How to deal with angry guests in 5 steps

One summer working at The Beach Club there was a slew of complaints about anything from not having enough towels to too many bugs. Now the Beach Club is located on Lake Michigan and one of the most beautiful places in the world. Why anyone would want to complain while they were on vacation was beyond me but they did. We got complaints about the lake water being too cold, the pool was not open late enough (closed at 11 pm), the pool was not open early enough (open at 8 am), and the list goes on.

One time a guest did not have the proper credentials to get into the gated parking lot next to the Beach Club, and she was mad at us. First, an associate was dealing with her stating that this parking lot was for people staying in a particular hotel only. The guest was insistent about getting into that parking lot. The associate went higher up and got the on-duty supervisor. The supervisor stated the same thing that only the guest staying in a particular hotel could park in this lot, but the guest was having none of it and started yelling and screaming at the Beach Club supervisor that she was special and could park in that parking lot. After a few minutes of getting yelled at that supervisor came and got me. I could tell right away that this was going to be a challenging moment.

I used a 5 step approach to making this guest happy and used it as a teaching/learning moment at the same time.

Step one — Stay Calm

The less emotional you are, the more rational you will become, and the better you’ll be able to handle what comes next. I could tell that the supervisor that got yelled at was pretty rattled. So I reassured her that it’s not personal, how could it be personal if the customer does not know you personally. The louder they get, the quieter you should get. As you approach the situation with a calm, clear mind, unaffected by the customer’s tone or volume, their anger will generally dissipate.

When I approached the guest I could see that she was ready for a fight. I was not going to engage with her, I was going to stay calm and not let her lure me into an argument. As she yelled at me, I tried to be as quiet and nonthreatening as possible.

Step two — Listen To The Customer

To understand what is bothering someone we need to listen to their side. Listening patiently can defuse a situation, as long as the customer feels acknowledged. Now we need to listen, I am talking about full eye contact, arms uncrossed, full attention to the customer who is complaining. After they are done summarize what they said, and ask questions to further understand the complaint. More often than not a customer just wants to be heard, understood, and to feel special.

The customer at the gate let me have it, she tore into me about how I needed to do my job and let her into this parking lot. I stood there calmly listening to her berate me and my company for what felt like ten minutes. She told me everything that was wrong with my place of business, and I started to see a pattern of customer failures that she had received. No wonder she was upset.

Step three — Be Empathetic

After the customer vents, they want to know you understand where they are coming from and how they feel. Expressing empathy goes a long way to diffuse an angry guest. Maintain a concerned, sincere and interested facial expression. Your voice, as well as your body language and expression, communicates your attitude. People respond more to how you say something than what you say.

After the guest was done yelling at me, I told her that I understand where she was coming from, and I was sorry that she was feeling this way. I could see the anger leave her face at this point, and she started to calm down.

Step four — Ask Questions

Allow customers to tell you what they need and how you can solve their problems. Questions such as “How can I make your stay better?” or “What can I do to fix this?” can go a long way to calm down an angry customer. Sometimes nothing is needed besides to listen and to make the customer feel heard and important. We can achieve that by asking questions.

I asked the guest at the gate what she wanted me to do? At this point, she had calmed down and she said she just wanted to park and relax by the pool.

Step five — Provide A Solution

This is what the guest/customer is looking for, a solution to their pain point. If you followed the above steps and you stayed calm, listened to the guest, were empathetic, and asked questions you should have a solution ready. Now all solutions are different and some come in the form of refunds, coupons, upgrades, or apologies. What I find is that more often than not when I follow these steps I can give an apology as a solution. Customers are not always trying to pull a fast one to get free stuff, they just want to be heard more often than not.

The upset yelling customer at the gate finally calmed down. I was able to help by showing her what parking lot she could park in (she was never told where to park) and personally gave her a ride back to the Beach Club. She was very appreciative of how we handled her complaint, and she ended up rating us 5 stars on Google!

So next time you are dealing with an angry customer remember to follow these five steps to deal with angry customers and you too can help turn them into promoters of your business.

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