By Allen F. Weitzel
This is an interesting topic, sent in by a reader. How does a manager support employees during a guest complaint? Let us sort this out.
The Primary Issue
First, consider the primary issue. The customer is not always right, but they are the reason why you are in business. So, whatever the issue and your solution, you must handle any interaction with professionalism.
My first boss taught me that unless you are 100% sure you are 100% right, you should consider making some adjustment when a guest is unhappy. How often does that happen? Obviously, in most cases some accommodation will probably be made.
Once you are aware that there is a guest complaint, conduct research. Talk to your staff and get their explanation first. Assure them that they are not in trouble, and that they need to trust you, but you need to know exactly what happened. This needs to occur quickly as the guest is waiting and the longer they wait the more upset they become. Talk to your employee before meeting the guest because once you engage the guest may not be able to go back and forth between employees and guest. Since you and your employees know the company procedures, you will be able to promptly uncover what happened.
Divide And Conquer
Often, guests voice their complaint with their entire party with them; looking on, putting in their two cents. Avoid this gang approach of dealing with everyone at once. Let the group know you are willing to hear everyone, as appropriate, but it must be one at a time. Once you understand the problem, implement your solution.
If The Employee Is Right Or Wrong
If you find that your employee handled the guest properly, let the guest know that the employee followed procedures as they had been trained, even if you plan to counter your policy and give the guest what they want. If the employee handled the situation incorrectly, never admit that to the guest. Only tell the guest how you plan to fix the problem. If the guest wants to know what will happen to the employee, tell them you need to do further follow up and you will address the scenario with employee based upon future findings. If the guest wants to know what action you will take with the employee, let them know that you are legally bound not to share that information. Be sure you know the legal limits of such action in your jurisdiction. Some irate guests might demand the employee be terminated, based upon the conditions of the incident. Stand your ground and do not share any employee reward or discipline information.
Never allow the involved employee to accompany you when you face the guest. Keep the employee away from the aggrieved party. You do not want a shouting match of he said/she said.
When going into any guest complaint situation, the guest wants to win and does not want to look bad in front of their family and friends. They want to look good and appear correct. The complaint might not even be about your company policy or how an employee treated them.
Once you have addressed the guests, meet with your employee and tell them the true assessment of your findings and how you handled the situation. Let them know that you did back them up, if they were right, but did not convey any negatives to the guest if the employee made a mistake. Some scenarios may justify a reward to an employee for handling a guest situation correctly, even if you ended up accommodating a guest, contrary to policy. Reward or retraining meetings with employees should remain private.
At one time at our park, some guests riding motorcycles bypassed the parking employees and parked in the lot without paying. Security booted the bike tires. The riders eventually came to the office so they could complain about security and get their bikes released. The manager on duty told them that the security staff acted properly, and they should be happy because security could have had all four bikes towed. The towing charge was $250 each to retrieve the bikes. The bikers were happy they were not towed and gladly paid the $5 per bike parking fee.
When To Fire Your Customer
There are times when you cannot solve the guest complaint and you need to ‘fire your customer.’ A few years back I wrote an article covering the nuances of that subject, which also provides additional info about supporting your staff. If you would like a copy, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.