7 types of hotel complainers — which one are you?

by Amy Bradley-Hole on June 4, 2008

What kind of complainer are you?

I used to train hotel employees on how to handle difficult situations and irate customers. I believe the best way to please someone is to understand his needs and motivations, so I wanted these employees to learn to pay attention to why people complain.

No, not the reasons — like, because the toilet wouldn’t flush or the rate was wrong. What was the psychology behind the complaints?

Why would one person overlook a hair in the sink, while the next would suffer a stroke over it?

In my effort to better understand the psychology behind complaining, I began studying disgruntled customers, and I noticed certain “types” of complainers.

See yourself in this list anywhere?

1. People with ruined dreams. This is the person who has been dreaming of the most breathtaking African safari, or the most magical Disney vacation, or the most relaxing trip to the Caribbean for years. He’s got this perfect vision is his head of exactly how his entire trip, including his hotel experience, should be.

But we all know that fantasy and reality rarely meet. This person may complain because he has major problems. But he often complains about minor things that may not really matter, simply because he’s facing the reality that there is no such thing as a perfect vacation. If your dreams are ruined, stop and think: Is this problem really the hotel’s fault, or does the blame lie with Mother Nature/the airline/my husband? And even if it is the hotel’s fault, do you really want to spend valuable vacation time arguing with a front desk agent over a 25-cent local phone call?

2. Face-savers. A face-saver complains because he thinks acting irate will camouflage his shortcomings. This is the person who knows he only made his reservation for two nights but insists it was three, or who knows he left the “do not disturb” sign on his door but insists that the housekeepers have it in for him. A face-saver can often be identified by his low self-esteem and his belief that belittling other people makes him look good. He’s the one complaining really loudly so that everyone around him knows how clever he his and how stupid the hotel employee is.

If you’re a face-saver, shame on you. You need to cut it out right now. I’m not telling you not to complain when something is wrong. I’m just imploring you to be nice about it. Ruining a poorly-paid employee’s day does not make you a big man. It just ensures that said employee will talk about you in the break room using language that would make a sailor blush. And you’ll probably get a notation on your reservation about what a jerk you are, and that comment will follow you from hotel to hotel within a chain. That means no free upgrades for you!

3. Freebie-lovers. We all love a bargain. But complaining even when you know nothing’s wrong just so you can get a lower rate or a refund means you’re a cheat. Freebie-lovers have one motivation: saving money.

There was once a woman who found nasty trash in her room every time she came to my hotel — condoms, syringes, old food and other gross stuff. She always got an upgrade and some compensation for her trouble. After her fifth time checking into a dirty room, we asked her to never come back. At that point, we knew she was planting these items so that she could get freebies. If you’re a freebie-lover, you may get caught. And even if you don’t, just think of the bad karma you’re collecting.

4. Wounded warriors. The wounded warrior once had everything going for him. But then his boss nixed his bonus, his wife stopped making his favorite meals, the economy tanked, he got a flat tire…you get the picture. The wounded warrior often complains because it’s the only way to regain control of his life. He becomes master of the situation, if only for a brief shining moment.

Wounded warriors may also complain because they feel forced to do so by someone else — they’re just
too downtrodden to stand up and say “No, honey, I’m not going to call room service because you think that’s 2%, not fat-free, milk for your coffee.” If you think you’re a wounded warrior, then get fierce. Stand up for yourself. Take control of your life. That may mean complaining more often, but it may mean complaining less often.

5. Martyrs/passive-aggressives Martyrs and passive-aggressives are the worst complainers because they don’t complain at all – – at least not to the hotel. These are the people who have the worst stay ever, and yet never breathe a word about their numerous issues to hotel staff. Instead, they wait until they return home to tell everyone they know and the local news station about how horribly they were treated.

In fact, martyrs love to be mistreated, because it gives them something new to complain about. Life for them would be meaningless without drama. If you fall into this category, you’ll probably never admit it. But if you do, think about this: Do you want things to be made right, or do you just want to complain? If you want things right, you must complain to someone who can help you, i.e. a hotel employee. If you just like complaining, then you should really find a better hobby.

6. The loyal customers The loyal customers complain because…well, they don’t really complain at all. Instead, they provide constructive criticism. They let managers know when things are wrong simply because they love a hotel or chain and they want to make sure it’s a nice place to stay for a long, long time. It’s like teaching your child good manners because you love him and want him to grow up to be a gentleman. This type of complainer is the one who becomes good friends with the staff members at various hotels and gets all kinds of perks when he comes to stay.

7. The truly injured The truly injured guest complains for a valid, important reason. He does so calmly, rationally and politely. He understands that no one is perfect, and that mistakes happen. He does not place blame or pass judgement. He asks for appropriate compensation for his problems, and is never demanding. He is a rare breed.

