This report aims to address verbally abusive guests and complaints where are typical interpersonal communications problem commonly experienced in the service industry. The scope of the study is limited to the hospitality industry, in particular, the hotel sector. Specifically, we shall be investigating service encounters at a hotel front office. However, this issue can happen in any area, such as food & beverage establishments, where service staff would have to interact with customers.
1.1 About the Hospitality Industry
The hospitality industry belongs to a broad category within service industry that includes lodging, event planning, theme parks, transportation, cruise, and additional fields within the tourism industry. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that depends on the availability of leisure time and disposable income of travellers. A hospitality unit such as a restaurant, hotel, or an amusement park consists of multiple parties such as facility maintenance and direct operations (servers, housekeepers, porters, kitchen workers, bartenders, management, marketing, and human resources etc.).
1.2 Difference between City Hotels and Resorts
City hotels are accommodation places that are located in city centres. They are mainly situated near business districts or MICE (meeting, incentives, convention and exhibition) venues. Henceforth, these properties caters more towards business travellers who travel for work purpose. According to Harding (1993), these group of travellers wants a hassle-free environment and wanting the hotel to provide exactly the services and amenities that they sought for (Callan & Kyndt, 2001). Due to their busy schedule and fast pace of living, business travellers tends to have higher expectations towards hotel efficiency, such as speed for check in and out and time taken for laundry service.
In contrast, resorts target a different segment of travellers that have different level of expectations. Usually located near coastal areas, away from the cities, resorts attract more leisure travellers. The environment and atmosphere of a resort is more relaxing and laid back. Therefore, guests expectation is lower. They more receptive towards a slower pace of service so long there are activities for entertainment.
- PROBLEM IDENTIFICATION
Being in the highly interactive hospitality industry, staff will have to face guests all the time. Thus, it is bound to be a time when staff will encounter with unpleasant situations such as dealing with angry or upset guests. Such situations can be easily seen happening in frontline operation especially in the setting of city hotels due to high expectations from guests. Undesirable emotions are often involved as communication and interaction between both parties turned bad after all the complaints and arguments. Despite receiving negative and nasty words from guests, staff are not allowed to respond back with the same attitude as it will adversely affect the image of the hotel. Staff behaviours are being closely monitored as service attitude in city hotels is expected to be more formal and professional as compared to lodging in leisure destinations. Therefore, the interpersonal communication problem identified is about how service staff could manage personal feelings while having to deal with angry guests in a professional manner.
- PROFESSIONAL IMPORTANCE
All members in the team have significant working experiences in city hotel, integrated resort as well as beach resort. Based on the accumulated experiences, the team has identified the gap between training given and the skillset of staff in handling difficult guests. It is common for hotels to provide training for frontline staff help them interact better with guests. These trainings tend to be covering more general knowledge such as service verbiage and ways to form excellent first impression which are useful to form the foundation of good service attitude. However, the team agreed that staff are still lacking the skill to deal with specific or problematic situations such as interaction with upset guests. This might be due to the common practice of manager taking over the responsibility in such encounters. However, as mentioned, these are in fact frequent and unavoidable encounters faced by frontline staff on a daily basis.
Therefore, the focus of this study is to educate front desk officers on the skills that enable them to handle difficult guests. With the right skills, staff will be more composed in facing the problem and dealing it with confidence. It also allows them to be independent in responding directly to guests instead of seeking help from managers. Furthermore, it also acts as a guideline that all staff can adhere to, aligning it with the hotel standard of service in order to strengthen the standardised service protocol. This will help to minimise aggravating the situation further due to inconsistent information and service provided by staff. Therefore, the information should be short and concise to be easily understood.
- RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
Learning from real life experiences is determined to be effective especially for knowledge which is more hands-on based. Critical reflection of past experience through practice and sharing of the outcomes enable people to improve ongoing skills by using the information and knowledge gained from the experience (Helyer, 2015). As such, the team conducted a face-to-face interview with experienced hotel frontline staff to learn from their reflections. The primary research is to gather information by listening to the past stories of the interviewee and understand how each individual handles such difficult encounters. Ms Cheryl Chong, a guest relation officer who is currently working at Equarius Hotel and Ms Lynnette Woo who holds the same position at St Regis Hotel were interviewed for the purpose of this study. On top of that, secondary research was carried out to obtain information on general conflict resolving techniques which have been proven to be effective in the industry.
- SUGGESTED SOLUTIONS
The study will address the two scenarios that are likely to happen at hotel front office – guests complaints and agitated guest that uses verbal abuse.
5.1 HANDLING GUEST COMPLAINTS
A study conducted by Huey Chern Boo (2013) has shown that the recovery actions performed by service staff was sometimes inadequate and even incorrect. Most of the time employees did nothing to address the situation. On the other hand, the root cause of the service failure was not properly addressed. Therefore, the report has suggested the “L.E.A.F.” approach to be used when handling with guest complaints. “L.E.A.F.” stands for “listen, show empathy, act and follow up”.
