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  • Writer's pictureAdele Gutman Milne, CHBA, CHDM

3 Skills Every Hotel Team Needs Now to Get Great Guest Reviews

Have you ever been offered a complimentary night after reporting an issue to a hotel?

It happened to me a couple of times when I was totally shocked by the offer. I wasn’t expecting to be offered a comp night; I wasn’t asking for it, and it had never even crossed my mind. But when it was offered, it didn’t feel like a gift of apology and customer appreciation. It rather felt like it was the quickest “go-to” way of ending a conversation. It struck me that at hotels around the nation, managers are trained to pacify guests in this very expensive way to quickly end an uncomfortable conversation and hopefully avoid a negative review.

I’m Adele Gutman. I am known for helping my hotels have the highest guest review scores in their cities, and their countries, even earning the highest company-wide online review scores worldwide!

Now, I help hoteliers learn methods that really work to inspire guest loyalty by creating a culture of caring, collaboration, and continuous improvement. In my experience, I can assure you that there’s a better way to empower teams, create loyalty and earn a stellar reputation, and that’s what we will discuss today.

Welcome to Get Great Guest Reviews!

Before we ever begin any conversation where we break down what went wrong at a business and what might have worked out better, I strongly recommend one should always preface that conversation with the proper mindset and intention.

I have learned the hard way over my 40 years in hospitality that mindset is critical to a successful outcome. So let me state this mindset clearly at the start.

Forget the blame game. Whatever went wrong, it’s never the staff members’ fault.

People show up for a job wanting to be successful. We hired them, and it is our job to nurture their curiosity and growth, giving them the tools, skills, encouragement, inspiration, empowerment, and freedom from fear to be successful in our shared mission of creating happy, loyal guests for life.

If we missed a step in preparing our team for success, that’s on us. Let’s move past blame and focus on the opportunity for continuous improvement. Sometimes things go wrong. It’s part of life when you are working with human beings. Instead of blaming, let’s work together with respect, acknowledging everyone on the team as caring individuals who are united in their commitment to three goals.

  1. Reflecting on the root cause of what went wrong.

  2. Facilitating what we can do as a team to fix the immediate issue for the guest in front of us so that they feel cared for, appreciated, and respected at every encounter.

  3. With team collaboration, determine and implement what modifications can be made to our processes, mindsets, communications, and products to keep the issue from diminishing the joy of our guests and our staff members in the future.

Your team has not solved the problem unless all three of these steps have been completed.

I often see perfectly kind, smart, and capable team members thinking about what "I" they as an individual can do rather than what "they" as a team can do. I feel their frustration and sadness that instead of being able to use their creativity and common sense to solve problems, they are boxed in with limited tools to work within their silo. the result is guests' loyalty is not built, teams are frustrated, and we have used our most expensive resources to mask the problem at the end of the day.

Without a doubt, I think hospitality pros should be empowered to make the call of comping a night or even a stay. But here's a better idea. If we upskill and empower our teams with more elegant and effective options, we aid our team members' personal success and our business success simultaneously.

I cannot imagine how much money we as an industry are throwing at a problem that would be much more effectively resolved with education and inspiration, upgrading our processes, skills, and culture.

Shutting down a problem with a free night doesn’t always make guests feel renewed trust in your brand. Guests may walk still away still feeling as though the problem was swept under the rug rather than attended to with maturity and responsibility. Often, improved communication skills, process refinement, and a guest-centric mindset will actually achieve a far higher level of guest satisfaction and loyalty you are looking for while helping your team members enjoy becoming more thoughtful and successful hospitality stars.

So today, let’s look at a real-life example and some skill, process, and mindset upgrades you can begin to practice with your team today.

Skill #1. Take a minute to identify all underlying questions or problems in a guest inquiry, and make sure you have answered everything before hitting “send.”

I bump into this issue quite a lot when I review responses to email and chat box inquiries.

Sometimes guests ask three pressing questions, but only one of those questions is answered, and sometimes incompletely. It’s human nature to think of past questions and assume this will be just like all the others. To be a hospitality star and make every guest feel cared for, it is an important skill to focus your full attention on each guest as an individual. After you prepare a response, re-read the inquiry or comment, making sure you have taken a minute to understand the underlying questions or situations, and then thoughtfully ensure your response answers the questions fully. I can’t tell you how many times I have responded to the first sentence quickly, later realizing that I didn’t scroll down to the end.

It’s a challenge, but we should all aspire to master this skill.

