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July/August 2006

Our Members Speak Out


Cornerstone B&B, Philadelphia, PA

We asked: What can you do when nothing you do makes a guest happy?

Question for September: Have high gas prices affected your summer reservations? If so, what have you done about it?

Email your responses to Sandy@BedandBreakfast.com. If we publish your comments, we’ll thank you with a $25 credit in our Featured Properties Auction program!


“I would much rather have customers who let me know that they are unhappy – which at least gives me the opportunity to try to correct the problem – than one who acts happy but complains or criticizes me after the fact, when it is too late to remedy what is often a simple problem of miscommunication. So my first bit of advice is to be thankful your guests let you know that they’re dissatisfied.

“Next, the old fashioned adage ‘kill them with kindness’ comes to mind. Smile and continue to cheerily meet their requests, even if it kills you! If a guest is perpetually unhappy, it is most likely because they are dissatisfied with something else in their life, not you or your B&B.

“While I can’t solve people’s real-life problems, I can do my best to provide a brief sanctuary from life’s rough spots, and a retreat where they can relax and begin to rejuvenate. A sympathetic attitude and a listening ear go a long way and are often rewarded with sincere gratitude when the day is done. Once you win over a demanding or ‘problem’ customer, he or she will most likely be a loyal patron, sometimes even a friend, forever.” Sherrie C. Hansen, Blue Belle Inn, Saint Ansgar, IA

“This weekend was one of those weekends where all the guests were ‘different.’ I can deal with one or two, but these folks nearly drove me crazy. I always ask at check-in if guests have food allergies – none were reported. On the weekends, we serve breakfast from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Two rooms wanted breakfast at 8 a.m. Saturday. I told them I’d have cereal, fruit, coffee, juice ready. They also brought an 11-year-old child with them when we don’t take children. I let the child stay with the mother (although I would never do it again).

“Saturday: They came down at 8 a.m. and said they decided not to eat. Then another two rooms came down to say that they only eat fruit and nuts. I said sorry, but we went over the food allergies, and you did not mention that you only eat fruit and nuts. I mentioned that we had several grocery stores close by and they could go stock up on fruit and nuts (Whole Foods and Trader Joes). They said both of the stores were too expensive. The next room came down, and only the husband is eating; wife wants to sleep in.

“Sunday: They early eaters want to eat at 8:15 instead of 8:30. I made bananas and cream, French toast (pecans and blueberries – no sugar), sausage, scrambled eggs, coffee and juice. I asked what everyone wanted and served them. The child decided she doesn’t like French toast after all, she will have eggs. I told them I would have to charge for an extra breakfast since I have already made this breakfast at their request. She decided to eat the French toast.

“Fruits and nuts room come down. They will have eggs and sausage, etc. They changed their minds about the strict fruit and nuts diet. The next room, the husband, comes down and says wife is not eating today. He has everything. She comes down at 10:15 and wants everything. We stop serving breakfast at 10 a.m.

“I can’t be a short order cook. I can try to accommodate within reason. This weekend was not within reason. This is the first time in three years I wished I was not an innkeeper.” – Nadine Hermann, Cornerstone Bed and Breakfast, Philadelphia, PA

“The answer is…‘nothing.’ If you have to be somebody that you're not in order to be an innkeeper, then you're in the wrong business. So, just be yourself. If it doesn't make them happy, oh well. You can't make everyone happy all the time.” – Ron Wise, Skara Brae Bed and Breakfast, Grand Marais, MN

”When you have a guest you can’t please, you can only grin and bear it. Do your best to be accommodating; that’s what innkeeping is all about. If nothing works, sometimes you have to bite the bullet, cheerfully refund the money and hope they don't bad-mouth you to other possible guests.” – Steve Gershey, Cranberry Manor B&B, East Stroudsburg, PA

"
Our policy when we can do nothing to make a guest happy is not to charge for their stay. Let me explain: We ask each guest every morning ‘How did you sleep? Is everything all right? Is there anything else we can do to make you visit enjoyable?’ (We do not do this in front of other guests.) The first time we get a negative answer, we sit down privately with the guest and ask what we can do to make his or her stay as expected. If the reply is the impossible, we offer to terminate their visit and refund that nights’ visit with them leaving that day to stay somewhere else. We will then even offer to help them find a hotel or motel. (We will not send them to another B&B.) Then I sit down and document what the guest said, what we said and what we did. This documentation goes into the guest file.

