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5 Phrases That Can Irk Unhappy Guests (and What to Say Instead)

In hotel customer service, tweaking your wording can go a long way to soothing a dissatisfied guest.

Sometimes a sentence may help to convey empathy and sincerity, while slightly different wording can come off as insincere or snarky.

It can be a challenge to come up with just the right words in the moment, while dealing with an irate customer. So it makes sense to look at language ahead of time, nix wording that can add fuel to a customer service fire and come up with better language that sounds sincere, and that you feel comfortable saying next time there’s trouble with a guest.

Here are five phrases that can rub unhappy guests the wrong way (and what to say instead):

1. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

The phrase “I’m sorry you feel that way” can push an upset customer over the edge. This makes it sound as if the problem is with the way the customer “feels” about the issue, rather than the problem itself. This wording also can come off as insincere, since it may seem like you don’t truly care. Instead, try a genuinely worded and sincere apology, such as: “I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this issue with your room,” or “I apologize for this mixup with your reservation.”

2. “My system is glitchy today”

It can be tempting to blame the computer system, but this can stress out an already-annoyed guest even more, especially if you seem exasperated by the tech issues. First, it may feel like you’re not really taking charge of the situation and are “blaming” a malfunctioning system. Second, the guest may worry they’ll be waiting a long time to get their issue solved. Instead, you can say something like, “Give me just a few minutes to enter this into the system so I can help you get this resolved.”

3. “There’s nothing I can do”

This phrase can quickly ratchet a situation from bad to worse when a guest is seeking a solution. One hotel guest received this response when inquiring about 500 loyalty points that didn’t post after a stay. “When I called, they said the portfolio was closed and there was nothing they could do,” the guest wrote in a review. “That pretty much sums up the hotel, they make mistakes and refuse to do anything about them.” Instead, let the guest know what you can do, even if that means calling in a manager to help.

4. “No”

There’s nothing like the simple word “no” to tick off a dissatisfied guest. For example, a guest reviewing an Indianapolis hotel complained they were met with the simple word “no” multiple times during their stay, first when requesting a late checkout and then when asking to speak to a manager. They took the time to write a review stating the brand should be “embarrassed to have their name on the property.” Even if you are unable to fulfill a guest request, it’s important to use gentler language to explain what you can and can’t do, and to focus on how you can help. Offering a reason is another way to soften a “no.”

5. “We’re really busy”

When you’re slammed, you may want to use the fact that you’re busy to justify or explain slow service or your inability to fulfill a guest request. Don’t do it. The phrase may make the guest think you’re blaming external circumstances for poor service, that they’ll be waiting a long time or that they’re not a priority for you. Instead, don’t mention how busy you are and just let the customer know when and how you’ll be able to help them with their issue.

Thinking ahead about how to handle difficult guest service situations, and specifically what language to use, can help you keep guests happy and avoid conflicts and bad reviews.