Complaint-handling skills for Hotel Butlers

| September 13, 2011 |

This week my butler class has been doing training on complaint-handling procedures – something I take very seriously. A poorly handled complaint can do irreparable damage. Sites such as ‘’ allow guests to do far, far more harm to your hotel’s reputation than  in the past.

In order to make these sessions as realistic as possible, we asked the trainee butlers to deal with actual complaints received by staff members of the resort in the past. Of course, all resorts have repeater problems and in an ideal world these would be sorted out. However, some things, such as bad weather, poor internet connections in remote areas, and the presence of migrating birds, various creepy-crawlies and the occasional reptile, forever bedevil our efforts to satisfy the unadventurous traveller.

The issue of sand flies came up. Sand flies are notoriously unpleasant; they leave ragged, painful, saliva-filled bite marks and it is common for people to develop allergies after only 50 bites or so. Their preferred habitat renders spraying largely ineffective and in ecologically sensitive areas there is currently no acceptable solution to the problem. Very few insect repellents seem to work and the few solutions that do seem to work are home-made. These contain ingredients such as lamp oil that no sane hotel would offer to a guest.

The question arose as to whether it would be better to warn guests of impending problems, or rather to wait until they complained before addressing the issue. No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, nor do we wish to pre-empt problems. In my experience however, if one is to build trust with a guest, it is better to communicate openly with guests from the outset. This is particularly important for those issues which are unavoidable and for which the management have no remedy. Ideally, this would have been addressed at the time the reservation was made, but we all know this won’t happen. So, it is up to the butler to give the guest the bad news.

This is where the butler’s communication skills and tact come into play. A well-trained staff member is an invaluable asset to the organisation when it comes to guests accepting less-than-ideal scenarios. Very often, a small issue becomes a non-issue when handled well. The same issue left unaddressed, festers, and if handled badly later on, leads to an irretrievable situation.

Having said this, a few minute’s research online lead us to the website of a New Zealand company selling a repellent which they claim is not only effective, but also 100% organic. The team’s response was that this falls outside of their scope of responsibilities. Nonsense. Anything that impact’s your guest’s enjoyment of their holiday is your responsibility. You may not be able to approve the purchase order, but you can get the ball rolling!

Tags: communication, complaint, honesty, Hotel Butler, problems, recurring problems, reputation, responsibility, tact

Category: Blog, Butler training, Etiquette, Hotel Butler, Soft Skills Training, The Butler Way

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Vice President Africa, Middle East and Indian Ocean The International Institute of Modern Butlers

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  1. Clive says:

    I’d be interested to know what your trainees’ reaction was to your, presumably, remonstrating with them that their “not my job, guv” reaction to your suggestion (of finding a solution to the guest’s problem) was the antithesis of what a butler’s response should be – hotel-based or not.

    Do you feel the ‘gut’ response would have been different had you been training a small group of staff who worked for an individual household rather than an hotel?

  2. Frank Mitchell says:

    Dear Clive,

    Thank you for your interest in our article.

    To answer your question, I would say that one has to respond to such concerns in a way that is both positive and that also suits the audience. This is important because junior employees tend to have a more introverted focus: they ask questions such as, “What is in it for me?” When training managers, one can approach the problem from the point of view “What is in it for the organisation?” Successful senior employees have an extroverted focus and can see the connection between what is good for the company and what is good for their career. After all, one cannot be successful in an unsuccessful company.

    One of the biggest differences between butlers working in private homes and those working hotels is structure. In a hotel, the butler can often be found fairly low down the food chain and the “not my responsibility” defence is often born out of a sense of resignation. Junior staff often do not act because they feel that they cannot do anything about the problem, rather than because they lack interest.

    When conducting butler training, I usually aim to answer the objection with points which address the concerns of both those who have an introverted focus and those with an extraverted focus. This is because teams are made up of members at varying stages of career development, and because I am continuously encouraging staff to excel and grow.

    Therefore I spoke to the team in terms of what advantages it might hold for them – having happier guests, fewer complaints to handle, increased job security and being noticed by management. But I also spoke in terms of what advantages it would hold for the hotel – better referral business, more repeat business and greater profitability.

    Junior staff members often grab any chance to make a contribution or change, no matter how small. It empowers them and gives them a sense of accomplishment, pride and involvement. Needless to say, the team were very excited about communicating what we had found to their department head.

    As managers we are often guilty of being too quick to shoot down suggestions which are not our own. Then we are surprised when our staff members feel disconnected, disenfranchised and de-motivated.
    Allowing staff a chance to contribute energises them and gives them a sense of responsibility towards the organisation. This buy-in is most valuable as it holds advantages for both the employer and employee.

    Thank you again for your interest, I do hope this answers your question

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