“I am very happy to say that in 5 1/2 years of business, we have never had to give a refund or send our guest packing to a hotel or motel. Most complaints are minor and can be worked out by just smiling, gritting our teeth, holding our tongue and making our guests very happy.”
Dianna and Bob Chandler, Grandma's Cottage Bed and Breakfast, Port Republic, VA

“We have been in business 11 years and have never had a guest who could not be appeased in some fashion. We always pray for wisdom to be able to handle the situation. A discount seems to be the most pleasing solution, even when it is not merited. People respond to money. It shows a willingness on the part of the innkeeper to pay a price to make things right. They see you are going out of your way. In most cases these people will even return.

“I do believe that there are people who cannot be made happy. We recently had a couple come by and ask to see the suites. They wanted to ‘check us out’ for a future visit. The couple began to complain about another inn in the area. They stayed there for their anniversary and were very unhappy. We knew the innkeepers and had stayed in this particular B&B ourselves and had a great time. The conversation went on and on as they began to tell us all the efforts the innkeeper made to make things right. They were even given a free candlelight dinner for two the night of their stay. Nothing the innkeepers had done made these people happy.

“When they left, my husband turned to me and said that innkeeper should have kept her candlelight dinner and whatever else she did for those guests, because it did not make a difference. Sometimes you just have to cry or get mad and want to quit. Then get over it and realize all the hundreds of people you do make happy.” – Rachel's Bed and Breakfast, Annapolis, MD

“It's really quite simple. Kill them with kindness. As in any other customer service industry, treat the customer the way you want to be treated. When someone gets crabby, I get nicer. They either change their tune or I turn up the kindness one more notch. We don't let a few bad apples spoil the fun. It's always fun to share our bad customer experiences at one of our quarterly B&B association meetings. Let off your steam when the customer has checked out, and your life will be much more enjoyable.
” – Bruce C. Elliott, The Elliott House B&B, East Troy, WI

“I had a guest who made a reservation for a week. He had seen pictures and descriptions of the room on my website, so he knew it had one bed. When he arrived with his son he wanted another bed, so I provided a cot. Next, he complained about the shower. To satisfy him, I offered to move him to a larger, more expensive room for the same rate as the (least expensive) room he had selected online. He got very nasty, said he was not staying and wanted a refund. I gave him a full refund less the $25 cancellation fee, and he complained about that - didn't think he should have to pay that when in fact I could have kept all his money because he cancelled on arrival. He was sure to let me know he was the CEO of his company and he knew how to treat his customers much better than I treated him. I believe something or someone had irritated him before he got to our place, but I was in line for the repercussions. I was truly happy that he left. He saved me a week of headaches and complaints.” – Nila Haug, Golden Haug, Iowa City, IA

“If we have a guest who is truly unhappy, we offer to return any money paid right then and there, and offer to find them a room at another B&B or nearby hotel. We have found that this type of guest will make everyone else miserable. We pride ourselves on a calm, restful environment for all our guests, so we use the idiom, ‘If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,’ and wish them well with no hard feelings. This may have happened only one or two times in our 14-year history, and it was addressed diplomatically and quickly.

“If a guest’s unhappiness is because of something we can change, i.e., a different room, too much sun, not enough attention, allergic to down; of course we will address that concern immediately and do what we can to resolve it. We accidentally booked two people in the same room with a full house one time, and when we discovered the mistake, we called another inn, booked the couple, paid for their reservation and did not charge them for our B&B. The good will we extended was worth far more than the money it cost us to pay for their new reservation. They have been back with us several times and have recommended us to friends and relatives.

“Unhappy guests can be a challenge, but we try to make it a win-win situation.” – Sherry Ruby, SeaScape Manor Bed & Breakfast, Highlands, NJ

“Ask them what will make them happy or at least satisfy them. Often, their remedy for what’s bothering them is far less expensive than what the innkeeper thinks he/she should provide. On the other hand, one should not reward every whimper. Some people just talk to hear themselves talk; asking their take on a remedy will put them on the hot spot.

“And then there is the couple who appear to like nothing. Offer to let them leave (especially if it is within the first hour after check-in). I did this once when a couple showed up three hours early. The house was hot (after all, we thought we had until 3 p.m. to cool it down). She wanted to smoke indoors. Then she wanted an ironing board as they were due at a funeral. I was ready to pull the refund. The husband did not want to leave. He prevailed upon his wife to iron clothes and live with it. I retreated to my office. There was nothing else to be said.

Once they went to the funeral and got past the uproar in their personal lives, they didn't move to a hotel and complained no further the rest of the weekend. Sometimes you simply do all you can do and that is all there is.”Judy Hotchkiss, Prospect Hill B&B Inn, Mountain City, TN 

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