why a specific issue may be so important to a particular guest. Dig deeper. Ask the right questions and look for the root cause of the guest’s dissatisfaction. If you are having a challenging time getting the information you need from a guest, try a prompting question: “Could you give me an example?” or “Would you mind expanding further?”
4. Find and offer a solution.
After you identify the type of guest you're working with and the true cause of their complaint, find the most appropriate solution. Work to find a resolution that addresses the actual problem as well as the guest’s feelings about the issue. Guest complaints can often be resolved with a simple acknowledgment followed by an apology and a commitment to doing better next time. Other complaints, however, may require a monetary adjustment to their bill or a one-on-one conversation with a hotel manager. An important part of handling guest complaints is deciding which solutions are reasonable and appropriate for the situation at hand. Setting up a refund policy could help avoid employee confusion when offering potential solutions.
5. Follow up to confirm that the problem was resolved.
Always follow up with hotel guests who have made a complaint. For in-room issues, such as a broken TV or stained comforter, touch base with the guest soon. After maintenance, housekeeping, or the department overseeing the complaint has addressed the issue, give it a few minutes, and then check in with the guest to make sure the problem has been resolved.
When a guest makes a complaint during departure, or after they have left the hotel, look to see if the guest has any upcoming or future reservations. If so, make a note in their next reservation to remind staff of the recent complaint. Double-check their reservation details and room prior to arrival to ensure that everything is in tip-top shape. Leaving a brief note that thanks the guest for giving your hotel another opportunity is a small gesture that can go a long way. Acknowledging appreciation for customer loyalty is a thoughtful way to impress hotel guests.
Responding to written guest complaints
Responding to written guest complaints, whether on paper or online, is similar to handling an in-person complaint. The primary difference is that responders have time to contemplate and craft their answers with care.
When managing written guest complaints, try:
- Responding with respect and sincerity.
- Acknowledging guest concerns and taking responsibility.
- Offering a solution and your commitment to improvement.
- Asking for the chance to provide a better experience in the future.
- Keeping your tone professional and consistent across all platforms.
Successful hoteliers can turn a guest complaint or negative experience into an uplifting opportunity. They understand the powerful positive impact that effectively handling a guest complaint can have on a hotel’s success. Experts also know that regularly responding to online feedback is an effective way to use guest reviews for hotel sales, as it can improve your property’s search result ranking.
Turning a guest complaint into a rave review
On-site guest complaints present a unique opportunity for hotel employees to “turn things around” while the guest is in-house, potentially building a strong relationship with a new loyal customer. This phenomenon is called the “service recovery paradox.”
The service recovery paradox is an idea that refers to the way some customers react after a perceived problem is corrected in an outstanding or especially pleasing manner. In this paradoxical situation, the customer is happier with a business after fixing an issue with their service (or product) than they would have been with the business had no issue occurred. Like other customers, hotel guests who experience the paradox are more satisfied after a negative experience has been resolved in a positive manner than they were before the negative experience took place.
Create a “service recovery” box and have it available for hotel staff to use at their discretion. Include gift certificates, tickets to local attractions, headphones, neck pillows, colouring books, and other items that could help please distraught guests. Log items as they are used, note which service recovery methods are the most requested, and make sure that the box is always full of unique resources or amenities that will wow your guests.
Pleasing guests with major complaints may require rate-related service recovery options. Significant inconveniences may justify offering a discounted or complimentary stay, a room upgrade, complimentary service packages, in-house credits, or other “olive branches” attached to hotel revenue. Every hotel marketing plan should include a service recovery strategy. Outline specific situations when service recovery may be warranted, and which employees are authorised to use service recovery when handling guest complaints.
10 tips for handling guest complaints
1. Respond to all complaints as quickly as possible.
Whether in-house or online, all guest complaints should be addressed with speed and determination. Letting a problem linger can allow it to snowball — potentially turning a minor inconvenience into the reason a loyal guest decides not to return. Responding to a complaint quickly shows commitment to guest satisfaction and a dedication to quality customer service.
