Comment: The cost of a complaint in hospitality

Good service should not be motivated by the fear of reviews

Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting.
Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting.

In April, I was lucky enough to be visited in Dubai by my family and closest friends for the occasion of my wedding. In total, 55 people travelled to Dubai, from the UK, Australia and Singapore. It was rather akin to organising a fam trip, as I created jam-packed itineraries featuring the usual tourist hotspots of Burj Khalifa, Dubai Fountains, Dubai Mall, the Spice Souks, a Desert Safari and Aquaventure, for uncles, aunties, cousins, and friends. They were wowed by every single attraction and in awe of the city I have called home for the past 10 years.

Unfortunately, the feedback on hotel accommodation was less positive. Our guests stayed across the city; some opting for half-board or B&B in luxury hotels and others selecting room-only in the three-four star segment. Some friends grouped together and booked apartments through Airbnb, with one couple even finding a deal at the Anantara Residences on Palm Jumeirah.

Those staying in apartments were very happy — pleasantly surprised by the space and convenience of their location, especially in Dubai Marina.

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For those staying in hotels, however, reports were mixed. One family of five booked their seven-night stay back in August, 2016, seven months prior to arrival. Bearing in mind that their visit was during school holidays, prices were at a premium and therefore, expectations were high.

The family has children aged eight-, 12- and 16-years and as such, booked two interconnecting rooms. On check-in, they found themselves placed into two rooms on opposite sides of the hotel. They asked to move rooms, which the next day was accommodated and they were given a higher room category in compensation.

However, a noise problem meant another move was requested. Again, this was facilitated, and the new rooms were bigger still — huge, apparently. Several complaints were made during the stay regarding in-room amenities, which were provided for two guests only rather than for five, and the quality of housekeeping. Again, the family was compensated.

In another property, while the couple were impressed by their room, hotel facilities and location, they were disappointed repeatedly in the breakfast service. This, they felt, was not anywhere near on the level expected from a five-star hotel. Finding a waiter to ask for tea or coffee was a chore, with the subsequent delivery of the beverage a gamble, and dirty dishes stacked up.

Reserved in the typically British way, they moaned under their breath and carried on, only complaining later when a friendly housekeeping attendant gently enquired as to their experience. Here, they mentioned their disappointment in breakfast. The next morning, the couple were met by the restaurant manager, who took responsibility for the poor service and explained this had been due to a temporary break down in coffee machines, which had a knock-on effect on the speed of service and availability of staff, who were no doubt bringing coffee from other restaurants across the complex. Immediately, any ill feeling was alleviated, with the refreshingly honest approach working wonders.

However, the apologies did not stop there. A dedicated waiter looked after the table at their remaining breakfasts, swiping used dishes and replacing drinks, cutlery and condiments in a flash.  Flowers and chocolates were sent to the room, and luxury robes and amenities were gifted to them on check-out. The couple said they felt like VIPs, with everyone knowing their names.

A sceptical person like myself might suggest that stringent KPIs related to TripAdvisor reviews were largely behind the upgrades and gifts provided to these guests.

There’s no denying that securing good reviews and, perhaps more importantly, preventing negative reviews on TripAdvisor is a driver of great service and in both cases, the staff can be commended for turning the situation around.

However, these complaints were, in my view, unnecessary. Had the correct booking been made in the first case and the situation been communicated better in the latter, neither guest would have complained.

Without the complaint, there would have been no need for compensation.

So the age-old question remains: what is the cost of a complaint and what is being done to prevent complaints in the first place?

There must be more to motivate good service than the fear of seeing your name, department or restaurant shamed on TripAdvisor.

About the Author: Louise Oakley is an independent editorial consultant specialising in the hospitality industry and the director of PR at In2 Consulting. Email: louise@in2consulting.com

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