Complaint Handling

Do you see complaints is a good thing?

How engage your team in complaint handling

Complaint Handling

Complaint Handling

Getting feedback from your guests is essential to gauge whether or not what you offering is right for your target audience. Whether it’s positive or negative and whether you agree with it or not is key to your success.

So why is it then that so many businesses seem to ignore this fact?

There was a time when customers were reserved about giving direct feedback, particularly complaints; they didn’t want to be seen to making a fuss, and anyway if they did complain they felt nothing would change. They would just vote with their feet and just not come back again.

Of course all that’s changed now with the advent of social media; people do complain, but all too often this comes too late for us to remedy the situation and instead of just telling us they tell the whole world.

So the more we can do to get direct feedback, warts and all, the greater the likelihood we have of resolving the situation there and then, turning it around and turning what could have been a tragic moment into a magic moment.

Unless we get people’s feedback we can’t do anything about it.

Most people accepted that with the best will in the world from time to time things go wrong, and how we resolve the situation gets remembered.


Prevention is better than cure

Make sure your guests feel comfortable to give feedback at every opportunity.

Face-to-face feedback will always be the most effective and ideally we need to get feedback before it’s too late to do something about it. If what you have provided fails to meet expectations you’d rather know about it before the guest leaves so you can resolve it, there and then.

As well is asking at the end of each course, the meal or their stay, be observant and look out for signs that things aren’t right or that someone wants to get your attention. For example if a diner has hardly touched their steak but eaten everything else that might suggest there was a problem with the steak. Or you hear a guest complaining about the temperature of their room to others in their party probably suggests something that needs investigating.

If you know that something’s not right be up front with your guests and let them know before it becomes a problem. Offer alternatives if necessary and then keep them informed of the situation.

For example if you know their room won’t be ready tell them the situation, offer them the option of afternoon tea in the lounge, or a nice walk they might like to take, and give them an expected time that their room will be ready.

Equally if you’ve a backlog in the kitchen and they may have a wait for their main course let them know as soon as possible. If they are on a tight schedule they may not be prepared to wait but at least they’ve been given the option to choose a simpler dish, skip a course  or as a last resort eat elsewhere before they are committed or you prepare something they don’t have time to eat.


Talk to your guests

Being visible in your hotel or restaurant, and making contact with your guests builds rapport and trust. Once you’ve gained this you’re in a far better position to gain valuable feedback first hand.  The same goes for your staff too, so encourage them to talk to your guests. Give them the appropriate training to ask for feedback in the knowledge that they are confidence to deal with feedback – good or bad – in a positive way. Bare in mind your guests will tell you things that they wouldn’t feedback to your staff, and vice versa.


Ask the right questions

Making statements such as “I hope you enjoyed your meal” or “was everything all right for you?” is not likely to get the customer to open up. We need to ask specific questions that will give something more than a yes or no. Open questions starting with how or what are the most useful; for example how would you rate …, how could we improve on …, what did you like most about ….

I don’t mean put guests on the spot. If you’ve already got a good rapport with your guests you’ll be able to do this quite naturally in a conversational way.

Guests will be flattered if you ask for their opinions. So also ask for their feedback on how things can be improved and their recommendations and new ideas. Then keep them up to date with the changes they’ve made to demonstrate that you have been listening. What a great excuse to invite them back again to show them the changes you’ve implemented?

Capture the good and the bad. Even if you don’t agree with feedback you need to find out (tactfully) what has led to their perception, as this may lead to the root of the problem.

Questionnaires are impersonal and few people like to fill them in except maybe when they’re really unhappy about something. The more you can find out through a two-way conversation with your customers the better. But it does give those who didn’t want to say anything at the time, perhaps because they were embarrassed or didn’t want to make a fuss in front of their party a chance to feedback.


Online reviews

Love them or hate them, online reviews do get read and will influence prospective customers. Sadly statistically people are more likely to be prompted to post a review if they’ve a bad experience than when they’ve had a good one. So aim to redress this balance, by encouraging as many as your guests as possible to post reviews, so you get the good ones as well as (hopefully only occasional) bad ones.

Display your confidence by encouraging your guests and website visitors to link to TripAdvisor and other review sites. One of the easiest things you could do is to put a link from your website, and on your post stay e-mails, and prompt people who have enjoyed their stay to post a review.

But the least you can do is show people you appreciate the feedback (good or bad) by responding quickly to the feedback you receive. Register with TripAdvisor, etc. and set up a Google alert so you know whenever anyone is talking about your business online, so that you can monitor your reviews by receiving notifications.

This is particularly important for negative feedback to show that you have looked into the situation and taken things on board. If I see a complaint online that the management hasn’t made a reply to I think they don’t care.

