Good doctors get sued. Nice doctors don’t. This poignant statement, made by a malpractice attorney, reveals how legally dramatic the difference can be when professionals of any kind take the time to be nice.
In the hospitality industry, problems will happen – it’s inevitable. Guests will be unhappy or discontent – that’s unavoidable. What doesn’t have to be inevitable and what can be avoidable is the wrong staff reaction and the resulting damage or loss. Angry guests get angrier when the flames of their emotions are fanned. Just like the good doctor/nice doctor analogy, untrained employees may unknowingly intensify a situation by simply not understanding how to calm a guest down.
Learning how to diffuse potential upsets before they get out of control is not only smart, it is a very effective risk management strategy – reducing the risks of added costs and losses of escalation*.* It is wise relative to avoiding litigation that could take place. When people feel they have been treated poorly or unfairly, they may choose to seek resolution elsewhere. In our highly litigious society, hospitality leaders and their employees should do everything in their power to avoid that scenario. Good and responsive service is not only an important business strategy to generate revenue and add dollars; it’s also a prudent strategy to keep revenue in house and make sure dollars are not subtracted from the bottom line.
Steve Grover, a Harvard educated, south Florida maritime attorney who represents clients in personal injury lawsuits against cruise lines and other businesses, believes that hospitality providers are much more likely to be sued when their staff becomes less hospitable following an on-site accident. “When people are injured on cruise ships or in hotels, they expect to be treated compassionately. When that does not happen, I believe it prompts many guests to bring negligence lawsuits who would not do so otherwise. The guest who thinks the accident was the fault of the ship or hotel simply becomes more resolved to seek justice in a court of law.” From his interviews with many potential clients soon after their accidents aboard ships and in hotels, Mr. Grover believes that the hospitality often diminishes once guests voice their opinion that ship or hotel personnel were to blame. “At that point, it is human nature for hotel management and staff to take offense. But from a risk management perspective, that is precisely the moment at which hospitality should be specifically directed towards this now-special guest. It is a very small price to pay compared to a lawsuit. And it’s good business in general.”
One example of an accident gone awry further than it needed to included a woman who seriously injured an ankle on a cruise. She could not get around because of the injury and complained to the ship’s staff. After her message, she felt she purposely got little to no assistance from the ship’s crew the rest of the voyage. She felt trapped in her room because she was not ambulatory. This “added insult to injury” and forged her resolve of suing for negligence. Had the crew reached out to her a bit more, even if she was not in the best of spirits and empathized with her frustration of being on a cruise and not being able to go anywhere, she might have been less disgruntled. They could have made extra phone calls to check on her, had nice amenities sent to her room, figured out how to comfortably get her out of her room and arrange ways for her to still participate in the events and meals on Board. Instead, she was left alone feeling neglected which increased her animosity toward the cruise personnel.
When guests are upset and problems or accidents take place, employees must immediately jump into action and proactively address the situation. Upset guests can also be difficult guests which might motivate employees to avoid challenging encounters. Yet, when they avoid the tough moments they actually make it tougher for everyone, especially their organization. Employees who are empathetic and who genuinely show concern have a much greater opportunity to diffuse or manage problems and accidents than those who don’t care or appear indifferent. Active and responsive caring is critical. Robotic, procedural behavior is not. Keeping good service alive and well is essential in the positive as well as the negative moments.
Learning how to deal with these difficult moments, when guests are not at their best or even worse, when accidents take place and all emotions are unpredictable, is essential to any hospitality environment. Hoteliers need to ensure that employees at all levels are prepared for possible upsets and equip them with the techniques and behaviors to handle these unexpected moments. Employees need to know how to reach down deep to pull out service skills and calming reactions and know how to respond. Hospitality leaders should provide solid training on what to expect with the unexpected. Consider the following concrete steps as ways for employees to LEARN how to deal with difficult situations:
- L=Listen to the guest and learn as much as possible about the situation as quickly as possible. Hear their side out and their version of anything that took place and don’t interrupt. Sometimes a guest just wants to be heard. If help is needed, get it immediately.
- E=Empathize and Ease the tension. Relate to what they are going through and do what you can to help them feel better or move forward. If it is something more serious and other family members are around, empathize with them as well and do what you can to get them comfortable and calm. Empathy is so critical in these moments. Guests often just need to vent and express their dismay. People who are not calm, may act irrationally and become more agitated. This can also agitate the employees involved. Have a “calming” plan or place in mind when problems arise.
- A=Act immediately upon the issue and reassure them that the wheels are in motion. Make sure employees know who they can call for help to determine the best course of action. Is it their supervisor? Security? Medical Personnel? The General Manager? Human Resources? Ensure that all employees on duty know who their “go to” person is for these kinds of situations while they are on duty and that there is a way for immediate access to that person.
- R=Resolve the situation. Find a solution quickly. Determine the best course of action for everyone involved. Respond quickly if it is an emergency. Alert other employees in the hotel or environment to be sensitive to injured or unhappy guests so that their service skills are ready to be mobilized with each encounter as well. Surround the affected guests with as much positive energy as possible. The situation may still be a challenge but some of the damage could be mitigated with kind, compassionate and considerate service.
- N=Note what happened for internal records and document incident so it can be a LEARNING tool for the future. Note all the facts and make sure all details are accurately captured for anyone trying to assess the situation so that personal bias or interpretations do not take place. Evaluate both guest and employee reactions and explore if both could have been handled differently. Meet with those involved and get input on what they might need to handle situations better next time. Maybe they need more training, role play scenarios or just a better understanding of the flow of events and chain of action.
LEARN how to deal with difficult situations and use service as a Band-Aid to help heal those that may be hurt or that experience hurtful moments. It may not change the circumstances but it may change the outcome and the way guests remember the hotel. Failure of guests to return should not be based on failure in service. Just as First Aid helps protect and heal a wound, so can service help protect and heal challenging situations and accidents. Managing the risk is worth the effort and may help avoid loss and excess cost. Manage a chain of action, not just reaction and use service to ease the pain.