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Customer Service in the Hospitality Industry | SOP

customer service hospitality staff

Each person operating in a hospitality industry must treat customers with respect, giving the best possible service. This includes all aspects of maintaining customer care and dealing with complaints and incidents.


The Importance of the Customer

The better the customer care given to customers, the more business they will do with your company and the more business the company generates, the more profit it stands to make. This enables the company to pay competitive salaries and therefore makes good business sense to look after customers as a disciplined practice.


Customers are not dependent on you, you are dependent on them as they pay the salaries and without them businesses have to close down an as a result people would lose their jobs.


When customers make purchases or use services and are parting with hard-earned money, they like to be treated properly, irrespective of their gender, age, race, colour or creed, and will otherwise take their business elsewhere if not.


Keep in mind that you are the link between the outside world and your organization and as first impressions are lasting, it is up to you to make your first impression count.


If it were not for your customers, there would be no need for your company!


The Impact of the Customer on the Company

The organisation that delivers superior customer service will achieve major benefits in competitive advantage and profitability.


Guests are your organisation’s most important assets and the relationship you have with them will be the benchmark by which your hotel is judged in terms of customer focus and quality of service.  Their attitudes towards your hotel will depend on the way in which you treat them.


The lack of caring for your guests could result in the hotel not reaching it’s true potential.  Caring about your guests can create a competitive and harmonious organization as people like dealing with people who care and this results in the guests returning generating repeat business and increased profits.


For every bad service a guest experiences he/she will tell at least 5 others, who in turn will tell 5 more and soon resulting in 10 people and more having a bad impression of the hotel, which is 10 potential guests lost – a loss of income/ turnover for the hotel and decreased profits.


Hospitality employees contribute in specific ways to create an overall positive experience for customers.  As an employee, you represent the company’s image.  If your image is professional and personal, then customers will have this image of the company.


The key to growth in an organisation lies in having a caring attitude towards all customers, even the difficult ones.  Good customer service must therefore be a part of an organisations’ very reason for being, and not seen simply as a tool to prevent customers from going elsewhere.


Customer satisfaction and company profitability

customer service illustration table


Annoying Habits

Annoying habits that irritate customers include the following so take care not to subject customer to this sort of behavior and unprofessional conduct:

  • Being ignored and not greeted by staff.

  • Being false and smiling insincerely at a guest.

  • Not calling a guest by name.

  • To be yelled at.

  • To stand in long, slow-moving queues.

  • People that make no effort whatsoever.

  • Not paying attention to what the guest is saying.

  • Keeping guests waiting, without acknowledgement, while completing a previous task.

  • To wait for service while you chat on the telephone.

  • Talking to a colleague when dealing with a guest.

  • Unhelpful monosyllabic answers, especially “NO”.

  • To be served by a person that smokes cigarettes or chews gum.

  • Any negative body language.

  • Play loud music while dining.

  • Cashiers that run out of change.

  • People that don’t answer letters or return phone calls.

  • If you run out of basic goods, for example their favourite drink.

  • Confusing signs or directions.

  • Not thanking a guest when the transaction has been completed.


Anticipating Guest Needs

Anticipating your guests’ needs could eliminate unnecessary time and irritation.  Pay attention to the guest’s need and decide how your hotel’s service can benefit them:


If you identify products and/or services that the guest has not requested, offer to provide the service without requiring the guest to ask for it.


Anticipate your guest’s needs and wants and look for clues in the verbal and non-verbal messages they are giving you.  Listen attentively, ask appropriate questions and observe the guest’s body language.


To anticipate the needs of your guests, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have I considered all of the guest's needs?
  • What is the guest likely to need or want next?
  • How can I improve the service for the guest?


The difference between your customer’s needs and wants may be that some guests know what they want, or they will have a general idea. Generally, guests will often tell you what they want but their needs are not stated so often, e.g. a guest may state he/she wants a room with twin beds but he/she may also need an extra pillow for one bed and more blankets.


If you know your hotel well, you are in a good position to help a guest.  It helps to keep appropriate materials you can refer to close by (e.g. product lists, services offered, tariffs, general tourist information). If you first have to check up on the information, tell the guest and remember to contact him/her back with the relevant information.


It can happen that you have a guest caller who has been transferred incorrectly to your department.  Unnecessary time can be saved if you have anticipated such a situation and know enough about the hotel providing relevant information, providing specific contact names) before redirecting the frustrated guest to the correct department.


Anticipate calls by using a message pad and using the correct technique for taking a message should the guest be unable to reach the correct person:

  • Make sure the message is complete and understandable.

  • Get the complete name and contact details of the caller.

  • Note the reason for calling.

  • Note the time of the call and date.

  • Note the name of the person the guest wanted to speak to.

  • Repeat the information to the guest to ensure that all the details are correct.


Maintaining Good Customer Care

  • Always strive to be consistent in your interactions with your guests and ensure and maintain good customer care by considering the following guidelines:

  • Never show that you are angry or upset when dealing with an angry guest.  It will make matters worse and you will lose their business.

