Hotels are no stranger when it comes to dissatisfied and angry guests, some of whom would air their grievances during their stay. While this interpersonal communication problem mostly occurs in front-of-house operations, it is believed that the issue should also be addressed in the housekeeping department where this pertinent issue is often overlooked.
This report aims to address this common interpersonal communication problem faced in the hospitality industry and will specifically cover the housekeeping department in The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore (RCMS).
- Background of The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore
RCMS prides itself as a luxurious brand displaying exceptional service provided by fellow hotel associates. Situated in the heart of the Central Business District, RCMS sees guests of various profiles, comprising of both business and leisure travellers. Being known to uphold and enliven their gold service standards, RCMS is a place where the genuine care and comfort of their guest is their highest mission (RCMS, 2017). One of the service values that The RCMS emphasizes heavily on is to build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life. As such, it is important that all hotel associates are properly trained in handling service recovery management and dealing with angry guests in order to win them back, which is aligned to Ritz-Carlton’s aim to provide guests with genuine care and concern.
- Problem Statement
Hotels face countless of complaints everyday, be it at the front desk, at the concierge or even at the back of the house. It is believed that out of all, the Front Office is the department that receives the most number of angry guests. As such, managers tend to focus more on Guest Services Agents (GSAs) during trainings to hone their interpersonal and communication skills. During such trainings, GSAs are trained to deal with different situations that might occurin the duration of the job. Role-plays portraying angry guests are also practiced in the event that similar situations occur. This prepares the GSAs to react and respond in a confident and professional manner should they encounter something similar.
However, the back-of-house staff members are often neglected since they perform behind the scenes and have less exposure to guest interaction. This problem is particularly prominent in the housekeeping department where room attendants are simply taught on how to clean the rooms and accomplish simple guests’ requests. Less emphasis is placed on educating the housekeepers in dealing with angry guests. This creates a scenario where housekeepers are unsure of how to deal with them if they happen to meet one along the hallway.
With lesser practice in overcoming these circumstances, housekeepers tend to lose confidence in themselves. Self-doubt has also been one of the reasons why housekeepers tend to shun away from angry guests. In addition, a majority of the housekeepers are unable to converse in English. This worsens the situation since the housekeepers would not be able to properly express themselves when guests are angry. Many avoid conflict by turning their attention away from the issue by deflecting the complaint.
Without proper training on how housekeepers should deal with angry guests, the problem will continue to remain. Losing a guest brings about many detrimental effects which may be a cause of worry for the hotel in the near future.
Word-of-mouth has been identified as the most powerful and valuable form of marketing. It is a tool that guests tend to put the most trust in. While this can help an establishment to gain reputation, it can also swing both ways. The easy accessibility of the internet today allows guests to share about their stay at a hotel on social media platforms such as Facebook or Tripadvisor. A negative review can easily affect the decision of a guest which results in lower occupancy at the hotel. According to Shoemaker and Lewis (1999), it is important for firms to retain guest as it protects market share from competitors and even steal high value customers from them. Problem resolution that results in satisfied guests could then act as a form of marketing tool for hotels.
As such, several key pointers have been identified for easy learning in dealing with angry guests and advice on how to win them back. Afterall, “It is easier to keep your customers happy than to attract new ones.”
- Research Methodology
4.1 Research Objective
The research was undertaken to examine possible interpersonal communication issues present in the housekeeping department (in this case, an angry guest) and propose relevant and effective solution(s) that hotel members may implement. The team’s analysis will be referenced and based on primary and secondary research data to support findings with regards to winning an angry guest back.
4.2 Research Method
The team conducted face-to-face interviews with a housekeeping manager and five room attendants from RCMS who have experienced an angry guest.
During the interview, different scenarios were shared on how hotel associates dealt with multiple encounters. Both good and bad examples were shared to provide a better perspective to both sides of the coin. The interview aimed to determine the “good” and the “bad” reactions from hotel associates. It also aimed to understand the communication issue that has resulted in the guest becoming angry. It will also shed some light onto the processes and actions taken in order to turn an angry guest into a satisfied one. Besides the front office department, more emphasis will be placed on the housekeeping department where pertinent questions related to housekeeping will be asked.
