Respond (don’t just react) to critical customer feedback

Annoyed customer copyI spent a fair amount of time last month on TripAdvisor,, Yelp, and other websites offering hotel reviews. A majority of those reviews were written by hotel guests whose experiences were either very good or a very bad. It seems that when guests have an ordinary or typical experience, they’re not as motivated to write a review.

Social media provides a wealth of feedback for companies that are committed to continuous improvement of the guest’s experience. Some managers react to negative feedback from hotel guests by researching the reservation, perhaps confirming details associated with the complaint, and then following up with an appropriate remedy (e.g., phone call, letter, issue a partial refund, etc.).

These remedies, absent root cause analysis and long-term solutions, are simply band-aids that allow problems to perpetuate. Unless managers also respond to this feedback by identifying the root cause(s) of the problem and then addressing it in a way that resolves or mitigates the issue for future guests, the problems—and their attendant complaints—will inevitably return.

Below are three issues that contributed to negative hotel reviews on one or more of the above websites, followed by solutions offered by seasoned hoteliers with whom I’ve worked:

1.) Elevator was out of service resulting in delays and inconvenience.

I spoke with a general manager who operates a select service hotel with 104 guest rooms located on one of three levels. Of course, with a hotel with multiple levels, guests expect an elevator. Unfortunately, they lost the use of their elevator for several weeks due to a crucial part being on back order.

Guests were inconvenienced by having to go up and down stairs—especially when these trips involved luggage. Several days into it, as guest complaints increased and the extent of the repair delay became evident, he made a decision. He and his team implemented a unique strategy for selling third floor rooms.

When customers accessed the brand’s website or 800 number, they were redirected to the hotel where they received a personal explanation of the elevator issue in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises when they arrived at the hotel. While the hotel was offering a rate of $189 per night for most of its inventory, they began offering third floor rooms for $99-$119 per night, based on occupancy.

The third floor rooms were selling out first! Occupancy and guest satisfaction (due to the proactive communication of the staff and the value created by a discount of $70-$90 per room per night) actually increased during the period of time that the elevator was out of service!

2.) Breakfast buffet was poorly stocked and serviced.

I spoke with another general manager of a select service hotel who had been receiving disappointing breakfast scores from her guests and learned that the critical feedback had to do with several factors:

  • limited visibility and accessibility of the dining room attendant
  • tendency to run out of coffee, muffins, and other popular breakfast items
  • too much time to replenish depleted items

After reviewing the feedback, examining the breakfast process, and identifying potential remedies with her team, she made the decision to relocate the food storage and preparation from the Housekeeping area (which was more than 100 feet away) to an area that was closer to the breakfast room.

How did they do it? That’s the best part! Rather than seeing the limitations of the existing square footage as a barrier, they rethought the current use and purpose of the space. They decided to consolidate the seldom used lobby men’s and women’s restrooms into one unisex restroom.

Next, they converted the remaining space into a food storage and preparation area just 3 feet from the breakfast room!

This addressed each of the primary customer complaints: Now the attendant is visible/accessible, the buffet seldom runs out of coffee, muffins, and other popular breakfast items, and depleted items are replenished in a timely manner!

3.) Felt ignored by the wait staff in the lounge.

Just last week I spoke with the assistant general manager of a full service hotel in New York City who is preparing to implement an idea to encourage servers to make a genuine connection with lounge guests.

He is planning to have the Micros point of sale software require guests’ names and drink preferences prior to opening a ticket. The objective is to prompt servers to capture guests’ names early in order to use it throughout the service experience—not just when the check is settled.

And capturing a record of guests’ preferred drinks enables servers to anticipate the drink orders of repeat guests. Not only does this have a positive effect on guest service, it also allows management to better anticipate inventory requirements.

For instance, if a majority of guests prefer vodka and the bar stocks a dozen brands of tequila, then management will be able to utilize the data regarding guest preferences to make better use of their limited inventory and selection.

Each of these examples illustrates how managers can, by responding (not just reacting) to critical feedback, address the problems experienced by past guests while improving the service experience for future guests.

How about you? What problems are you aware of in your own business that require a long-term fix but remain unresolved for one reason or another? What steps can you take today to resolve or mitigate these issues for future customers?

Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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