  • Your guests expect reliable and prompt service.  If they do not get it from you they will take their business elsewhere. This could jeopardize your job in the organization.

  • Tardiness is not tolerated well by most guests; show your respect for them and for their time by always being punctual.

  • Demonstrate high moral values – Don’t tell lies, you will lose your integrity and possibly your job by doing so.

  • Create a climate of warmth before guests’ even approach you.

  • Send out warm and positive signals to each guest prior to the start of the interaction.

  • Be as sensitive as possible to the guest’s emotional state.  Bear in mind that if you attack him/her verbally and cut him/her down to size, and cruelly expose his/her ignorance – you will damage his/her self-esteem.  Show some sensitivity when you point out his/her error.

  • Allow and possibly encourage guests to express their feelings should you feel they want to.

  • Listen with genuine interest and feeling to what your guests have to say.

  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, assure the guest that you will find out and let them know as soon as possible.

  • Try to find something you like in each guest and let it show.

  • Never make guests feel bad for expressing their feelings, but always try to make them feel good for talking honestly about how they feel.

  • Eliminate any negative feelings you have about your guests.  These feelings will show no matter what you do.


Confidentiality of Company and Guest Information

In your daily interactions with guests and colleagues, you will at times encounter confidential information which requires professional conduct as discussed in the policy and procedure below:

  • Never gossip about or criticize your guests and colleagues. 

  • Don’t divulge personal/sensitive details regarding your guests/colleagues. You could be held legally liable by doing so.

  • Guests and members of the public are never to be told the room number of any guest – it could embarrass or even endanger the guest.

  • Never give out information regarding hotel occupancies – this is confidential information.

  • Treat the hotel’s internal operations and future plans with confidentiality.

  • Never give out any information you may have regarding salaries – yours or anyone else’s.

  • Protect confidential documents and confidential work on your computer.  Use passwords where possible.

  • If you are busy with a guest and the phone starts ringing, excuse yourself and attend to the call. It is rude to lift the handset and still be talking to the guest with you. The caller doesn’t know what is happening and confidential information could be overheard.

  • Never give any information to members of the media – always refer them to the General Manager.  Remember that all guests are entitled to their privacy.

  • If your manager is unavailable, - do not give out information about where and with who your manager is, should a person wish to speak to him/her.  Rather try to assist the guest yourself or refer him/her to someone who will be able to assist him/her.

  • Be wary of the chatty caller who asks a lot of inappropriate questions, they might be from the media looking for a story.

  • Never give information regarding contact details of guests, e.g. home address, telephone numbers, room number assigned to a guest for the duration of their stay.

  • Never divulge any information regarding financial details of your guests.


The reason for not divulging company and guest information are many but the most important is for security of company information and the security of guests as the examples below suggest.


Your hotel could be the target of industrial espionage.


Never tell a caller that a colleague is out of town unless you know the caller well.  You could be compromising their home security by informing a stranger that they are not at home.


Personal Presentation

Customers will judge you and your organisation by the way you look and present yourself. It is your responsibility to maintain a high standard of personal hygiene and grooming to present the professional image required of staff working in your department.


Your organisation has specific presentation requirements for staff in particular job roles and should you have to wear a uniform always ensure that you look neat and presentable at all times.  


A high standard of personal presentation is important when greeting customers because customers are more likely to respond well to you and feel welcome if your appearance is clean and tidy.


Not only is personal appearance important, but also is the presentation of your work location.  It is your responsibility to keep your immediate work area and/or the equipment you work with neat and tidy. A cluttered and untidy work location creates an impression in the customer’s mind that the company is not well run and organised.  It may also put the health and safety of guests, co-workers and yourself at risk.


Personal Development

The following are guidelines to stimulate your personal development and to assist you in to conducting yourself professionally:

  • Be assertive but not aggressive. Aggression breaks down human relations.  Aggressive acts cause a person to lose respect.

  • If you are criticized – accept it and look for points you can improve on.

  • Don’t react emotionally. Crying in front of guests does not convey a professional image.

  • Sustain self-motivation by developing a positive way of looking at situation.

  • Take the view that you are almost always capable of more than you believe.

  • Acknowledge the importance of having a positive attitude towards everything you do.

  • Understand how important it is to maximize face-to-face contact with guests, and to cultivate repeat business from satisfied guests.

  • Treat everybody as the most important person in the world.

  • Act as if you have a good attitude.  Remember actions trigger feelings just as feelings trigger actions.


Greeting of guests

The way you greet a customer is important for creating a favourable first impression of yourself and the company. Here are a number of key points that you should commit to memory:

  • “Whilst what you say and do is important, what really counts is your posture when you say and do it.”

  • “The most powerful form of communication is behaviour.”

  • The tone of your voice shows what you feel and think.


An important step in providing exceptional customer care is learning how to greet your customers properly.


Here are some suggested practices to follow when greeting guests:

  • Always portray good manners.

