Guest complaints are never fun. When a guest services staff member opens a conversation with a guest only to be met with them saying they had a poor experience, you can almost sense the energy being sucked out of them as their shoulders drop, knowing that they need to quickly get into recovery mode. The course of their day just changed, and they’re not sure where it’s headed.
But what if we could get excited about guest complaints? What if the challenge of negative feedback actually gave us the energy we needed to not just manage the complaint, but make us the hero, both for the guest and for the business as a whole?
Once, while planning to open a new park, I was hired onto the management team seven months before the grand opening, to ensure adequate time to build my team and prepare for a smooth operation. Once my primary leaders were in place on my team and within a couple months before seeing our first guests, we began to strategize the guest experience. This included mapping out the journey our guests would take to ensure that we could optimize revenue, while also creating phenomenal experiences that would lead to high satisfaction.
Part of this process included being as proactive as possible when predicting what guest complaints we might encounter, and then doing what we could do eliminate them before they even happened. Our goal was to find, then eliminate, friction in the guest experience, before the park even opened.
I was pretty impressed with how much we were able to predict and then make sure that they would never happen, and overall this was a successful exercise. However, on day one, I got a call from my boss that said, “Josh, your department just got a guest complaint.”
No worries. I asked her to forward it to me, at which point I called the guest and we worked it out. Through effective resolution techniques, I was able to address the concerns directly with the guest and resolve it, thus restoring their satisfaction with their visit. At that point, I turned my focus internally, and asked my team what we could to minimize the chance of getting the same complaint again.
A few days go by and I get another call from my boss. “Josh, I have another complaint for you.” Great! Another opportunity to learn and grow. I asked her to forward it to me, at which point I took the same actions as the first time. I called the guest, we figured it out together, and then we acknowledged what we needed to do to avoid the issue in the future.
We were on a roll. Another happy guest and learning moment that enabled us to keep improving for the future. That’s why I was a little thrown off when the third complaint-related call came in. “Your department got another guest complaint. I appreciate you taking care of the past two so quickly, but what are we doing to make sure we get zero complaints in the future?”
Record scratch. Freeze frame. Zero guest complaints? Why would I want zero guest complaints? If anything, my guests weren’t complaining enough!
Every time I see this quote from Bill Gates, I’m reminded of this situation in which I was told that my department needed to eliminate complaints entirely, and achieve a perfect satisfaction rating of 100%.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.”
The complaints that we were getting weren’t doom and gloom scenarios that were going to plunge the park’s reputation. They were small service failures that had a negative impact on these guests’ experience, and we had the duty to make it right and fix the problem internally. If you set the standard that your team cannot get a single guest complaint, you are either a) living in a magical fantasyland where everything is perfect, or b) you are missing crucial opportunities to improve your business.
The nuggets of information that you can find in negative guest feedback are limitless. Perhaps there is a service issue with a staff member that you thought was outstanding, or that your hours and prices are listed incorrectly on your website, or that the trash can you expected to be empty was actually overflowing.
This is not to discredit the value of positive feedback. Guest compliments are an excellent way to reinforce your standard and reward your team for delivering a superior experience. However, they must be balanced with ongoing constructive feedback from those who are on the receiving end of the experience: your paying guests.
As long as you have the systems put in place to manage guest feedback, recover from service failures, and eliminate the friction points that caused them, guest complaints are the best friend you have in your operation.