Categorizing complainers seemed to help the employees better please these customers, because they better understood what each guest wanted. But I also think that recognizing your main complaint type will help you become a better complainer. You’ll know what you want, why you want it, and you’ll hopefully be able to ask for what you want in the most effective way possible.

So the next time you start to complain about anything, think about my highly-unscientific, never-tested-in-a-lab-setting categories here. Before you open your mouth, take a moment to ponder your motivations.

Are you about to make everyone around you cranky while solving nothing? Or are you about to turn an issue into a learning opportunity for everyone involved?

Got any other categories to add to my list? Want to ‘fess up to a time when you were a bad complainer? Share your thoughts in the comment section below or in our Talking Travelers forums.

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  • John

    I think you left off one thing on the “truly injured.” As someone who travels for a living, I have fallen into your two last categories more than once. I have also fallen into an irate truly injured category that you don’t mention. More than once, I have acted in the “mistakes happen” attitude of the truly injured. Only to have the incident occur again, during the same stay, at the same hotel. When occurs again, I’m not the bright and cherry person that I was the first time. At that point, it’s not a “mistakes happen” incident. The hotel has reached the point that they have begun wasting my time through their lack of service. My time is too valuable when I’m traveling to be wasted by someone I’m paying to provide a service. At that point, I don’t think that I should have to be calm, cool and collected. The hotel has obviously not learned from its first error or put steps in place to prevent it from occuring again. I will admit when this occurs, I am demanding and I expect the hotel to do something more that simply fix the problem. You have wasted my time and that is valuable to me. Simply taking a charge off, again, or allowing me to charge to my room account, again doesn’t cut it.

  • Vince

    Maybe you should do a follow up piece on the crappy kinds of responses that the complaints receive, even from the “good” complainers. Who has time to complain about every little thing wrong with hotel rooms and service? Hotels are charging top dollar for rooms and folks have a right to rent a clean room where everything, and Ido mean everything works that way it was intended.

  • B Helenbart

    “If you didn’t like something, tell us. If you like us, tell your friends.”

  • Karen Center

    I have stayed in many hotels over many years, in many cities and have seen fit to complain just once. I’m no martyr but in Atlantic City one time I was reduced to tears and the hotel really came through for us.

    We were given a room where the window actually did not look to the outside but to a stone wall high up in the lobby! No light came through it. The room was tiny and 85 degrees and the Air conditioner was not working. Only one light bulb in the room worked, the other three were missing. So it was very dark. The carpet was dirty and the whole place smelled like stale beer.

    I propped open the door because of the stench and noticed three gentlemen in suits coming down the hall – all wearing names tags and conversing very quietly.

    When they came near, one of them noticed that I was just standing in the doorway with tears running down my face. They were management (lucky me!) and asked what was wrong – I invited them in and asked if this was their idea of a getaway weekend.

    We were immediately whisked away to an upper floor into a nice room that had windows that opened and was probably more expensive than what we had paid for.

    I’m just saying – sometimes it pays to cry if you feel mistreated!

    K.C.

  • Rack

    Great listing of reasons, etc. My experience is that many people fit into your category #1. They go to a location, after finding the least expensive place, and then complain that they do not get food and service as if they were in a high end resort/hotel.

  • Kristi

    Great list of complainers. I think I’ve seen them all when I go on vacation. People should use common sense and have an open mind. They’ll have a lot more fun and may end up having that “perfect” vacation they were looking for.

  • Brandon

    As an avid traveler who also works in the travel industry, I have been on both sides of the front desk. After years of traveling and working in hotels, I’ve learned that no hotel is perfect, and I honestly never expect one to be. As a traveler, this enables me to avoid situation 1. Also when I’m traveling I put myself in the shoes of the service industry employees (granted this is easier because I have been one, but it’s not that hard). For instance, did the front desk agent cause your room to have a smoky odor? Or have you ever tried cleaning 20 rooms in your house in 8 hours (like housekeepers do) without accidentally missing a spot? Now, I do understand the idea of letting management know of complaints, and this can be helpful to the company, but far too often I have seen guests who are pointing out the samllest error that we in the industry know is bound to occur in at least one guest room. So for complainer 6, make sure you’re bringing up an issue that management is truly unaware of—otherwise you may not be seen as the wonderful loyal customer you once were.

    Regardless of the stiuation, there is never a need to become irate. Even if it’s a problem that’s occuring over and over again., becoming irate won’t stop the problem. Again, the person you’re becoming irate with most likely is not the cause of the problem. They may have alerted housekeeping about your dirty bathtub, but if housekeeping fails to clean it correctly, it’s not the front desk agent’s fault. Plus, an agent is more likely to upgrade you or go above and beyond the call of duty (perhaps cleaning the tub themselves) if you present the situation in a calm, friendly manner.