  • Greet your guests when you see them.  Smile with sincerity and say  “Good Morning/Afternoon” Use the guest’s name if you know it.

  • If you are being introduced – acknowledge the introduction with a sincere smile and friendly greeting in return.

  • Familiarise yourself with your company’s policy regarding titles and use them correctly.

  • Make an effort to greet guests in their own language – even if the greeting is all you know.

  • Be warm, good natured, patient and be as courteous and helpful as possible.

  • Never allow guests to see your private moods or preoccupations.

  • Allow the guest to speak without interrupting him/her.

  • Offer assistance to a guest if he/she looks lost or seems to be looking for someone.

  • Don’t consider guests to be an interruption of your work. No matter how much work you have or how often the phone rings, you should never be too busy to give a guest your undivided attention.

  • Your handshake says a lot about you. A firm handshake (without pumping or clutching) shows confidence, warmth, openness, and sincerity; a weak, limp handshake indicates the opposite. A bone-crusher handshake tells people you’re a dominating, insensitive type.


If a customer knows no English at all:

  • Ideally, find another staff member who is fluent in the customer’s language and may act as an interpreter.

  • Keep your normal procedures in mind, make the customer welcome with a smile, use non-verbal communications to help the customer or find out their needs, e.g. draw diagrams, refer to maps or signs etc.

  • Use body language. For example, use gestures, pointing, shaking or nodding head etc.

  • Even people with no English know a word or two. Use the few words they know.

  • Speak in English; otherwise the encounter is unnaturally silent.  Also, your voice itself conveys a meaning, e.g. your voice rises when asking a question.


Greeting customers on the phone:

  • Be expressive and warm – The caller doesn’t know you have to repeat the same greeting 20 times a day.

  • Identify yourself.

  • Keep a smile in your voice - the caller can “hear” the smile.

  • Sound alert and ready to help.

  • Speak clearly, don’t shout or talk too loud.

  • Never talk on the phone with gum or food in your mouth.

  • “Please” and “Thank you” are guaranteed to improve the relationship between you and the caller, as are  “Have a nice day”, “You’re welcome” and “It’s a pleasure”.

  • Show sincere interest in what the caller has to say.


Saying goodbye:

  • The final farewell is very important in ending the guest’s experience with your establishment on a positive note. When the customer leaves the service area, greet them, wish them well and invite them to return. Remember the final impression is a lasting one and it could be the one thing that influences a customer to return.

  • Try using the guest’s name when saying goodbye. Ask the guest if there’s anything else you may help him/her with.

  • Invite the guest to contact you should they experience any problems with the products or service the hotel provides.

  • Wish them a safe journey on departure.


You may like to add something that personalizes the exchange if you have had the opportunity to interact with the customer whilst they have been a guest at your establishment.  For example, “Mr. Smith I hope your and your family have enjoyed your holiday staying with us, we look forward to seeing you again.”


Promoting facilities and services

There are certain aspects that should be known regarding the services that your company has to offer.  A guest can easily determine whether a staff member has sound, up to date service knowledge of their organisation.


It is important that you know the following critical factors in your company:

  • Know the various services on offer to guests.  Know the features, the advantages, and the benefits of every service on offer.  Ensure that you can convey these to the guest in clear, non-technical language.

  • Make sure that all relevant information such as telephone numbers, room tariffs and accounts information are at hand.

  • Staff list and Organigram – The staff list is usually kept and updated by the Personnel Department.  It contains the names, addresses and contact numbers of all the employees.  The organigram shows who is responsible for what activity and who has authority to make decisions and give orders.

  • Know the layout and the names of the various department-heads incase you have to refer a guest.

  • Familiarise yourself with the names and contact details of the recommended restaurants, shopping malls, tour guides in the area.

  • Be aware of special promotions the hotel offers and keep up to date with special events your town has to offer at certain times of the year.


It is important to develop your selling skills to be able to promote the range of facilities and services your organisation offers.  Increased sales will boost your organisation’s profits.


You may feel that selling isn’t part of customer care, but it is all part of offering a complete service to your guests.  You will be required to use your product knowledge combined with selling skills to suggest products and services that compliment those customers that have purchased.


Upselling – suggesting the more expensive item to the customer once they have ordered, e.g. if a coke is ordered suggest a large one.


Add-on-selling – suggesting an item that will compliment the customer’s choice, e.g. would you like a pappadam with your curry and rice.  Add on sales should be suggested before the initial sale is registered, or at any time during the process of the sale.

Using selling techniques should be part of your repertoire when serving customers. You should be confident and professional when making sales suggestions and should not feel that you are required to pressure the guest.


The benefits of using selling techniques include:

  • Providing a better service to the guest by offering a range of service options and facilities.

  • Increased guest satisfaction because they appreciate your thoughtfulness.

  • Increased profits from sales.


