Understanding how communication problems arise

Most problems in hospitality involve communication problems. Poor communication results in misunderstandings. Misunderstandings lead to conflicts or make them worse. People that are talking often do not express themselves clearly. Listeners often fail to listen as they are too busy thinking of what they will say. The problems are more likely to occur when there are communication barriers, such as cultural and language differences. Resolving problems is called critical incident resolution.

 Handling communication problems

When there are problems people usually get emotional. Here are a few tips for handling problems:

  • Be attentive – listen carefully, nod in agreement and never argue

  • Ascertain what the problem is, focus on gathering the facts, not on the guest’s personality

  • Do your best to propose a solution to the problem and if the guest is unhappy, offer alternatives

  • Get into action immediately to solve the problem

  • Follow it through to see that the guest is happy with the solution

 Calming upset guests

Dealing with upset, rude or complaining guests is part of the hospitality service. Running a small accommodation poses even more challenges, as guests might not be sure of the rules or not be as willing to obey these rules as they would normally do if in a hotel.
Rightly or wrongly, people are upset because they have a problem – they are not upset with you, they do not even know you. In such situations, it is important to prevent conflict escalation. Most often conflict escalates when you become emotional and fight back or when you tell your guest what to do, such as to ‘calm down’.

These are key steps in calming upset guests:

  • Apologies – an apology acknowledges the customer problem and feelings, and diffuses anger. You might say: “Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience this may have caused to you!”
  • Diplomacy - get diplomatic to disarm the guest such as “Clearly we upset you. Solving this problem is as important to me just as it is to you!”
  • Calmness – to gain control over the situation. Arguing with a guest would just add to the problem; staying calm diffuses the anger. In order to stay calm remind yourself that people get easily annoyed when not getting what they want or need; or when they are ignored at times when they need help.
  • Tact – in trying to get an angry guest to think about his/her behavior by asking “Have I done something personally to upset you?” This might help to get an angry guest to listen and rationalize.
  • Empathy – think about how you would feel in the same situation. This will help you not only understand the guest, but also stay cool and avoid getting into an argument. Expressions such as “That must have been very frustrating for you” or “If I were in your shoes, I’m sure I’d feel just as you do” can be very helpful.
  • Appreciation – show kindness and gratitude. “Thanks for taking the time to let us know how you feel” or “Thanks for being so honest” can calm upset guests, as this is the last thing they expect to hear.

 See a video about Customer Service Recovery (in English)