It was the summer of 2000, and I was a brand new guest service representative in a brand new hotel. Those first few weeks went by in a blur, as I learned the reservation system, the layout of the hotel, the pool hours, the breakfast offerings, and how to find a plunger at 10 o’clock at night. I was working the 3-11 pm shift, and in no time, I was flying solo. I learned to love that shift because it allowed me to spend time getting to know our guests. (If you’ve ever worked an evening shift at hotel, you know it’s a flurry of checking in guests, giving directions, making restaurant recommendations, and chit-chatting with weary road warriors. (And let’s not forget the nightly scavenger hunts for the aforementioned plungers!)
Each shift started with a review of the pass down log. Back then, ours was a sturdy, hardbound ledger with a spine cracked from overuse. We wrote everything in that book, and it was a great source of information and entertainment. Reading the pass down log helped me get prepared for my shift, giving me insight to all the important info: group arrivals, policy changes, maintenance issues, and the most detailed information: stories about fussy guests.
Now, 22 years ago, at least in my memory, fussy guests were fairly uncommon. Our hotel was the only property located near the beach in our coastal community, and that summer our typical guest was in town for a little sun & sand recreation. It’s hard to be fussy when you’re on a beach trip! So anytime there was a particularly troublesome guest, it was almost as entertaining as it was frustrating. Two decades and a global pandemic later, the number of daily interactions with fussy guests is skyrocketing. But that summer, fortunately, we had so few interactions with truly unhappy guests, that I still remember almost every one of them.
One of those guests was Ms. Smith (name has been changed, because honestly, I don’t remember her name!) Ms. Smith was our first long-term guest, camped out in her 3rd floor room for a few weeks while work was done on her beach house. Ms. Smith seemed to think she was staying in a full service resort location, not our modest, limited service hotel. Some of the things that made Ms. Smith unhappy, in no particular order, were lack of disposable coffee cups in her room, limited breakfast hours, lack of room service, noise of people in the hallway, noise of people in the parking lot, lack of housekeeping, too much housekeeping, not receiving her messages in a timely manner, and the weather. Our pass down log was chock full of notes about Ms. Smith.
After two weeks, everyone was tired of Ms. Smith.
One afternoon, shortly after I arrived for the start of my shift, Ms. Smith appeared at the front desk, and she was agitated. With no regard for the other person standing at the desk, she dove into her afternoon litany of complaints. I listened. I empathized. I apologized. The other guest watched the interaction with amazement. The list of issues seemed to go on and on, and Ms. Smith was determined to tell me how upset she was about our inability to respond to her complaints accordingly. The fifth or sixth item on her list that afternoon was the lack of disposable coffee cups in her room (again). The other guest audibly chuckled.
I nodded, and smiled, and jotted down her concerns in the pass down log. I assured her that, even though I was working solo that evening, I would be up to her room shortly with a stack of disposable coffee cups. I’m pretty sure she muttered, “I should hope so,” as she turned on her heel and marched toward the elevator.
“Wow…” the other guest exclaimed, eyes wide open.
“You don’t know the half of it,” I sighed as I put the pass down log back in its spot on the counter. I was flustered, annoyed, embarrassed by the way she spoke to me. It wasn’t the best way to start a shift.
“That was ridiculous,” he added. “Let me take her the coffee cups.”
I laughed and slid a small stack of cups across the front desk. “Be my guest.”
You see, the other guest, the man who had witnessed that interaction, the man who was amazed by Ms. Smith’s behavior, was the owner of the hotel.
And he did take her the coffee cups. And then he invited her to leave hotel.
The owner of our hotel had my back! He was not willing to let a chronically cranky hotel guest make life miserable for me, or any other member of our team. And that afternoon, I learned a valuable lesson about the incredible impact of supporting your team through stressful times. My feelings of frustration and embarrassment turned to feelings of gratitude and empowerment. The owner of our hotel had our backs.
My notes from that shift might have been the last notes written about Ms. Smith in the pass down log. She checked out the next day, and our team uttered a collective sigh of relief. In the months and years that followed, there were more Ms. Smiths, more notes in the pass down logs, and certainly more moments of frustration and embarrassment. No, we didn’t expect the owner to evict every guest that had a complaint. But we were able to navigate those situations with a little more ease knowing that, ultimately, he had our backs.
If there's a lesson here for leaders of today, it's this: offer to deliver the coffee cups from time to time! Guest service representatives, servers, gate agents, ride operators, every front line employee in hospitality and tourism faces a Ms. Smith on every shift these days. Show them you have their backs. Simple gestures like this are the foundation of empowering and positive team member experiences in your business.