Guest Expectations

Each guest is important and has the following expectations when making use of your organisation:

  • Make me feel important

  • Don’t lie to me

  • Keep your promises

  • Give me understandable information

  • Be sensitive to my needs

  • Listen to my advice on improving your service or product

  • Be fair - If I am expected to pay for my service then I expect value for my money

  • Treat me in such a way that I will come back to your hotel

  • Don’t underestimate my intelligence; that would be insulting.


Guest reaction to poor customer service

Poor customer service evokes certain negative reactions and perceptions from guests and as a result you need to be sensitive to the most common causes for negative guest reaction, as identified below:

  • Guest callers get extremely frustrated being kept on hold without checking if they are willing to wait and may become aggressive and abusive. Go back to them regularly to see if they are still prepared to hold.

  • A guest will feel ignored when not being asked whether he or she has been attended to. This may result in the guest leaving and going elsewhere. Attend to customers promptly.

  • Attending to other guests first when the guest was there first will make the guest feel ignored and could also result in aggressive outbursts from the guest.

  • Guest callers could be affronted if their conversation is ended abruptly and may result in the guest not calling back and or going elsewhere.  A sincere “Thank you for calling. Goodbye “ will make the caller feel appreciated – and secure his/her loyalty.  Let the guest hang up first.

  • A guest could feel insulted if the phone is slammed down after conversation This might just provoke the guest and influence her to call back and complain – so take care and put the receiver down softly.

  • Eating, drinking or gossiping on front of guests will make them feel that your organization is unprofessional and will most certainly not encourage them to return.


Guidelines for superior guest care

Superior guest care is an important ingredient to set your organization apart from the competitors and is a good method to gain and maintain the competitive edge on the competitors. Below are some guidelines and suggest practice for superior guest care.



Take into consideration the expectations and needs of your colleagues.  Never do or say anything, which may break down team spirit. Remember you need each other.


Project the right image:

Adhere to your hotel’s corporate image and be aware of your written and spoken language.  Project a confident and assertive attitude at all times.


Cultural Differences:

Learn the cultural differences of your various guests. This way you will avoid unintentional insensitive mistakes.


Understand that you are dealing with the person – not the culture.  Each person is unique and ignorance leads to prejudice and intolerance. 


Keep your promises:

Don’t make any promises you cannot keep. It reflects badly on you and the hotel.


Be reliable:

Unreliability can impact negatively on the hotel’s profitability – If a guest requests a certain product or service and you don’t make the effort to fulfill the request they will take their business elsewhere.


Listen to your guests:

They will give you free and valuable information about you, your company, your products and services.


Customer care in other fields and industries

Customer care is important in all spheres of business and the principles of customer care should be adhered to when dealing with people. E.g. the hospital.

  • A person making an appointment with his/her doctor expects the doctor to keep the appointment.

  • A patient expects the doctor to be honest at all times.

  • A patient wants to feel that his/her problem or complaint is understood and will promptly be dealt with.

  • A patient wants to feel that the medical personnel care about him/her and have his/her best interests at heart.

  • A patient expects sensitive or personal information about him or her is kept confidential.


Ensure that your guests get superior customer care!


Improving customer care

Always strive to improve on the customer care you give your guests by considering the factors below:

  • Understand what the guests like about what we do and plan to do more of it.

  • Understand what the guests are less happy about in how we are delivering our service and agree on plans to improve this.

  • Be open to the cultural differences of your guests and try to familiarize yourself with information regarding the various cultures of your guests.

  • Be tolerant of the different values, attitudes and beliefs, as well as the different ways of behaving, of your guests.

  • Being responsive to your guests’ needs.


Ask yourself the following questions and describe how you can improve on your customer care:

  • Would my guests like to work in my working area, i.e., is it clean, tidy, visually pleasing, and organised?

  • Would I buy our products and services?

  • Would I like to be treated in the way that I treat our guests?

  • Do my guests think that I’m responsible?

  • Am I proud of the quality of my work?


Effective Communication

Being an effective listener requires the following:

  • Look at the person speaking to you, listen and don’t interrupt.

  • Pronounce your words clearly.  Misheard words can cause confusion.

  • Ask pertinent questions.

  • Don’t change the subject.

  • Empathise.  Put yourself in their position.


Verbal and non-verbal communication refers to:

  • Being aware of what you say and how you say it.

  • Keeping it simple, whether it is written or verbal communication.

  • Being sincere - it is easy to spot a person being false.

  • How your facial expression tells a lot about your feelings. Remember to keep these in check so that guests do not pick up anything negative by your facial expressions. I.e. sulky face, sad face, angry face etc.

  • Keeping eye contact.


The advantages of effective communication results in:

  • Problems getting solved by sound decisions being made.

  • Good working relations being established.


Non-verbal communication

It is said that, during the course of communication with our guests, we gain 7% of our information from the actual words being used, 13% from the tone being used and a massive 80% from body language used.



Body language reinforces verbal communication with guests by:

  • Supporting what we are saying – when, for example, you maintain a demonstrably assertive stance while saying

  • “ I will do everything in my power to get you a room with a sea view.”

