President's Blog - October 2016 - The Customer Service Conundrum

After near 40 years in the hotel industry, I have spent my life trying to please people and I believe I know a thing or two about it, primarily as a GM but also, since then, as a guest myself.

I have said it many times, the thing about being a hotel General Manager is that everyone thinks they know how to do your job better than you, and guests certainly fall into that category. Yet in reality, guests don’t know how difficult your job is because they don’t need to: all they are interested in is their experience and that’s the way it should be. We are there to make guests happy and deliver on our promises.

Somewhere along the way I learnt the expression "come as a guest, leave as a friend" – it’s one I’m sure you’ve all heard but how true it really is. Making friends is easy, keeping them is another thing entirely and with the ‘’online effect’’ it’s even more imperative. Reputation is everything and these impressions last.

When it comes to customer service, I am a big believer in the KISS approach (Keep it Simple, Stupid).

There are four things that make great customer service:

  1. Common sense management
  2. Never say "NO"
  3. Make a friend not an enemy
  4. Enthusiasm


  1. Make a friend not an enemy – reputation is what we live on. Every hotel needs friends and creating friendships with loyal guests is what we’re about. I remember a particular guest who had worked himself into a state as he didn’t like the room, the hotel was running a high occupancy, he was part of a low rated group and he just expected more because of the hotel’s reputation. I upgraded him (luckily we could) after having his wife look at a number of options and even though he took a while to calm down, the situation was handled. The next morning, he told me I had turned a lemon into lemonade. Always do what you can, as you don’t want a negative social media report, a letter to the CEO or owner, or innocent staff getting a roasting when a disgruntled guest leaves the hotel.

  2. Common Sense Management – over the years I have often wondered where common sense goes when dealing with a guest. Handling requests and complaints is simple: do what they are asking wherever possible, unless it is totally unreasonable and then make the effort anyway so the guest can see you’re genuine. Reverse roles – ask the question, ‘’if I were the guest, what outcome would I like?’’

  3. Never say "No" – Say ‘’yes’’ wherever possible as the cost of saying ‘’no’’ is far greater in the long run. And on those few occasions where the logical answer is "No" then try to offer an alternative or buy some time. "I will look into this for you", "I need time to see what solution there is" etc. My main thought always was "if I can solve this, I can solve anything" – these challenges are all part of the job.

  4. Enthusiasm – with enthusiasm you can do anything, solve any problem and even enjoy yourself. People love enthusiasm, particularly hotel guests and it breeds enthusiasm and happiness among others. Staff who talk about their hotel in an enthusiastic way are your best sales people and staff who manage negative guest situations in an enthusiastic way always make a friend. When I interview staff I always look for enthusiasm, the rest I can teach!


Put simply, the secret of guest satisfaction is to make sure it happens. It’s cheaper to give a complimentary night or meal, a free ride to the airport etc. than receive negative feedback. In the hotel guest delivery system, we often have an ability to make the simple things complicated and that’s just "stupid," which is why I prefer the earlier definition over "Keep it Sweet and Simple."


Leon Larkin
President & Founder