Firstly, staff should listen attentively to the guest’s complaint before responding. Attentiveness could be shown by standing up straight and maintain an eye contact with the guest. Nod subtly as a form of acknowledgement to what the guest had said.
Secondly, showing empathy towards guest when listening to the complaint. Staff should understand from the guest point of view and be more understanding. As supported by the interviewee, Ms Cheryl Chong who works as a guest relation officer at Equarius Hotel, one must first think from guest’s point of view and handle the complaint objectively as it is not a personal issue.
Thirdly, staff should act in a manner that helps to resolve the complaint. The staff then proceeds to explain to the guest that the complaint will be brought up to the relevant department to conduct an investigation on the matter.
Lastly, there must be a follow-up to the complaint. The staff must remember to hone her words to communicate with the relevant department regarding the complaint. Front office manager should also be informed of the situation. When the final investigation report is out, the guest must be informed of the result as a form of follow up.
5.2 HANDLING VERBALLY ABUSIVE CUSTOMERS
On the other hand, despite the above-mentioned method, the customer may refuse to accept the explanation and may turn verbally to the service staff. In such a scenario, the report suggested three basic steps to deal with such customers.
Firstly, always remain calm and cool, even when the customer continues to be abusive. Always maintain a non-aggressive eye contact with the customer to show that you are listening to their concern attentively, but do not make any verbal response at the moment. At the same time, look out whether customer is carrying any offensive object or showing signs of attack.
Secondly , it is to control emotions when facing the aggressive guest. This can be done by using “self-talk” to remind oneself of the professional role that one is in. As mentioned by Watson (2016), things that you say to yourself (self talk) has a great impact on how you feel and what you do. It is also important to remember that do not allow guest to affect one’s day and to resolve the problem quickly without causing more problems. It is important to keep the emotion in check and feel proud when the situation is handled well.
Lastly, remember to follow up the action. If the customer continues to be difficult and abusive, gently inform the customer that there are other customers in line and would feedback to the manager. However, if the customer continue to create a nuisance, security could be called in. If the customer accepts, carry on with your work, and attend to him later. At the very last resort, if he continues to be abusive, call the security or superior for advice.
- POTENTIAL BENEFITS
As mentioned above, the suggested solution for handling complaints is an acronym that spell out as “L.E.A.F” while the solution for handling angry guests is an easy three-steps method. These solutions are short and simple which makes it easy for staff to internalise. The visual aid proposed in the project will help to enhance learning experience through the reenactment of proper way of dealing with difficult work situations. It is able to create a clearer and lasting impression on the mind of staff as compared to written descriptions.
With the necessary knowledge and skills, staff across all front line departments will thus be able to handle difficult situations in a consistent way, ensuring that it follows according to the hotel standard operation procedures. Not only it elevates the professionalism of service staff, it also upholds the image of the hotel.
Guests, after all, are consumers who need to be satisfied given the amount of money they have paid for the hotel stay. As mentioned, service industry is highly interactive and the main operations revolve around guest satisfactions. Hence, the training of interpersonal communication skills could be only part of the initial orientation and ongoing in-service recap. In the future, with staff being equipped with such knowledge, it is possible for hotel to use incentives to initiate “pass it forward” campaign to encourage action-based peers learning and influences (Angrosino, 2010).
In short, the proposed project will be effective in imparting skills and knowledge to hotel service personnel in resolving interpersonal communication conflicts which involve emotions.
Angrosino, M. V. (2010). The Process of Social Intrapreneur. Florida, United States of America: Waveland Press, Inc. Retrieved 15 March, 2017.
Boo, H. C., Mattila, A. S., & Tan, C. Y. (2013). Effectiveness of recovery actions on deviant customer behavior—The moderating role of gender. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 35, 180–192. Retrieved from http://10.0.3.248/j.ijhm.2013.06.005
Callan, R. J., & Kyndt, G. (2001). Business Travellers’ Perception of Service Quality: A Prefatory Study of Two European City Centre Hotels. Internationl Journal of Tourism Research, 313-323.
Helyer, R. (2015). Learning through reflection: the critical role of reflection in work-based learning. Journal of Work-Applied Management, 7(1), 15-27. Retrieved 16 March, 2017, from Emerald Insight: http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/JWAM-10-2015-003
Shao, R., & Skarlicki, D. P. (2014). Service Employees’ Reactions to Mistreatment by Customers: A Comparison Between North America and East Asia. Personnel Psychology, 67(1), 23. Retrieved from https://libproxy.singaporetech.edu.sg/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,uid&db=edb&AN=94280015&site=eds-live
Watson, V. (2016). Dealing with Angry Customers: A Practical Guide to Achieving Customer Satisfaction. Australia: ESales International Pty Ltd.