Let’s take a look at this chat exchange.

Not long after arrival on Day 1- 10PM

Guest: There seems to be no way to turn off the overhead light at the entrance of the junior suite and still be able to turn on the light in the bathroom.

Let’s examine that statement.

Yes, this guest could have been more gracious and sparkled some sunshine!

Well, we can’t expect that from every guest, especially when it’s late, and they are tired from traveling. They want to go to sleep, but there’s a problem. They didn’t complain. They just went straight to the point with a statement of the issue at hand. But in the statement, the guest is really asking a question. Can you identify the underlying question?


Hotel Team member:

Good evening, Ms. Guest. (Sweet!)

I apologize for the delayed response. (Polite.)

If you have not figured it out already, there is a switch when you first walk into the room that says “main power.” Turn that on and then all the other lights in the room will work properly.

Sounds polite, right? I think it does, and it was well-intentioned, but it was ineffective in progressing our work of closing the loop on this issue for the guest and the hotel. I would call this an honest, unintentional mistake that anyone could make.

The statement, “If you turn on the master switch, all the other lights will work properly,” would have been a fine answer to, “How do I turn on the light in the bathroom?” But is that really what the guest asked?

But let’s apply the skill to see how it works for this response.

Rereading the guest statement:

“There seems to be no way to turn off the overhead light at the entrance of the room and still be able to turn on the light in the bathroom.”

The underlying question was, “How do I turn off the overhead light without turning off anything else?”

Since the response did not offer a way to close the overhead light, we realize we responded, but we have not answered the question or solved the guest’s problem.

You might be surprised how common this is. It is human nature to rush to answer, especially if you have other distractions, which is the nature of hotel work. To prevent this natural instinct from limiting your success, let your training and good habits guide you. This new habit will serve you very well the more you use it. It may seem like it takes time to focus on each guest engagement, but remember the adage, measure twice and cut once? Taking a minute to invite the spirit of hospitality into your heart as you create space for more thoughtful preparation can solve our guest’s problems can speed the way to a positive resolution and minimize the back-and-forth communications with the guest more quickly than any rushed response ever could.

So, remember, next time, before hitting that send button, ask yourself, have you really answered all the guest’s underlying questions?

Skill #2. Offer suggestions and questions rather than presumptions.

We've all been there! We are naturally wired to make assumptions based on our previous experiences. This is human nature. Training yourself and your team to make a habit of offering questions or suggestions instead of statements that can seem presumptuous is a skill that will serve them well in life and their career.

Taking a supportive stance by asking questions and staying to listen to the other person's answer will help your team make every guest, coworker, friend, and family member feel more cared for, appreciated, and respected. Let people feel you are partnering with them to reach a successful conclusion and you will create loyalty.

This is what I call thinking of yourself as the guest's "Ambassador to Happiness." rather than someone who makes statements and moves on.

Can you identify the presumption in the team’s chat response?

“Turn that (main switch) on, and then all the other lights in the room will work properly.”

No doubt, this was meant to be helpful, but can you see how a guest might interpret it? Despite the good intentions of the staff, stating it will work properly could make them feel that you are implying that there is no possibility that there's a real problem with the room. Worse, they might infer that you feel it's the guest's fault that they can’t make their room work properly.

Always consider that the guest might indeed be experiencing a legitimate problem in their room.

It could be that they can’t find the right switch because something was placed in the room in a way that covers it. It could be that they are flipping the right switch, but there’s a wiring issue that requires an electrician.

So rather than making a statement and considering the case closed, why not try offering questions and suggestions and then continue to engage the guest until you are assured that your guest is happy with the outcome? Here’s an example of alternative response.

No doubt there are some hospitality pros out there with some other winning suggestions on how to respond that might even work better, and I would love to hear those suggestions in the comments!

"I’m sorry you are experiencing a problem, Ms. Guest. I'll try to help. The switch to the overhead light over the kitchenette can usually be found when you first walk into the guest room. If working correctly, you should be able to turn the light on and off by flipping the third switch, the one furthest on the right. Let’s see if this will work. Can you please ensure the center switch labeled Main Switch is turned up, and the switch just to the right of the Main switch is turned down? Is the overhead light off now? Then, could you kindly check if you can now turn on the bathroom light? Please do let me know if that fixes it or if I will still need to send someone to help.”

Can you see how taking a minute to understand the underlying questions and then offering suggestions rather than assumptions can put you in a better place to own the issue and follow it through to a satisfying conclusion for the guest? See how the guest might feel that you are partnering with them on a solution and will not abandon them until you are sure that the problem is resolved. In my experience, this is a great way to build trust with your guests.