    In closing, it’s also improtant to remember that the service industry is not a glamorous or high paid industry to be in. Just because you’re paying $350 a night does not mean the staff is being paid anything more than minimum wage. Most of the staff is there because they love what they do. Don’t ruin this love for service by complaining. There’s nothing worse than hearing a once excited young front desk agent say that they want to leave the industry because the aspect of the job they once found attracting—-servinging and getting to know people—has actually become their least favorite part.

  • http://WWW.FFOCUS.ORG Robert Johnson

    I am most always a Six. Life is to short to get bogged down in hotel silliness. Oh I complain trust me on that, however it’s done in a top down approach. I ask to speak with the GM and if he/she is there they usually come out and 99.9% of the time an apology is forthcoming along with modest compensation. Even if the GM isn’t there folks tend to step up to the plate when they hear you ask for the GM as they have gently been put on notice that I’m not afraid to go to the top. Once sadly I had to go as far as Bill Marriott’s office to get an issue addressed. Surprisingly :nod wink: I’ve had little trouble with Marriott Properties since.

    You just have to be firm and state your case calmly and do not back off at the first “no”. Things go wrong as a matter of course. How a company responds is the true measure of who you’re dealing with.

  • Mike

    A five-star hotel I used to frequent had an elderly couple who lived nearby and would come in for drinks. The wife seemed nice enough, but the husband was cantankerous and yelled at me for smoking a cigar (back when this not only legal but encouraged). I found out later that every visit was somehow someone’s birthday or anniversary or some occasion to expect free champagne or a cake or something.

    I consider myself firmly in #6 with the hotels I frequent, and I make it a point not to accept management’s generosity if I can help it – I’m not looking for freebies, and the feeling of cameraderie with the staff is priceless.

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  • Manda Panda

    As an employee of a well known brand, I’ve seen all of these types of guests and dealt with them all accordingly. At my hotel, we have no training to deal with complaints and newer employees often pass these people a line telling them the problem will be dealt with and then it never is. After this, I deal with listening to the complaints because I’m here in the mornings when most guests wake up.

    The list is pretty accurate but I think there was one that was failed to be mentioned. Ms. I Don’t Want To Be Here. This is the guest that wanted to stay somewhere else and will document EVERY problem to report to her boss that booked the room with us and she will never tell us what is wrong so that we can fix it. Later we get an irate phone call from the boss filled with problems and says that the employee tried talking to the staff. People like this really make me want to reach over the counter and slap someone!

    I’ve worked every job in this hotel from standing in as manager all the way down to cleaning the rooms. If people were to realize that we are here because we enjoy our jobs and that we arent the enemy everything would work so much better. If someone is nice to me I offer to type up directions, call a cab, set extra wake up calls, clean your bathtub myself :), or even take your package to the post office to be mailed.

    If you are rude, I can promise that while you will be allowed to stay again, you won’t get our best room. Nor will we bother to personally come up and try to get your computer to accept our internet service or any other thing that you may be having problems with. We won’t be rude, but we won’t go that extra mile.

  • Erin

    This is the article that brought me to this site, and words can’t express how clever and completely correct it is!! I’ve worked at the front desk for a while now and I’ve found that most people who stay in hotels are normal people just trying to have a comfortable vacation/business trip/etc. At least the non-legitimate complainers are far and few between. On the bright side, they make for great stories to tell our co-workers later.

    This obviously doesn’t include the guests that have a real issue and give us the opportunity to fix the problem. Being empowered to do whatever you can to make sure the guest leaves happy and excited to return is the most rewarding part of being at the front desk (at least for me!)

    I think Manda Panda hit the nail on the head when it comes to rude people. I will never give attitude back but from that point forward, that guest is getting the absolute bare minimum of service from me. I can’t tell you how much I’ve bent over backward for people who are kind. While we will adjust charges for a “screamer,” we do it begrudgingly and will give MUCH more to the people that treat us like human beings. I would hate to walk into a hotel and know that the staff detests me but is obligated to still be civil. Doesn’t that bother people?!

  • Tina

    When I read travelers’ online reviews of hotels, I immediately disregard those who complain about the hotel staff being “rude.” I figure the first person who was rude was the traveler and the response he got from the staff wasn’t exactly what he wanted to hear.

    If you’re nice to the hotel staff, they are incredibly nice to you. And like you point out about perks given to friendly travelers, I play a game with myself called “will I get an upgrade?” It’s amazing how many times my room is upgraded just because I approached the front desk at check-in with a big smile and something nice to say.

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