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How to complain effectively

Hotels aren’t perfect. There are times when things go wrong and you need to complain. But you’re going about it all wrong! Pay attention to these tips for complaining correctly, and you will more likely get what you want.
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I’m getting on my soapbox about one of my biggest pet peeves: bad complainers. Look, we love our hotel guests, and we hate slipping up. We truly don’t like it when our actions lead to a complaint, and we want to make the situation better. So help us help you! Guests often make simple mistakes when complaining. The good news is that the mistakes are easy to avoid, and doing so can really help the next time you need to complain.

Pick your battles
Life throws challenges at us. There are lots of things we could complain about every hour of every day. Yes, you could get worked up over the fact that your Asian salad from room service has fewer mandarin oranges than you’d like. You could start calling managers and composing a letter to the hotel’s owner. This might make you feel better, but is it really worth the time and stress? If so, go for it. If not, consider saving your energy for a truly bad situation.

Remember, too, that it doesn’t do much good to complain about something beyond the hotel’s control. I once listened to a woman complain for 20 minutes about her horrible visit. The problem? She had come to town for an art festival and was unhappy with the quality of the vendors and the event in general. She needed to vent, and I had time to listen, so I let her rant. But I couldn’t help wishing that I could just give her the event organizers’ phone numbers and tell her to go away. Bad weather, traffic, your hangover, etc. — those are just not our problem, and there is nothing we can do to help you.

Complain immediately
I’ve received countless letters from guests who had problems during a stay but never brought them to anyone’s attention. They waited until they got home to let me know about issues that we could easily have remedied while they were at the hotel. Believe me, we don’t want you to go home, stew over a problem and then badmouth us behind our backs. We want to make you happy now, so don’t suffer in silence, speak up!

Make yourself understood
There are times when you do need to contact a hotel in a written communication. Please make those communications legible. (Im series! Thisis a hugh problem!) I cannot count the complaint letters I’ve received that were full of misspellings and grammar mistakes. Some have been so bad that I’ve had to meet with other staff to figure out what the heck the person was writing about. If you know you don’t write well, then either get someone to help you write the letter or call the hotel directly. We can’t help you if we can’t understand you.

Don’t go up the ladder — yet
I’ve read plenty of advice that tells travelers to start complaining at the highest level possible. You know: ”Send your complaint letter straight to the CEO; that’s how to get prompt attention.” Bad idea!

When the CEO gets your letter, he assumes you’ve been unable to get satisfaction through other channels, so he yells at a vice president to investigate. The VP then yells at the regional manager. The regional manager yells at the property manager. The property manager yells at the assistant manager. The assistant manager yells at the departmental manager. And that departmental manager then has to respond to your complaint. By now, five people have been chewed out because you didn’t start with the source of the problem. Think any of them has the warm fuzzies for you? Think anyone wants to go out of his way to please you? No, they do not.

Of course, if you fail to get help at the hotel, by all means aim higher. But start the process by talking to the person who is most responsible and most able to help you.

Ask for appropriate compensation
Hotel managers deal with complaints day in and day out. We tend to get weary of them. One of the main reasons is this: People ask for way too much. So there were some teenagers next door who were loud. Security responded promptly to your call, the kids quieted down and you went straight to sleep. No, you don’t deserve a free night for your troubles. When you ask for that, it automatically raises our hackles. And, human nature being what it is, we’ve now got hard feelings toward you.

I’ve had to complain to hotels before. I approach the situation like this: I tell the manager what the problem is. I explain that I am not looking for compensation, but that I do want to make him aware of the situation, and that I am leaving it in his hands to decide what should be done. And you know what? I’ve never been disappointed. In fact, I’ve always been surprised at how much consideration I’ve received.

Be nice
You’ve heard it a million times, but you really do catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I know how hard it is to keep a level head and stay calm when you’ve been wronged. But you are much more likely to find that employees are willing to help when you treat them with respect. Don’t start screaming at that poor operator who makes only minimum wage — she didn’t break your toilet! Don’t start threatening the valet attendant with lawsuits — you’ll be only the millionth person to threaten a lawsuit for no good reason. Don’t use profanity or be verbally abusive. And never get physical. This happens more often than you might think. I once had a man try to punch me because he couldn’t get a nonsmoking room. I guarantee that the city jail, where he did spend the night, smelled way worse than a smoking room. Here’s another cliché that is true: You really do reap what you sow.

So there they are: my complaints about complainers. Follow my advice the next time you have a problem at a hotel, and see if the complaint process isn’t less stressful and your resolution more satisfactory.

Amy Bradley-Hole has worked in the hotel industry for many years in many different positions and at all types of properties -- from small luxury boutique hotels to large resorts, both in the United States and abroad. or on!