2. Create a logbook to track guest complaints.
Task each department head with maintaining a log of guest complaints. Note the time and date that complaints were made and the guest’s name and room number. Detail the guest complaint, the proposed solution, and whether the issue was resolved. Keep track of the status of guest complaints to help ensure that the proper team members are notified and that the complaint is resolved. Logging complaints and analysing customer feedback can help identify trends such as cleanliness concerns or a lack of consistent customer service. Use the logbook to identify repair needs, hotel front desk training opportunities, and operational areas of improvement.
3. Pre-tackle negativity.
A guest may not like the solution to their issue — especially if it's seen as an inconvenience, such as moving rooms or waiting a long time to check-in. Point this out prior to offering a solution to help prevent further objection or negativity that could stem from your response.
4. Explain why you chose the solution that you did.
Let guests know why you're managing their complaint in a specific manner. Taking a moment to explain your response can help make a dissatisfied guest feel heard. A simple conversation explaining your thought process can help prevent a guest from feeling like you're trying to brush off their concern and instead confirm that you chose the best solution for the guest.
5. Practice handling guest complaints with hotel staff.
Practice will boost confidence and help make your team more comfortable tackling guest issues. Ideally, we want hotel employees to be on the same page, but not acting like hospitality robots responding to guest complaints as if they were reading from the same exact script. Ask staff members to provide examples of real guest complaints they've encountered. Roleplay different scenarios and allow hotel staff to practice how they would respond to a guest regarding a similar complaint. Practicing situational scenarios in training is helpful because employees can see examples of others interacting with a complaining guest. In addition, taking part in preparatory training exercises can help put team members more at ease when unusual complaints arise.
6. Be prepared to overcome guest objections.
Seasoned hospitality professionals know that some guests are simply difficult to please. No matter what solution is offered, there always seems to be an objection —too late, too little, not good enough. Work common guest objections, such as anger, negativity, or even irrational responses, into training scenarios. Brainstorm as a team to find a variety of diverse ways to overcome the guest’s objection. Discuss what worked and what didn't in each scenario. Point out best practices, “aha!” moments, and identify what could have been done differently to produce a better outcome.
7. Thank the guest.
Show gratitude to guests who take the time to bring a problem to your attention. Let them know that you appreciate the honest feedback, as it gives you the opportunity to improve hotel service, rework problematic policies, or find gaps in employee training.
8. Strike a balance between the good and the bad.
Sharing guest complaints can put staff members on the lookout for repeat issues and encourage them to handle problems when they occur. Reviewing too much negative feedback, however, is sure to weigh team spirits down. Collect and share positive guest feedback with hotel team members. Highlight feedback that individual employees get, as well as singular departments and the entire hotel.
9. Always follow up, even if virtually.
Follow up with guests who make a complaint, even if they do not have foreseeable plans to return to your area. Reach out via email after departure or invite them to discuss their experience with you in more detail on a video call. Hoteliers who didn't get an opportunity to speak with a disgruntled guest personally can discuss the original complaint, how it was handled, and whether the guest left with a positive or negative opinion of the hotel.
10. Never take guest complaints personally.
Whether you're facing an upset guest who is displeased with the condition of the property or trying to deescalate a lobby of upset guests after an overbooking fiasco, remember not to take guest complaints to heart. Always take care of yourself personally and professionally. Remind yourself and your team members that upset guests are expressing their displeasure at the situation, not the person. Even when a guest’s emotions feel directed right at you, do your best to separate their response from yourself as an individual.
Handling guest complaints as a team
Hospitality-focused hoteliers with a “service first” mindset understand the importance of training all staff members to manage customer complaints — not just those who work in forward-facing positions. While front desk team members may receive the most vocal complaints, guests will often express their displeasure to other hotel employees nearby.
Team members from the housekeeping, maintenance, food service, and laundry departments may also encounter guests with negative feedback, such as a leak in their room or a cleanliness issue. Providing all team members with complaint management training will help guarantee that any guest complaint that gets reported will be addressed promptly and respectfully.
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Now you have the knowledge and resources needed for responding to critical feedback from hotel guests.