Feedback that you feel is unjustified can be frustrating, but the way in which you handle this will reflect on your professionalism and reputation, so deal with it in a constructive way. Take the discussion off-line as quickly as possible by asking them to phone you. This then provides an opportunity for you to get more detail and having a better chance of resolving the situation without having to share the discussion with the rest of the world.

Don’t be too concerned about the occasional negative comment. This demonstrates authenticity of the content and in some cases can actually help to highlight the type of hotel you are. For example, if you have a comment that the hotel is not child friendly, this may be seen as a positive for some potential guests.

Watch out too for feedback through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites so you can respond accordingly.


Dealing with negative feedback

It can be easy to get defensive when we receive feedback, particularly when we feel it is not justified or we totally disagree with it. But this just makes te whole complaint handling process more difficult. What we need to ask is what led to this customer’s perception. This sometimes involves asking questions in a tactful way. The key thing is to show some empathy with the customer’s point of view.

Even if we disagree, something must have triggered their perception.  So listen to what your guest is saying, and aim to turn a negative into a positive. The least you can do is apologise (even if you’re just apologising that they feel that way) and demonstrate what changes you’ve made if appropriate.


Empower your team

Develop a culture of customer service amongst your team. Give your team training in Complaint Handling and the authority to deal with complaints as they happen. Encourage them and train them how to ask for feedback and just as importantly how to respond when they get complaints or negative feedback.

This is far better for the customer because it gets a quicker solution, far better for the team member because they’re able to deal with it which gives them pride, and far better for you because it means you don’t have to always been involved. This doesn’t mean to say that don’t want to hear about complaints particularly if there are common recurring problems that need to be resolved.

Don’t assume because you’ve told people how to do something they will be able to just go out and deliver it consistently.  It’s all very well knowing what to say, but you know how sometimes when you come to say something the words just don’t trip off the tongue as you might hope!  Let your team practise in a safe environment, based on different scenarios.

Agree with them their levels of authority so they know just how much leeway they have in offering the customer/guest compensation, and at what point they may need to involve a manager.

Observe how your staff handle complaints and give them feedback after the event on what they did well, what they could do more of, and give the appropriate support and guidance on areas where they need more help.

It’s all too easy when we hear of a complaint to blame someone in the team for the problem. Put the team first and they’ll reward you with avoiding problems.


Here’s a little Complaint Handling checklist you may find useful:



  • Listen to the customer – they want to get it off their chest – You need to identify the problem
  • Show you’re listening – remember your body language and keep eye contact
  • Reflect back to the customer to check your understanding and show the customer you’ve understood
  • Park the emotion and focus on the facts


  • Apologise – this isn’t necessarily accepting responsibility, but apologising that they’ve been put out or disappointed or that they feel that way
  • Do not take it personally
  • Show you care and that you understand their concern, why they might be disappointed or why they feel angry
  • They’re not interested in excuses – even if the problem wasn’t your fault show that you’re looking to come to a solution to the problem for your guest


  • And ask what they would see as an acceptable solution
  • Offer alternatives so the customer feels they are in control of the solution
  • Look to overcompensate by at least a few percent – there’s no need to go overboard but just consider what would be reasonable for both parties – It’s not always about throwing money at the problem
  • Tell the customer what you are going to do and not why things went wrong (unless that’s what they ask)

Follow Up

  • Keep your promise and deliver
  • Check that the customer is happy with the outcome
  • Learn from the feedback you’ve had and look into recurring trends – aim to prevent a similar complaint happening again
  • Pass on to your team so they know how to resolve similar situations in future

With the right approach complaints can turn a negative into positive. You can’t always get everything right, but when you don’t make sure you fix it!

Join me on my webinar this Wednesday when I’ll be discussing:

Related posts:

Empower your team to handle complaints

I don’t have the authority

Learn from Complaints

Handling Complaints

Complaint handling training materialscomplaint handling training materials

Developing Service Superstars HLT nb

Caroline Cooper

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3 thoughts on “Complaint Handling

  1. arianna

    dear Caroline,
    thank you for these insights.
    I believe the we all can learn from mistakes and have no fear of what my guests think as I love them! even the naughtiest ones…
    unfortunately next WEd will not be there to attend your webinar I am curious about your lesson.
    kind regards,

  2. Caroline Cooper Post author

    Hi Arianna
    Thanks for your feedback.
    If you’d like to register for the webinar anyway I’ll then make sure you get sent the recording when it’s available.

  3. Pingback: Turning Good Customer Service into Free Marketing for Your Hotel | Hotel Cheap Booking

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