Can you feel it?  It’s that feeling of excitement and positivity as everyone breathes a sigh of relief from the last year and a half and we all start to slowly return back to normal.  It’s an especially exciting time for the hospitality industry as people return to dining out, traveling, hitting the spa, and all those things that help them enjoy life to the fullest. 

COVID-19 has caused the hospitality industry to rethink the guest experience and while guests’ safety and experience is a top priority in the decision-making process, these changes can be challenging for all to understand and accept.

The good news is, with a little preparation and training, you and your team can be well-equipped to tackle the conflicts that may arise from concerned guests.

 Prepare for how customers may respond to change:

  1. Not everyone will be happy about the changes.
  2. Guests will question policies and procedures.
  3. Some customers may be confrontational.

But, before the above makes you anxious about getting back to business, don’t worry.  The best way to prepare for potential customer conflicts is to predict what that conflict might be and prepare your team to respond. Communication is very important, the earlier and clearer your messaging can be, the more likely you are to have happy guests who are accepting of your changes.

Through your website, social media, email blasts, and other forms of outward-bound communication, inform your guests ahead of time of any changes to policy that may affect their visit.  The messages should be informative, positive, and consistent throughout your entire organization.  Anything they read about your policy should be the same message they hear from your team.  Mixed messages can lead to confusion and difficult guest interactions.

Providing a guest experience is much like a performance, so remember to prepare and practice.  Prepare for any potential conflicts by reviewing your new policies as a team and anticipate any questions and concerns that may arise.  Then, build a “toolbox” of ideas and solutions you can offer guests who are struggling with the changes.  Finally, practice answering questions and addressing concerns with your team.  Think role play!  Don’t forget to also evaluate the solutions you’ve prepared and look to continue to improve how you address and solve customer issues.

Now you’re ready to face your “audience,” your guests!  Be on the lookout for signs that someone is upset. There might be nonverbal cues like a clenched fist or jaw, puffed-out chest, or heightened animation. You may also witness the more obvious signs like a raised voice or foul language. 

De-escalate the situation professionally and consistently by introducing yourself, remaining calm, listening closely (allow them the time they need to get it all off their chest), and reassuring your guest that you understand their concern and will work to find a solution that is acceptable to all parties.  In fact, it can be helpful to repeat the problem back to them to make sure you do understand their issue correctly.

Always be professional, courteous, maintain eye contact, and most importantly DO NOT lower your interactions to that of your frustrated guest.  Set the example for them.  If you are calm, they should start to calm down.

Remember that toolbox of solutions we suggested you prepare?  Here’s when you use it.  Explain the thought behind the changes and that they are designed to provide a safe and enjoyable experience.  If your guest is still upset, offer an alternative solution that will help make them more comfortable and give them space and time to decide.  The goal should be to agree on an acceptable solution.

Sometimes the conflict can be between guests.  When this happens, monitor the situation and intervene if you feel they won’t solve the situation on their own.  Remember to stay neutral and essentially follow all the steps outlined above.

Despite your best efforts, there will be times that not all situations can be resolved.  Just be sure you can fully explain the rules and regulations and offer solutions to the extent of your empowerment, but not beyond.   And, if the situation becomes escalated, or you feel you can’t reach a solution, make sure to clearly articulate your company’s policy on refusing service and refunds if required.  Most importantly, trust your instincts and be mindful of your personal boundaries and safety.

Download SBDC's Summer 2021 Hospitality Conflict Resolution Checklist