Webinar Highlights: Train Your Guest Services Team To Stop The ‘Full Refund Scammers’
Train Your Guest Services Team To Stop The “Full Refund Scammers”
As I make the rounds conducting hospitality and guest service excellence training workshops every month, the topic of what I call “full refund scammers” is certain to come up. Over the years I have always tried to redirect the conversation back towards the more typical guests. I have always said there are a handful of guests who do complain only to get a refund, but the vast majority only want to be heard.
However, in recent years, the number of incidents has increased, with a good portion of these guests specifically stating a threat such as: “If you don’t give me a full refund, I am going to write a bad review.” So, the time seems right to add this to our KTN workshops, webcam training and webcasts like this one.
Who are the “full refund scammers” and what damages do they cause to your hotel, resort or vacation rental company?
While one might think of a stereotypical scammer who yells and berates our staff, plenty take the opposite approach and try to sweet-talk our staff into a refund such as “Now honey, I really don’t want to have to go online and give you fine folks a bad review about all this.”
When it comes to damages, the most obvious impact is that negative reviews could damage the “brand” by scaring off potential guests. Yet I would argue there is something even more damaging. If left unchecked, these full-refund scammers will destroy staff morale and allow a culture of cynicism to take root. How do you know if you have a culture of cynicism? Just ask your staff (and yourself!) how you would finish this sentence: “Guests these days only complain because…” If the answer is “…they want to get something for free,” then the timing is probably good to cover the following training tips.
How to stop the “full-refund scammers.”
- Document “red flags” during guest interactions in the “guest contact record,” starting with calls to reservations. Guests with ill intent usually inadvertently present “red flags” by making comments during their conversations (or textual exchanges in email or in-app messaging) prior to booking, or perhaps after booking, but in their pre-arrival communications. Here are some examples of what your staff should document:
- Guest objected to the fee and was notified that it could not be waived
- Guest was notified that early check-in could not be confirmed in advance
- Caller requested a king bed/view room and was notified of the up-charge for that category.
If they later claim “No one told me that …” or “Someone told me that …” and their claim is outrageous, then pull the call from your “Guest Honesty Verification” system, more commonly known as your cloud-based recording platform. Here’s a sample of what to say: “Oh, well then since we always record calls for training and QA purposes, let me pull the recording from our system.” Often guests immediately begin to back off by saying, “Well, I’m pretty sure that’s what they said.”
- Document details of “requests” for special services or amenities. Be sure to train your staff up front to use the term “request” and not “confirm” and certainly not “guaranteed.” Again most guests will be reasonable and understand the deal, but those with ill intent will tend to make remarks as “Oh yeah? We’ll SEE what happens when I get there then.” Especially in these cases, make sure your staff adds comments such as “Guest notified that the request is NOT guaranteed.” By the way, here’s some sample dialogue your staff can use when explaining why they cannot fully guarantee certain types of requests:
“We are always careful not to promise more than we can be certain of delivering, and there are sometimes situations which prevent us from doing so. For example, guests might not check out when they are supposed to, or rooms might go out of order unexpectedly.”
- Document response times and details on action steps taken, and especially on any solutions or alternatives that were offered but refused by the guest. This will save huge amounts of time in “forensic research” that the person responding to the reviews would otherwise need to track down these details.
- Stand up to the bullies. Make sure that managers do not cave to unreasonable demands and threats of a bad review. For one, it wastes money, as most scammers will blast you online anyway. But this also destroys staff morale when a frontline employee has stood up for your brand and done what’s right only to be overridden by a higher-up who did not even take time to fully understand the situation.
And now a word about guests who drop the “F-bomb” or who otherwise carry it too far. Provide one stern warning: “Sir, I am eager to assist, but I insist on professional language and mutual respect.” If they escalate further, then it is time to hand off to another colleague who can invite the guest to stay elsewhere, or if necessary, call security or law enforcement.
- Defending your “brand” online. First, that if you don’t have any bad reviews, they won’t believe the good ones! Personally, I truly believe that most consumers can sniff-out when a review is written by a scammer.
As with all reviews, be sure to provide an original response, not just an overused standard template. This shows professionalism and provides an opportunity to share your side of the story. Components include:
- Thank them for their feedback and indicate how much you always welcome such.
- Provide validation for the emotions they have expressed.
- Add “however…” and give your side of the story.
- Use “we” vs. “you” statements. While you might want to say, “You should have read your confirmation email, in which you were notified…” instead say, “Although this is always documented in our standard confirmation emails, we regret that you did not notice it there.” Here is a sample:
Dear Mr. Kennedy,
We are always grateful when guests offer feedback online and welcome it wholeheartedly, as our (hotel or company) is always looking to improve the hospitality and service our guests experience.
It is unfortunate that we were not able to accommodate your need for early check-in. I am also a parent of young children, and I can imagine how tired everyone was after such a long day of travel.
However, I was able to pull the call recording and there must be a misunderstanding as to the comment (above) that you were guaranteed this by our staff. I was able to verify that we did in fact mention that requests are not guaranteed, and we also state that on the confirmation email.
Once again, we always welcome feedback and appreciate your time in sharing it here.