Imagine this. Your hotel is known for its beautiful gardens present with scintillating nature and humming birds. One of your guests is placed within the finest rooms overlooking this garden. To your surprise, you receive an outraged complaint from the guest, explaining “There are birds singing every morning outside of my window, what are you going to do about it?”. Baffled by the circumstance, to the guest’s satisfaction, you move them to a room facing the car park with no trees and birds around.

This is the strange world we function in and one of many strange complaints that we as hoteliers receive on a daily basis.

It is a well-known fact that guests rely on word-of-mouth to reduce uncertainty and perceived risks when making purchase decisions. The Internet era has allowed for word-of mouth complaints to spread across message boards, twitter, product review websites and online communities. Never has the power of complaints been stronger.

Dan Agius, Managing Director of Seaside Hotel Management (Owner & Operator of Coconut Palms Resort and Mariner Apartments), explains: “Customer satisfaction is of the utmost importance to us. In the modern world with such forums as TripAdvisor you cannot afford to ignore customer satisfaction as the negative impact of an unsatisfied customer can have an unquantifiable impact on our business”.

A recent study by PowerReviews and the E-tailing Group, found that 22% of respondents said that they “always” read consumer reviews before making a purchase, 43% of respondents said that they check consumer ratings and reviews “most of the time”, and about 68% read “at least four reviews” before making a purchase.

That’s a whole lot of negativity being spread – the kind that hoteliers of any kind cannot afford.

However, what distinguishes hotels apart from each other in this land of ever-increasing guest expectations is their efforts to reach out to their customers and hear their complaints.

General Managers agree “Complaint should not be viewed negatively, but rather be taken as an opportunity to retain a satisfied customer. Often guests are leaving more satisfied after they encountered a problem, complained and received professional service recovery. These guests become loyal because that have confidence that mistakes can be rectified”.

So, how do hotels make use of the power of complaints?

Above all, direct feedback should be sought by staff and management in their engagement with guests and through guest evaluation questionnaires. Mr Agius has observed in his experience that positive feedback is generally received directly whilst negative feedback is received indirectly. However he presses, that he “would prefer to receive negative feedback directly from guests so that any issue or dissatisfaction can be mitigated whilst the guest is in house”.

Additionally, hoteliers must actively communicate and interact with guests on social media platforms and develop strategies to address consumer reviews. When using TripAdvisor, the management response feature enables two-way communication interaction and it is of upmost importance that hoteliers understand its function.

As you ponder the best way to deal with a not-so-happy guest, here is a wacky story about a complaint Mr Agius received that you would never expect.

Last year I received a call from a Duty Manager who advised me that a guest had made an unusual complaint and needed my advice. He then proceeded to tell me that the guest had claimed that a swarm of bees had attacked him in his room the previous night. He had claimed that the bees had entered the room via the air conditioner and attacked him. You must treat all complaints as genuine ones, however, I was perplexed by this complaint as I had never heard of attack bees entering a room via the air-conditioning system. So I went to investigate and sure enough in the guest’s room were scores of dead bees on the floor. We apologized to the guest who took the situation very well and upgraded them to a suite and set about to investigate the issue. It did not take us to long to discover that a colony of bees had decided to build their hive adjacent to the air-conditioning system and we arrange for it to be destroyed. This situation led to us changing the pest control procedures to include visual inspection for any rogue bee hives being built around our properties….strange but true!

Xie,K., Zhang,Z., Zhang, Z. (2014). The business value of online consumer reviews and management response to hotel performance. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 43(1), 1-12
Ekiz, E., Khloo-Lattimore, C., Memarzadeh, F. (2010). Air the anger; investigating online complaints on luxury hotels.
Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Technology
, 3(2), 96-106.