  • Letting others become aware of our state of mind – so that they can tell by your expression and/or your posture that you are happy/anxious/exhausted, etc.

  • Replacing verbal communication altogether – as in a shrug of the shoulders when you don’t know an answer or a shake of the head when you wish to say no.



Body language can also cause problems with our guests in the following ways:

  • It can contradict what we are saying to our guest - when, for example someone replies to your query with “I’m fine” while his body language is such that his obviously not happy.

  • It can be misleading – as when you send mixed signals by saying how pleased you are about something while maintaining a “closed” body language (arm folded across your chest, posture rigid, avoiding eye contact).

  • It can be so misleading that those observing do not get any message at all. 


Using body language effectively is important because:

  • You cannot control the behaviour of other people but you can always choose your own behaviour when dealing with guests.

  • If you remain in control and respond in a calm and assertive way, you will usually reduce the guest’s level of anger and this, in return, will lead to a solution to the situation

  • You could say “I understand your feelings about this issue, let me see what I can do to rectify the situation for you”.


Positive & Negative Body Language


  • Looking at the guest’s face

  • Making frequent eye contact

  • Nodding and smiling as the other person speaks

  • Uncrossing your arms

  • Having “open” hands

  • Steepling your fingers

  • If standing, turning towards the guest

  • Leaning slightly towards the guest

  • Maintaining a relaxed posture



  • Avoiding looking at the guest

  • Avoiding the guest’s eyes or staring aggressively

  • Repeatedly licking you lips or clearing your throat

  • Keeping your arms folded

  • Clasping your hands tightly together

  • Banging the table or pointing at the guest

  • Standing over the guest when seated

  • Leaning away from the guest

  • Fidgeting


Range of Guests

Your aim in providing and maintaining customer care is to provide an exceptional standard of service to your guests so that they are satisfied.


Your organisation’s customers can be categorised as follows:

  • Regular guests.

  • Chance guests (passing trade)

  • Visiting guests.


Regular guests enjoy the standard of service you provide and the environment and facilities you offer and should never be taken for granted. Every effort must be made to tune into their needs as regular guest can become a dissatisfied guest and take their business elsewhere.


Chance guests or passing trade are also important to your organisation.  Attracting and winning the loyalty of chance guests is an opportunity to expand your regular customer base. Chance guests may enter your premises because it is convenient, or other satisfied guests may have recommended your organisation. The first impression of your organisation on the chance guest is crucial because first impressions tend to be lasting impressions.


A visiting guest may be a local or overseas tourist.  If your organisation deals with a significant number of visiting guests, they should be regarded as regular guests. Every effort must be made to meet the particular needs of visiting guests, for example, this may include extra services such as multi-lingual staff, special tourist packages or deals.


In the three categories of customers listed above, there is a range of different types of customers, each having their own particular needs and requirements.  This range may include:

  • Adults

  • Children

  • Customers with mobility difficulties

  • Customers with communication difficulties.


Advantages of Complaints/Customer feedback

Customer complaints offer you an opportunity to rectify a situation resulting in prevention of further complaints and continuous improvement of service.  You should react and respond to all complaints to make sure you never receive the same complaint twice.  Always endeavor to identify and work to eliminate the cause of the complaint.


Dealing effectively with complaints can result in:

  • Elimination of product or service defects.

  • Improved operating procedures.

  • More skillful customer service behaviour.

  • Higher performance standards.

  • Complaints and customer feedback forces problems out into the open and people have to examine them and work towards a solution.

  • It enables guests, as well as the hotel to state their goals and perhaps achieve them.

  • Prevents hostilities and resentments from festering.


Methods of dealing with customer related issues

Customer complaints and irate customers must always be dealt with in line with your organisation’s policy. Below are some methodologies on dealing with customer complaints related issues:


When several customers are upset at once:

  • Address them as a group and invite them to discuss the matter in a private area.

  • Work with each according to priority, while making sure those waiting are kept busy entertained, or at least comfortable.

  • Get help from management or staff if you are unable to deal with the situation on your own.

  • Give them attention, show patience and stay calm.


When required to explain unpopular policies:

  • In advance, discuss with your team the proper language; terminology, or “scripting” approach while explaining difficult policies.

  • Always let the positives imply negatives when explaining policies.

  • Emphasise customer benefits always.

  • Relay complaints to management, accepting them graciously.

  • Offer options.


When a guest is upset in front of a crowd:

  • Whisper  - imply the need for privacy.

  • Direct the customer away from others.

  • Get help so other customers won’t be neglected.

  • Proceed with a company-approved complaint-resolution policy.

  • When there isn’t enough resources:

  • Compensate for the lack of resources - bonuses, tickets, etc.

  • Ask for time to research alternatives.

  • Ask the customer for other acceptable solutions.

  • Review the problem with management.


When the guest is really wrong:

  • Always put yourself in their shoes.

  • Share the problem with them;  “I understand your perspective”.

  • Ask open-ended questions.

  • Give reasons; try to negotiate a comfortable solution.


