Why Hotels Have to Master the Guest Apology

Service recovery is essential to building customer loyalty. The ability to turn a negative guest experience into a positive one is invaluable for hospitality professionals, and one of the most effective ways to do this also happens to be the simplest: apologizing when things go wrong.

With the many requests that hotel staff deal with every day, it is almost inevitable that some problems are going to arise. However, a good apology can completely change a guest’s customer service experience and even make them excited to come back.

Studies show that saying sorry can actually help with brand growth and customer loyalty, as guests who have their problems resolved in a positive way are likely to share their experience with four to six other people. This good word of mouth helps the hotel by establishing that they prioritize each guest’s customer service experience. By saying sorry, hotels are able to turn a problem into a great opportunity for growth, an opportunity that would not be present if there was no issue in the first place. However, not resolving a guest’s issue will have the opposite impact, leaving them with a negative impression of the hotel.

What the hotel does to fix the situation, how fast it is done, and the apology itself all have a
combined effect on customer satisfaction, further proving that just solving a guest’s problem is not enough to make them a loyal customer. This means that all three areas need to be satisfactory for the guest to have an ideal customer service experience.

Recognizing and fixing the problem is often enough to please a dissatisfied guest. A
study from the Carey School of Business shows that while 37% of customers become satisfied when offered a refund or credit, the number doubles to 74% when the staff adds an apology. This shows that a big part of service recovery involves not just solving the problem, but acknowledging that a mistake was made and saying sorry as well.

Related: The Importance of a Service Recovery Strategy

The importance of a good apology cannot be understated, even in the context of a complete service recovery strategy. Research suggests that compensation does not necessarily improve customer satisfaction when the customer’s problem is solved quickly and they receive an apology. In fact, only one in five customers are looking for compensation when they make a complaint. Compensation also does not tend to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction when there is no apology at all and the response to the problem is delayed.

hotel apology

There are also scenarios where the wrong cannot tangibly be undone, like when a guest has a negative experience with hotel staff. In situations like these, a financial reward cannot match the value of a sincere, empathetic apology. In a study conducted by the Nottingham School of Economics, 23% of dissatisfied customers withdrew their negative comments after being offered €5, while 45% withdrew their comments after the company offered a formal apology.

Customer service expert Leonardo Inghilleri has also observed that offering customers money is not always the best remedy for a service failure, particularly when the customer did not choose your business for financial reasons. Of course, there are cases where offering financial compensation is necessary, but since customers respond best to a complete service recovery strategy, an apology is always necessary. Inghilleri writes that it is better to offer a thoughtful present or service if guests are still unsatisfied after an apology. Adding a personal touch to the service recovery process helps show guests they are appreciated, and that the hotel is genuinely sorry they experienced this inconvenience.

Saying sorry is an important part of making customers happy, but how should hotel staff members actually apologize? A vital, although seemingly obvious, first step is to know exactly what you are apologizing for since a vague, catch-all apology is probably not going to be good enough.

When apologizing to the guest, research shows that making excuses does not improve the situation for the person apologizing, as an honest apology where the staff accepts blame is often what guests are looking for. Even though there may be a good reason for why the problem occurred, giving the guest excuses can diminish the apology and just make the guest more frustrated. It is important to not avoid the issue and address the fact that something did indeed go wrong.

Guests expect an apology to be delivered promptly, so responding to a problem as quickly as possible is critical to guest satisfaction. For this reason, hotel staff cannot wait until checkout to offer their apology since it may be too late to turn around the guest’s impression of the hotel. This could lead to negative online reviews that will hurt the hotel’s reputation. Fortunately, smartphones have made it much easier for hotels to keep a finger on the pulse of guest experience, allowing instantly accessible customer service to become a viable reality.

Technology can be used to improve guest satisfaction and increase customer loyalty, as can be seen with Helix by MicroMetrics. Helix’s email and iOS notifications tell your team which issues need more attention and let them know when an apology is necessary. This tailor-made suite of hospitality solutions allows staff members to say sorry before it’s too late, ensuring that guests are beyond satisfied with their stay.

Learn more about the importance of service recovery and how Helix has helped hundreds of hotels here.