This educational post was provided by Josh Liebman from ROLLER Software.


That’s the cost of a bad guest experience. Research has indicated that a single negative online review will turn away up to 30 prospective guests from visiting you, which means we’re talking about revenue that you never had, and you never will. Let’s say your average spend is $20 per person, with an average party size of three guests, then even just one negative review a month will cost nearly $22,000.

This stat may be daunting, and may even seem unfair, but ultimately, it’s avoidable. While you should always strive to deliver a phenomenal experience to every single guest, it is better to have contingency plans in place for when things go wrong than it is to strive for zero complaints altogether. Every guest complaint is an opportunity for your business to improve, as well as to better serve the guest that brought up the concern. There are many tools that you have at your disposal to turn even the most dissatisfied guests into loyal advocates.

Focus on internal feedback collection

Let’s start by working to shift the tide of guest complaints from public feedback to private. Many FEC operators indicate that they gain the majority of their guest feedback from social media and online review sites. While this will certainly allow you to learn a lot about your guest experience, the damage will already be done and will negatively impact your reputation.

Here are 8 simple tips for getting your guests to speak up to you directly, before they post online:

  1. Automate your guest feedback collection process
  2. Consider the timing of when you prompt guests for feedback
  3. In addition to quantitative surveys, let guests open up with freeform text
  4. Incentivize guests to provide feedback internally when appropriate
  5. Organize guest feedback so you can extract the largest concerns
  6. Respond to feedback in a timely manner to ensure a dialogue can be started
  7. Act on guest feedback and make the necessary improvements to your business
  8. Keep this process as an ongoing strategy

Express appreciation when guests complain

The vast majority of guests who have a poor experience won’t say anything. In fact, only about 4% of people will speak up if they have a complaint. The rest just don’t come back, although they will likely tell others of their bad experience.

Instead of treating guest complaints as a burden, show your appreciation for the fact that they took the time to provide feedback when the easier option would be to do nothing. Let the guest know that you can now work toward fixing the problem because you know that it exists.

Think about your own complaining habits. When was the last time you had a poor experience with a business or a product? Did you complain, or simply not buy again?

Thanking your guests is also a critical part of the service recovery process. A dissatisfied or angry guest often feels that they are beginning an argument, and when you thank them for complaining, you show them that you aren’t going to argue back, but that you are actually appreciative that you get to have the conversation. This paves the way for a more successful resolution.

Use the LAST model to resolve service failures

This part isn’t reserved for management or the business owner. Service recovery should be ingrained in the job description of every frontline employee. Using the acronym “LAST,” every type of guest complaint can be resolved quickly and effectively, by any member of staff. The process is as follows:

  • Listen
  • Apologize
  • Solve
  • Thank

This process must be done in order for it to be successful. Listen to the guest so you can fully understand their concerns, express empathy for the situation that they may be in, resolve the issue effectively, and express appreciation again at the end as a follow through for the service recovery process.

Don’t skip to the solve step, otherwise it comes across as transactional. You want to treat service recovery as a way to build a relationship, not like a vending machine that dispenses compensation.

Creatively resolve service failures that make the guest AND the business happy

Service recovery should make you money, not cost you. Your goal when resolving complaints is for the guest to be satisfied at the end of the interaction, and salvage their lifetime value to your business. Offering a refund may make a guest happy, but it doesn’t serve the business well. Offering a free drink with a $20 meal purchase may be good for business, but might not actually resolve the concern.

Consider the amount that you have to offer that has high value to the guest, but little or no cost to you. If you invite a guest to return with complimentary admission on a future visit, they are likely to spend money and have a better experience that is hopefully free of detractors. Offering priority access to make a reservation is a big perk for the guest, and requires them to come back. Take a look at what service recovery tools are already in your toolbox that meet both of these goals, then empower your staff to give them out as necessary.

Take care of the online reviews as they come up

By following this process, this is guaranteed to minimize the amount of negative reviews you see online, thus lowering the amount of lost revenue and damaged reputation. But, just like everything else when it comes to guest experience, have a backup plan for when the online reviews come in.

The LAST model can still be applied when responding online, but the biggest difference is that you are now in the arena, where spectators will be judging you based not only on the review that the dissatisfied guest left, but by your communication skills in addressing their concern.

Here are five suggestions for how you can modify the LAST model to fit your response to online reviews:

  1. Respond quickly, just as you would with any other feedback you receive
  2. Validate their concern so you do not come across as dismissive
  3. Thank them for their feedback, so the guest, as well as any other readers will know that you are appreciative (even though you would have preferred to learn their complaint from a private channel)
  4. Stress that what they are describing in their review is not the standard, and that this is not a typical circumstance
  5. Convert the conversation offline by providing a phone number, which is where you will walk the guest through the full LAST process and offer recovery at that time, rather than seeking to solve the problem in the comments of the review

Enjoy the benefits of the recovery paradox

If all goes well, you will take a guest on a journey that started with anticipation and excitement, then took a path toward frustration. But due to your intervention and recovery, you will course correct and the guest will be back on the path toward satisfaction rather than being an adversary.

But wait – it gets even better. Research suggests that guests who experience a service failure at some point in their experience, then go through the process of recovery, ultimately demonstrate higher levels of loyalty than those who have a standard satisfactory experience. This phenomenon is called the recovery paradox, and it’s your best friend when it comes to guest complaints.

Quick disclaimer: this does not mean that you should intentionally provide a poor experience just so you can jump in and be the hero. Guests will catch on pretty quickly. However, when a guest perceives their visit to be less than they expected, not only is it not the end of the world, it is actually an opportunity to foster the relationship, provide an even better experience than they expected, and turn a dissatisfied guest into a loyal advocate.

Key Takeaways

  • A single negative review can turn away 30 prospective guests, which is now revenue you will would have gained but now never will
  • Focus your efforts on internal guest feedback collection rather than relying on online reviews and social media
  • 96% of upset guests don’t complain, so appreciate when guests speak up
  • Use the proven LAST model to resolve service failures – this is not reserved for management or business owners, your frontline staff should be trained in this process
  • Creatively resolve service failures that result in high satisfaction for the guest and will yield a positive impact to the business
  • Responding to online reviews is similar to the LAST model, but you are now “in the arena” with spectators
  • The recovery paradox suggests that that guests who experience a service failure and subsequent favorable recovery demonstrate higher levels of loyalty than those who did not have an initial negative experience