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Hospitality Complaints: The Silent Complainer
By Feature Writer Matt Shiells-Jones
This post is the first in a series that analyses the types of complainer that people are and how best to deal with them when faced with a complaint, either face to face or otherwise. These complainer types are also dealt with in my book 'How to be a Hotel Receptionist'
This series starts with potentially the most dangerous type of complainer for your business - the silent complainer.
The silent complainer is the guest who does not complain; they do not moan, make demands or even make a hint about being unhappy. They stay silent.... but not forever! This person is the type of person who will tell everyone they know about their horrendous stay, but will never tell the hotel how much they hated it.
They may occasionally leave a negative comment card and will also be very harmful to the hotel through word of mouth. They will usually complain to other guests, or make flippant remarks when being served (for example if the room was not serviced, they may tell other guests and when servicing the room they make comments like 'I think they just forget about us every day' or 'I'm surprised anyone even bothered today').
They are also the type of guest that never tells you about damage to the rooms which can be very detrimental if yur housekeeping team are not thoroughly checking rooms every day. This is because an item such as a broken lamp may go undetected for many days, particularly if you have several silent complainers in the bedroom, one after the other, for several days.
The silent complainer is also the type of person who rarely provides positive feedback, their opinions are usually kept silent from hotel staff.
But why are they so dangerous? It is down to the way they complain about their stay - which is by never coming back. Imagine a world full of silent complainers - by the time you have discovered they are unhappy, you have lost an entire customer base; even worse is that you do not know what is wrong, meaning you cannot correct any problems! As a business, this means you are losing customers but do not know why - before you know it you are left scratching your head with an empty hotel!
These complainers will rarely challenge staff, but they can be pro-actively dealt with. When faced with this, it is generally best practice to challenge the guest (professionally of course!). Usually after hearing a few underhand comments, I will approach the guest and ask if everything is okay. Usually they will say everything is fine. My usual response is "I couldn't help overhearing a couple of things and I am just concerned because it sounded like you were unhappy with.....". Usually this will get them talking to you.
If this fails, the most imperative thing is to make sure service is perfect for them - set them as a VIP in the in-house systems; pass information between departments or managers that you have overheard several remarks from the guest that make them seem unhappy with their stay; on occasion I have even arranged little treats in the room for them. The general idea is this:
Your actions have upset the guest, and only your actions can make them happy again!
The psychology behind this type of complainer is fairly simple - they are afraid of confrontation. It may be that they have had a bad experience complaining to people previously, or that they are already aggrieved by your hotel prior to arriving (i.e. booking issues), or it may be that they are generally not a sociable person. This can get the guest in to a different mindset and they will have one of 2 things going through their mind:
I am in a bad mood; i must not take it out on the hotel as it's not their fault. If i complain I am likely to cause a scene or end up really upset or angry.
I do not want to have to deal with other people about this, I would sooner just get the stay over and done with and forget about the bad experience I have had. Even if I do say something, nothing can be done now to prevent that happening to me.
A lot of connections between people are on an instinctive and emotional level - you have to demonstrate (in a very short period of time) that you are an 'alpha' person of the hotel (i.e. that you are in control of their happiness and safety/security) and that you genuinely do care that they are having a bad time. I have dealt with many silent complainers and even the gentle push of insisting you have another room to move them to and you will move all their luggage etc for them, can work wonders to create a basic emotional connection. I am not talking about falling in love with each other, but the basic emotional level that creates mutual respect and acknowledgement of feelings.
So to sum up - a silent complainer will not tell you they are unhappy, but may tell others. They will not return to your business and you are unlikely to know why. If you know someone is unhappy, challenge them professionally and do all you can to make their stay exceptional (show an awareness of guest emotions). You will not identify and successfully overcome all silent complainers, no matter how hard you try, but to save one piece of business is better than saving none!
Next in the series I will talk about:
About the author
Matt Shiells-Jones is an international hospitality writer, industry contributor and specialist; Author of ‘How to be a Hotel Receptionist' and the upcoming ‘Big Book of Hotel Standards'. Publisher of www.chocolatepillow.com
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