Skill 3. Don’t Drop the Ball! Teamwork makes the Dreamwork

When I was surprised by being offered a free night which I did not ask for or expect, it was not because of the problem in the room. It was because after I reached out, there was a lack of follow-up communication.

Imagine that the guest communication is a football they tossed you, and once you see or hear it, you receive and accept that football on behalf of your whole team.

Don't throw the ball back to the guest. What you don't want to do is put the guest in a position where they have to keep following up with other people on your team. If you need to pass the ball to someone else on your team, you need to make sure that someone is there to receive it and take responsibility for it, and keep moving forward on it until that guest says they are content and satisfied with the conclusion.

It's everyone's job to ensure the ball is not dropped. Here's an example of how that first chat communication can follow up on the initial suggestions and questions we read before to make the guest feel you and your team are committed to staying with them until there is a satisfactory conclusion.

By the way, some managers have told me that they were told never to offer room moves. This is a sure way to attract more bad reviews for your hotel, which will lose you return customers and new customers too. Some hotels only allow staff to offer the same room-type moves. Remember that a room move is an inconvenience for the guest that was caused by a problem that is probably not the guest's fault. If you have enough staff, offer to help them move. Take time to consider that it may be far less costly to train the team to go a little farther to "sweeten the pot" for a guest by offering an upgrade if available or some other valued amenity than refunding a night's stay. Teach your team how to make good decisions in choosing what to give the guest, along with an apology for the inconvenience. They may make mistakes along the way, but that's how we learn. If you want a great team, let them learn. It will save you time and money at the end of the day.

For example, after someone at the desk passes the ball to the Maintenance Team, the Maintenance team doesn't just go to the room and calls it a day. To be people-pleasing hospitality experts, they must remember teamwork makes the dream work and communicate what was done and what still needs to be done. They must pass the football back to someone who will catch that ball and communicate with the guest. They also need to accomplish the third goal, ensuring someone is continuing to move the ball forward with any corrective action that could prevent the issue from occurring for future guests.

Are you there as a leader to support your team in completing their mission?

Remember our three goals?

  1. Reflect on the root cause of what went wrong.

  2. Reflect on what we can do as a team to fix the immediate issue for the guest in front of us so that they feel cared for, appreciated, and respected at every encounter.

  3. With team collaboration, determine and implement what modifications can be made to our processes, mindsets, communications, and products to keep the issue from diminishing the joy of our guests and our staff members in the future.

Your team has not completed its mission unless all three of these steps have been completed.

There are two possible kinds of follow-up needed to deliver excellent hospitality, depending on the situation:

a. If the problem is fixed, the agent or manager or agent might say to the guest, “My team tells me they have corrected the problem. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. Has everything been fixed to your satisfaction? Please let me know if there’s anything at all that you need help with, I am sorry for any inconvenience.”

b. If the problem is not fixed, the manager or agent might say, “My team tells me that they will need to call someone in to fix the room. I am sorry that we cannot fix the problem today. Would you like to be moved to a similar room, or may we upgrade you to a suite? I have something available just a few doors down."

Hospitality Leaders, it is important to know that not communicating can make things uncomfortable for both staff and guests. Communication shows courtesy and respect. That is why many guests will appreciate your follow-up and value it highly. In the comp night examples I experienced, it was not necessary. Had the courtesy of communication been given instead, I would have appreciated the courtesy and shrugged off the room problem. these things happen. I really wasn’t that bothered by it anyway; I simply reported the issue of not having water, and after the fact, I was given a free night that I didn't ask for but was delighted to accept.

Lack of communication is generally not a people problem. I nearly always find lovely people working at hotels. It is a culture problem, a system problem, a process problem, a habit problem, and a leadership problem. But we often learn leadership from those who came before us, so any habits that are limiting our success tend to stay.

That is why it's so important to live your leadership in a culture of caring, collaboration, and continuous improvement.

The fact that you are reading this shows you are already taken steps to continually learn and grow. Keep reaching for the stars!

If you have any questions about how to implement these concepts at your hotel, please let me know. I am always delighted to hear your questions and suggestions for other ways hospitality stars can level up their guest satisfaction and five-star reviews.

If you have any questions about how to inspire more five-star reviews, please don't hesitate to connect with me:

Thank you for reading and listening! I look forward to chatting with you again on our next episode!


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