By Marti Mayne

 

Recently, the traveling public has been plagued with videos and stories about the not-so-pleasant side of travel.  As videos gone viral circulate through the Internet and news media, those in the travel industry are left to wonder how best to handle a difficult customer. 

Corporately owned travel companies must follow pre-subscribed procedures for calming a difficult customer, yet B&Bs don’t have the same contract of carriage outlining their requirements.  This leaves plenty of leeway, and careful judgment calls on the shoulders of the innkeeper when faced with an angry or difficult guest.  In today’s world of online reviews and viral videos, the customer wields more power than ever before.

Let’s take a closer look at ways to deal with difficult customers.

 

First of all, stop, drop and listen

In many cases an unhappy guest simply needs the opportunity to explain their side of the story.  While your first temptation will be to respond with reasons for how or why a problem occurred then to defend yourself.  Stop, drop what you’re doing and listen to their explanation.  Give the guest the chance to explain the problem from their point of view. Just the very act of listening will help the guest feel as if you care, and will help you to understand the guests’ point of view so you can craft a solution that will quickly solve the problem.

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Kindness breeds calmness, especially when the guest is righteous and anticipating a fight. The innkeeper who deals in a kind manner will disarm the angry guest. Nine times out of ten you’ll acquiesce and offer a more-than-fair resolution to the problem that’s making the guest angry anyway.  Even when you are right and need to stand your ground with a difficult guest, always stay calm, cool, collected and kind when communicating with them.

 

Honesty is the best policy

Let’s say a guest destroyed a piece of furniture or took one of your newly purchased robes and then denied it. Sadly, it’s happened more often then we like.  As the innkeeper and business owner, you’re put in a difficult position of proving the loss.  Appeal to that guests’ sense of decency.  Explain the cost of the lost item and what it means to your business.  Perhaps the loss is a sentimental one.  Explain how it makes you feel to lose it.  No one can argue with your honesty or your emotional loss.  This kind of heart-felt appeal is more likely to have the intended outcome of solving the problem.

Keep it positive

How often have you been faced with a customer that threatens a bad review, or even worse posts one?  Your best approach in either case is not to become defensive and explain your point of view. The first approach is to apologize – not for any wrongdoing, but for their irritation.  No matter who’s at fault, the guest is irritated with you, and for that you’re probably sorry. Next go on to offer solutions to the problem rather than defenses for it.  Your positive response to a bad review can do as much to promote your even-handed and constructive management of the business as it does to pacify the irritated guest.

In the wake of recently publicized misfortunes for travelers, the media has focused an eagle eye on customer service. What does mean for innkeepers? This is your chance to shine.  We in the industry know how hard you work to take care of your guests.  Why not let the world know about the positive moments in travel?  While controversy is more likely to go viral, there’s no reason you can’t shout your customer service accomplishments from the mountaintops.  After all, it’s the one-on-one attention to your guests that set B&Bs apart from other lodging options. 

In a story called Tea & Sympathy, the Distinctive Inns of New England outline extraordinary acts of kindness and customer service.  Tales of innkeepers offering solace to recently widowed guests, giving rides to the auto repair shop and even holding one guests’ hair back as morning sickness overcame her in the bathroom are outlined.  These are the acts of kindness and customer service that take place at inns and B&Bs across the country every day.  You certainly have your share of extraordinary customer care to tell.    Now is the time - when customer service is under scrutiny - to tell a different tale of how travelers can count on caring hospitality at inns and B&Bs across the country.

 

5 ways to tell your customer service story

1. Take to your blog: Just as the Distinctive Inns of New England did, think of your top three acts of kindness and tell your story on your blog.  Do you hug each guest after they arrive as strangers and leave as friends?  Perhaps you dug one of your guests’ cars out after a blizzard so they could leave early in the morning.  You honor special dietary restrictions for guests, don’t you?  That’s an unusual act of caring hospitality that you won’t find in most other lodging options. Tell your stories in a blog posting.  Better yet, create a series of blog postings about the acts of kindness guests might expect to find at your inn/B&B.

2. Create a video: Videos are hot these days, and easy they’re to produce with a smart phone.  Focus on your top customer service deed and create a short video showing the world how your inn/B&B sets the standard for customer care.  Then post that video to social media outlets and ask your guests to share it too.

3. Take to social media: This is as simple as taking a picture of you in your act of kindness and telling the story via Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat.  Add your video the next day and share your blog post a few days later.  A few customer service messages can’t hurt to tell your story.  Encourage your followers to tell their story about the acts of kindness they experienced at your inn/B&B.  Hearing comments from others will cement the message. 

4. Thank your customers for reviews:  The simple act of responding to those who take the time to offer a review of your inn/B&B is a customer service confirmation.  This small act puts your money where your mouth is when it comes to service.

5. Let the media know:  Now is the time, as travel nightmares are trending in the news, to tell the media that not all travel experiences have to be painful.  You might simply share a link to your blog story and mention that all travel doesn’t involve confrontation.  The media often seeks feel-good stories, and you never know when or how they’ll be able to use your example as conflict in the travel industry is in the news.

You can’t put a dollar figure on great customer service, but you can certainly track the loss of revenue from a poor reputation.  Great customer care is a hallmark of the B&B industry.  Take the time now while focus is on customer service in the travel industry to show that your business cares.  And when it comes to difficult customers, let your kindness control with composed and mindful responses and solutions.