When the guest is still upset after your best efforts

  • Understand that there may be a personality clash.

  • Do not take it personally.

  • Find someone else who may relate better to the customer.

  • Send a follow-up note


Range of customer complaints

A guest's expectations not met

The guest may feel that he/she did not get what he/she was promised or thought was promised.  Whomever the guest has contacted or who ever has dealt with the customer’s complaint must apologise and accept the blame on behalf of the hotel.  That person must then do everything in his or her power to give the guest exactly what was promised.  If this is not possible, a negotiated alternative must be suggested.


A guest treated badly

Usually one finds that this type of guest will not complain to the “offender”, but rather to another member of staff.  Whoever deals with the guest should, firstly apologise for the offender’s behavior.  Secondly, be polite, courteous and helpful.  The guest will need to be reassured that the offender’s behavior is not indicative of the company as a whole.


A guest ignored

Sometimes a guest may have to wait for service.  The fact that the guest is still waiting when he/she is eventually attended to, gives the employee handling the situation the opportunity to rectify the poor impression.  Ensuring that the guest is attended to immediately can do this.  Whoever handles the situation must apologise for the error, delay and any inconvenience that has been caused, and set about reassuring the guest that the matter will be dealt with.


An initial complaint not dealt with

If this is the issue, the guest will often take the matter to a supervisor or manager.  To avoid this scenario, the employee dealing with this kind of complaint will need to make extra special effort.  He/she will need to show a lot of understanding and concern, but under no circumstances should that employee run down his/her colleagues or complain to the guest about them.


The employee handling the complaint should extend an invitation to the guest to bring any further problems to him/her.  A mutually agreeable solution to this type of complaint is the best course of action.


Always do your best to ensure that your guest never feel neglected or taken for granted!


Common Guest Complaints

Over and above what has already been discussed earlier, there are several things that really irritate guests.  The following list is based on the most commonly accepted issues that irritate guests: 

  • Waiting in line.

  • Being put on hold.

  • Being quoted on price for a room, then learning the real price is higher.

  • Poorly informed or unprofessional personnel.

  • Employees who say, “It’s not my department” and are reluctant to help guests.

  • Employees who talk down to the guests.

  • Employees who can’t describe how a service operates.

  • Employees who speak on the phone while serving a guest.

  • Dealing with complicated forms and no one to assist.


Methods to satisfy irate guests

The following are a few examples of how a caring manner can be achieved:


  • When the guest calls in to your office by telephone, reward him or her by being prepared to serve him or her in a prompt and friendly manner.

  • When the guest becomes rude, understand his or her position and by adopting a kind stance.

  • WHen the guest makes a special request, try to grant that request.  It may not be possible, but don’t give the guest the impression that you have not tried or couldn’t be bothered to try.

  • When the guest is indicisive, try to suggest a suitable course of action

  • When the guest starts to voice his or her objections during a discussion, emphathize and answer all the guest's objections to his or her satisfaction, thereby projecting a firm image of professionalism. 

  • When the guest refuses to agree with you, reward him or her with polite appreciation. Never enter into an argument with the guest. Although you may win the argument, you could lose the guest. 

  • When the guest registers a complaint, with fast and positive action try to resolve the matter to his or her satisfaction. 


Guest Complaints Procedure

Remember: A complaint is an opportunity to improve the hotel. 


Deal with all complaints as an opportunity to put right something that the guest is unhappy about and to ensure that the guest receives some satisfaction from the company as a result of the complaint. 


Follow the procedures below:

  • Never ignore a complaining guest.  Give him or her your undivided attention.

  • Listen carefully to the reason for the complaint.  If you are not quite sure on the point he/she is making, ask him/her to clarify the complaint.

  • Put yourself in the guest’s shoes, and use positive and friendly words and comments throughout the conversation.

  • Stay calm and if you feel irritated by the nature of the complaint, don’t’ show it. You won’t get very far if you start being aggressive.

  • Ask pertinent questions so that you remain in control of the situation and generate the information required to be of assistance.

  • Record all complaints, however trivial:

  • Name of customer

  • Date

  • Nature of complaint

  • Action taken

  • Date complaint is resolved

  • Any follow-up if necessary

  • Apologise and show the guest that you are taking immediate action.  E.g. rectify the problem or take down all their details so that you can refer the problem to your manager.

  • Explain to the guest how the problem started and that it was not done intentionally.  Stick to the facts; don’t create false impressions or be dishonest.  Don’t tell a guest her room is being cleaned when you know that the cleaners are still on lunch. 

  • When working on a complaint, keep the guest informed.  Inform the guest if there are going to be any delays in solving the matter.

  • Follow the complaint through to its logical conclusion and make sure that the complainant is perfectly happy about everything before you close the matter.

  • Remember, a guest’s complaint is always valid, no matter how outrageous it is.

  • Mistakes happen and complaints will occur.  Don’t get depressed by them.  Every complaint is an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment and professionalism to your guests and that can lead to increased guest loyalty.

