EP #20 – Handling Difficult Customers, with Michelle Mitchell

Michelle Mitchell joins Hospitality Academy's Susan Pannazzo to talk about customer service, complaints and why soft skills are so important when helping resolve customer issues.You’ve heard the expression: “The customer is always right.” But is that actually true in hospitality? And even if they aren’t always right can you still satisfy them and make them happy?

Joining us to answer those questions, and more, is Michelle Mitchell of IHG. She is the customer experience manager for IHG’s customer relations and customer care department. She has spent the last 15 years focused on guest relations in operations, and designing the customer experience.

On this episode of Hospitality Academy Michelle shares her insights on how to find, train and keep the right people to work with your customers, how to work with difficult guests and much more!

Essential Learning Points From This Show:

  • How does Michelle know if she hired correctly?
  • How does she detect soft skills in the interview process?
  • What type of people do you want to hire? Michelle answers.
  • Can you make every guest happy?
  • Why guest relation agents are “merchants of reality”.
  • And so much more!

Before her current role with IHG Michelle has opened hotels and trained customer service, and she has opened contact centers as well as managed them. In all that time she has discovered customer service really boils down to soft skills: truly listening, empathizing, connecting and conveying difficult information. If you and your team can do those things and do them well you’ll be able to handle even the most difficult of situations.

On today’s show Michelle explains how she hires for these soft skills and how she trains her people to bring out their very best. The training part is far easier if you know what you’re looking for during the hiring process, and Michelle elaborates on some of her techniques.

She also explains why customer calls about service and quality are some of the most important issues you and your staff will address. Even though only roughly 11% of complaints are in this area they are some of the most critical because they are so personal. Calls in this area are about a dirty room, a room not getting refreshed or a continental breakfast not being what it was advertised.

The reason these become so personal is because these are often the deciding factors in why someone chose your hotel in the first place. If your advertised breakfast was the thing that sealed the deal for them and they didn’t get what was advertised, they are now disappointed they stayed with you. It’s up to you and your staff to find this out during their stay – not when they are checking out but during their actual stay.

According to Michelle if a guest has to come to you with a complaint you are already behind the eight ball, but if you can see these problems arise and solve them before they bring them to your attention you’re doing well. That’s why it’s critical you talk to your guests during their stay, and not just at the beginning or at the end.

When they do bring something to your attention it isn’t about being right or wrong: it’s about bringing forward all the options, and negotiating a reasonable solution. Even so guests are very often right!

What do you do if you have a habitual complainer as a customer? Michelle and her team track that information, they have a process and system for dealing with those types of customers. All of a customer’s notes and complaints go into one location so it’s all documented.

If there’s a pattern to the complaints like whatever hotel they check into the staff is rude to them it’s noted and dealt with internally. She and her people will even go so far as to suggest the guest stay elsewhere if the complaints become excessive!

Today Michelle and I also discuss how she drastically reduced her turnover rate from 50-60% down to 10, things you can do to address customer complaints quickly and without escalation as well as her recommendation for third party software to help you in your hiring process. Listen in for all of that and more on episode 20 of Hospitality Academy!

[ctt title=”Your bad customer could easily be another hotel’s best customer.” http://tinyurl.com/hxvp7wt tweet=”Your bad customer could easily be another hotel’s best customer.” http://tinyurl.com/hxvp7wt coverup=”vy6fW”]

Important Links & Mentions From This Episode:

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