Much of the secondary research was derived from research journals, company websites and online articles. The objective of this secondary research was to verify the effectiveness of the solution as well as to align the focus of the primary research.
- Proposed Solution
After retrieving and obtaining relevant information related to the housekeeping department, the section aims to provide a series of solutions. There are a number of approaches that are available that are applicable to dealing and winning back angry hotel guests, including the ASAP model (Friedman, 2015), the CARP system (Bacal, 1998) and the LEARN model (Marriott, n.d.).
Ultimately, the LEARN model was selected due to its comprehensiveness and its current application in RCMS’ service-heavy approach to guest experience. The following solutions will revolve around the LEARN model, an acronym for listen, empathise, apologise, resolve and notify.
The model is very adaptable and can be used by employees of any designation and role. As part of the onboarding process, the model is introduced as part of problem resolutions involving guests. Each step within the model need not be performed sequentially and the user has the flexibility to adapt the model to the situation at hand. For instance, if a guest is greatly enraged, apologising first would be prefered to listening as the first step.
‘Listen’ is commonly merged ‘empathy’, and requires the associate to practise effective listening and display concern and empathy. During this time, it is imperative that the he maintains eye contact and gives the guest his fullest attention. An angry guest usually make their grievances public because they wish to be heard and expect tangible forms of resolution. Therefore, the first two steps answers the guest’s desire to be heard.
‘Apologise’ requires the associate to sincerely apologise immediately to acknowledge the service deficiencies encountered by the guest. Proper tone of voice and body language have to be considered during this process to ensure that the sincere apology is properly communicated to the guest. It is vital for the first associate that discovered the guest incident to apologise and own the problem. It would be counterproductive to apologise and yet, refer the guest to another individual or department.
‘Resolve’ refers to any necessary steps required to totally resolve the guest incident in a satisfactory manner. In the event that the associate encountering the guest has no control over the resolution of the issue, he should inform the relevant party after apologising and acknowledging the issue. Problem resolution should be done in a timely manner to minimise the waiting time faced by the guest.
‘Notify’ is the final step of the LEARN model and it involves notifying the affected guest of any follow-up actions that would be taken by the hotel. It also includes notifying the hotel of the incident and the service recovery actions taken. This enables the hotel to learn from the incident as it strives to maintain a high level of guest satisfaction. The hotel is also able to exceed the guest’s expectations during this process, such as providing complimentary amenities.
6.1 Benefits to Workplace
Turning an unpleasant situation around shows guests that the hotel is willing to own and resolve any problems that they have in hand confidently. Doing so will result in a higher tendency for guests to leave positive service recovery comments on online travel mediums such as Tripadvisor and other social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
This will help the hotel create guests for life since all associates would would be able to resolve any problems independently. Pushing responsibilities around would not only postpone the issue, it will further anger the guest.
Hotels would also benefit by achieving a higher guest retention rate. Pfeifer (2004) identified that acquiring new customers would cost five times more than retaining customers. This implies a reduction in budget allocated for marketing efforts. The amount saved could then be utilised in other departments to improve guest satisfaction.
6.2 Benefits to Guests
Guests with grievances and complains would be attended to quicker with more urgency by the hotel associate. With associates being more empowered, the duration in which the problem is resolved will be reduced significantly. Guests would also be at ease knowing that the hotel associates would always be around to make their stay pleasant.
In conclusion, winning back an angry guest is crucial be it in any industry. However, for the purpose of this study, winning back an angry guest at a hotel can bring about many benefits as mentioned above. Losing a guest would mean losing him for life, resulting in potentially lost revenue. On the contrary, hotel associates who have been trained to perform excellent service recovery will have more confidence in winning an angry guest back. This in turn can result in positive word of mouths, positive reviews and also creating guests for life.