  • Let the guests know that, if they are unhappy about something, they will find it very easy to approach the hotel with their complaint, and that complaint will be attended to promptly.

  • You could say something like: “We’re sorry for the inconvenience you have been caused”.


Written complaints

If written complaints are received from guests, they will be referred to you only after the General Manager and your Head of Department have read and discussed them. You will then be involved in an investigation about the complaint.


  • The following practice applies in the event of a written complaint being received:

  • Accept that it is the guest’s right to complain in writing to the General Manager or even the Managing Director, and avoid questioning why the guest did not bring the complaint directly to you – there is no answer to that question and you will only make yourself unhappy. Do not regard the written complaint as a personal affront or an attempt to make you and your department look bad – it is an opportunity to learn.

  • If the complaint relates to something you personally have done, cooperate in the investigation by giving your side of the story as clearly and as unemotionally as possible. Be gracious and apologise if it is clear that you did not meet the required standards.

  • If the complaint relates to a problem that affects the entire team, discuss it with the team with a view to finding a solution rather than finding someone to blame and punish. It is only by finding a solution that you prevent a repetition of the incident. Finding someone to blame and punish solves nothing, and only leads to poor morale and team work.

  • If the complaint is about the specific action of a specific person, handle it privately. Your objective is to find a solution in order to prevent a repetition of the incident, so handle the discussion constructively.


Documenting Complaints

All complaints are to be documented as per the following procedures:

  • Complaints received by the Night Manager or a member of the night shift team must be recorded in the Night Manager’s handover book. Describe the complaint, the action taken, and whether the guest was satisfied with the action taken.

  • Complaints received by Reception must be recorded in the shift handover book so that the next shift knows what happened, what action was taken, and whether the guest was satisfied with the solution. This enables the new team to take appropriate action should there be a sequel to the complaint.

  • If you handled a complaint that related to another department, make sure that you give feedback about the complaint to the department concerned.

  • Give feedback to your immediate manager about complaints that you or members of your team have handled. This ensures that he or she is able to act appropriately if there is a sequel to the complaint. It also ensures that you create useful opportunities for the team to learn from the complaint.

  • Discuss creative solutions to complaints with your colleagues – this enables them to learn from your experiences, and take opportunities to learn from them.


Complaint Follow Up Action

Follow up actions need to be carried out as soon as possible after a complaint has been lodged. 


Suggested below are practices to ensure the speedy resolving of complaints:

  • Write down the specific complaint or incident in the complaints/ incidence register.

  • Prioritise the complaint/incident and set your target in rectifying the complaint/incident in the shortest possible timeframe.

  • Keep record of what you have done to rectify the problem and monitor your progress.

  • Ask other people to help if you will not be able to solve the problem/incident by yourself.

  • Notify the guest immediately if the problem is solved.

  • Take the necessary steps to avoid the complaint or incident from surfacing again.

  • Notify your unit manager of the outcome.


Do’s and Don’ts of customer complaints

Inevitably there are times when guests lodge complaints that they are difficult, persistent or even rude to you.  Your reaction will greatly influence the outcome of the situation.  Summarised below are some behaviour patterns to avoid and some to cultivate:



  • Confrontational behaviour –It reinforces conflict and creates more ill feeling.  One side demands apologies from the other and the redress of perceived wrongs.  One party wins at the expense of the other.

  • Avoidance – It prolongs the problem and keeps it just below the surface.  Avoiding a problem might make the situation even worse.



  • Compromise - Both parties make concessions, bargaining with each other until a compromise is reached.

  • Collaboration  - Both parties solving the problem together.  Both sides focusing on the problem, rather than proving who is right and who is wrong.  Both parties striving towards a common goal.


Complaints practices

Practices to avoid

Always ensure you behave professionally during an entire complaints process. Listed below are some of the numerous practices to avoid whilst dealing with a customer’s complaint:

  • Don’t tell a guest something cannot be done or will not be done.  Rather advise the guest that you will investigate the matter and see what can be done.

  • Never pass the buck.  Don’t refer a guest to another person or department when you can handle the issue yourself.  It might never be attended to and your credibility will be lost.

  • Never keep a guest waiting unnecessarily.

  • Never name another guest as the reason for a fault.  Not only will this be perceived as unprofessional, but also the customer may begin to wonder if you say the same about him or her.

  • Never argue with a guest, ignore a complaint or use bad language.

  • Don’t lose your temper, even when confronted by an angry or difficult guest.  You are more likely to diffuse a difficult situation by staying calm and in control. Avoid sarcasm at all costs.

  • Never challenge the guest.


Killer phrases to avoid when dealing with guests:

  • We’ve never done it that way before.

  • We don’t have enough people.

  • You don’t understand the problems in this department.

  • That’s not my problem.

  • That’s how we’ve always done it.

  • I have no idea.  Ask someone else.

  • I’m busy at the moment.  Can you call back later?

  • Didn’t you listen to what I just said?

  • What you see is what you get.

  • Hang on a moment.  I have another call I must attend to.

