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How to apologise to your B&B guests blog cover - pile of books and glasses lying on a crumpled white sheet

How to apologise to your B&B guests

running your b&b Dec 28, 2020

In over 16 years of running a B&B I’ve done an awful lot of apologising to my guests. Looking back, it’s usually been dog, plumbing or smoke alarm related.

My old dog, Murphy, loved people a little too much...

There was the time when I opened the door to arriving guests; an elderly man and his wife, who, within seconds of me opening the front door, was standing on our doorstep dressed in just her pants and shoes from the waist down. With Murphy at her feet, trying to untangle himself from her elasticated skirt, which he’d pulled down in his enthusiasm.

And then the night when the smoke alarms were triggered in error at 2.30am and my husband had to climb a ladder to reset them, with the female guest  still under the covers peering upwards. My husband, wearing just his dressing gown. “Please tell me you put some boxer shorts on” I said, when he returned to our bedroom….silence.

I have one set of repeat guests, for whom something always goes wrong. Last time it was the toilet cistern that wouldn’t stop filling.  I spent the 2 hours they were out at dinner in their bathroom, watching “How to fix a toilet”  YouTube videos on the iPad. I eventually solved it with a carefully placed rock from the garden.

One thing I’ve learned from this is the importance of a well timed apology, appropriate compensation and a plumber on speed dial.

Three steps to apologising to guests

Step #1 Prepare how you will apologise in advance

No one likes to think about things going wrong, but it’s much easier  having a list of ready made apologies you can draw on when you’re face to face with an angry customer.

I believe it's important to not try and make excuses. I cringe when I think of the time that a guest arrived in my drive with a face like thunder. She hadn't received her confirmation email with directions and accused me of not sending her one. My hackles were up and I tried to explain about SPAM folders / JUNK / Internet service providers blocking specific domains...

The more I tried to explain, the angrier she got. I didn't actually print off a screen print of my email sent list, clearly showing I had sent an email, and slip under her door. But it was close.

It really wasn't my finest moment. But it was a great learning point. What I should have done was acknowledged the inconvenience to her, apologised and then done my best to make her stay a great one.

Step #2 Anticipate the need to apologise

Don't wait for the customer to complain, or worse, write you a bad review.

When I'm running my classroom courses, one of our local pubs is on my recommended accommodation list. They occasionally have problems with the plumbing, resulting in the course attendees not having any hot water for their morning shower.

Incidentally, running out of hot water is probably my most common reason for having to apologise to guests. We do have a pressurised water system, which means that there should be copious amounts of mains pressure hot water for everyone. However we have occasional blips: power cuts resetting the hot water timer, "someone" turning off the hot water between guests and forgetting to turn it back on, nearby lightening strike fusing the thermostat...

Back to the nearby pub. One set of course attendees were very grumpy about the lack of water and were already to write a bad review. However the response of the staff completely turned them around.

"We're terribly sorry there was no hot water. That shouldn't have happened and we appreciate it impacted your stay. for this reason, we won't charge you for the dinner you had with us last night"

Step #3 Offer appropriate compensation

Decide if it’s appropriate to offer compensation and what level of compensation. With the repeat guests and the ever filling toilet,  I sent them away with a lemon drizzle and a set of toiletries. The guests who were woken with the smoke alarm were given 10% off their Bill.

My biggest dilemma was the day when the guests arrived with a very lovely springer spaniel, promising they'd keep it on lead because of the chickens. 5 minutes later they knocked on the door very sheepishly admitting the dog had got away from them and killed a chicken.

I spent their stay trying to make them feel better. On the last morning they arrived at breakfast saying they'd had no hot water. The woman wasn't very happy. 

I then spent most of breakfast arguing with myself. "you should give them money off" "their dog killed your chicken" " but there was no hot water, she wasn't happy" "but their dog killed your chicken"....And so it went on for 2 hours.

I finally decided to offer a discount. The husband point blank refused saying "But our dog killed your chicken"

In the example above, yes, the hotel took a financial hit, but it's always a balance between that immediate loss of of income compared to long term loss of income due to a bad review.

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