  • What do you want?

  • Can’t you just wait a minute?

  • I’m off on lunch now.  Sorry, you’ll have to come back later.


Guests who complain are more likely than non-complainers to use the service again from the hotel that upset them – provided that their complaint was resolved efficiently.


Guests who have complained and have had their complaints sorted out efficiently tell an average of five other people about the treatment they received.  These five people could be potential guests in the future.


Every unhappy guest’s negative story will be shared with at least nine other people.  These nine people will be reluctant or will not use your hotel in the future  - Loss of revenue.


Guests are not interested in your hotel’s problems. They are concerned with what they can obtain from the business relationship.


Requirements for Superior Guest Care

What makes for superior guest care?

The more effort that is made to satisfy and delight guests, the higher the degree of guest loyalty. Always ensure that all your guests are treated with the utmost respect and courtesy. Indicated below are some characteristics to pursue in your daily dealings with your guests:   

  • Reliability  - Ensure that your guests can depend on you every time to do what has been promised.

  • Knowledge – Know your services/products offered.

  • Empathy – Do guests receive individual attention?

  • Responsiveness – Give your guests prompt service every time

  • Receptiveness- Be willing to accept new ideas and to learn.


You expect to be treated properly when you are a customer.  Do the same for your guests.


Dealing directly with guests

When dealing directly with guests you might find that you may not always know the answers to a guest’s questions, as it could possibly not be within your area of expertise and responsibility. In this situation however, when in doubt, find out from alternative resources and follow the guidelines below:

  • Always keep your manager informed of important matters when you have referred guests to someone else.

  • You need to use your best judgment. If a guest presents you with a complaint, consider it your problem to manage. You may or may not choose to involve someone else.  You should refer the complaint on to your supervisor or manager if the nature of the problem is clearly out of your sphere of authority.


When the guest who is ill or has hurt himself:

  • Ensure that you are familiar with the hotel’s emergency procedures.

  • Don’t panic if a guest faints or hurts him/herself in reception. 

  • Stay calm and reassure the guest.  If you know first aid, do what you can to help the guest.

  • Keep the phone numbers of the ambulance and/or closest hospital at your phone for emergencies.


Referring Guests

  • Although it is best to resolve complaints and incidents yourself, sometimes you have to refer the situation to a person in a more senior position.  Use the following guidelines when referring a guest:

  • In most cases, customers do not want you to refer the situation to someone else because it could imply you are not interested or you believe it is not your problem.  On the other hand, if a person is really angry, perhaps this is exactly what he or she wants because it is one way of expressing the need to talk to ‘someone more important’. 

  • A more senior person may also have more experience in dealing with difficult situations or with the types of alternatives available to satisfy the customer.

  • If a guest wants information and you are unable to assist him or her, find out who else has the information and refer the customer to that person/department.  Alternatively, make the time to read the hotel’s policy, document so that you can answer common questions.

  • A guest might feel that your unit manager is the only person that can help him/her.  Ask the guest’s name and phone your unit manager to find out if he/she is available.  If he/she agrees, show the guest to his/her office.  If your unit manager has asked not to be disturbed and the guest still insists on seeing him/her only, you could say “Mr Fernandes  has specifically asked not to be disturbed.  But if you would like me to interrupt her, I could phone and see if he is available” This is usually enough to convince the guest.

  • Transfer call only when necessary, explain your reasons, and ask permission first. When callers are transferred from place to place, their good feelings about your hotel quickly dwindle.  Don’t just say, “Hang on,” and let them go.  Now and then caller will not want to wait. When that happens say, “Fine. I’ll be happy to ask Mrs. Jones to call you back.”

  • Transfer a guest as quickly as possible to the correct department and introduce the guest to the referred person. E.g.   “Mrs. Jones, this is Miss Black at reception.  I have Mrs. Cole on the line regarding a booking that has been double-booked. Could you please assist her?”  Remember to inform the guest (Mrs. Cole) who you are referring her to.

  • If you are unable to help a guest, be tactful and polite. You could say “Excuse me Mr. Smith, but I believe Mrs. Jones in the Administrative Department would be in a better position to assist you.   May I transfer your call?”


Complaints occurring outside work area or authority

If a guest lodges a complaint that relates to another department, put the guest in touch with the correct person by following the procedure below:

  • If the guest is with you, take him/her to the appropriate person.

  • While the guest is with you, telephone the department concerned and ask the appropriate person to come through and assist the guest.

  • While the guest is with you, telephone the department concerned and allow the guest to lodge the complaint over the telephone.

  • Inform the guest that you will ask the appropriate person to contact him/her - and pass on the complaint to this person.

  • If the complaint comes telephonically from a resident guest, ask him/her to telephone the appropriate person or department, and provide the extension number.  Or, alternatively, get the full details regarding the complaint, then telephone the appropriate person or department, and lodge the complaint.

  • Ensure that you still follow up to check guest satisfaction, even if another person or department handled the enquiry or request. 


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