Save "I want to speak with the manager" for Later
Many complaints at the hotel start out with words like this: "I want to speak with the manager." You are annoyed, tired, and maybe even angry. You want to go straight to the top.
Resist this impulse.
Front desk workers are trained to deal with simple problems such as a broken TV, noisy neighbors or a leaky faucet. Taking such problems to the next level during an initial complaint is both unnecessary and insulting to the front desk folks.
There is a time when asking for the manager is required. Are the front desk workers ignoring you? Have you made multiple requests with no results? At some point, you can intensify your efforts by moving up the chain of command. But save that move for when it becomes necessary.
Trust the people at the front desk to care for you. Consider them competent and reliable allies until proven otherwise.
Keep Expectations Realistic
In the picture above, you see a budget hotel in Costa Rica. It was about $21/night, including a full breakfast the next day.
The mattress was squeaky and tired. The towels were thin and well-worn. The shower was a concrete chamber with water heated by some sort of electrical contraption.
Someone expecting an adjustable mattress, fluffy towels and multiple shower heads would be disappointed. But it would be foolish to complain about the amenities at $21/night.
Perhaps this is an extreme example, but there are travelers who have expectations that are far from realistic. At a minimum, some expect the comforts of home.
Be certain that your travel complaints are realistic.
You have a right to a safe, clean room with a minimum of noise during late-night and early-morning hours. If something isn't quite right, it's reasonable to mention the problem. But don't expect a free stay because your neighbor's children ran up and down the hall a few times.
Most hotels have confidential guidelines for how they will compensate guests with complaints. Expect a response that is measured against the depth of your problem.
Document Your Complaint
Make your complaint as specific as possible. Saying your room is dirty is unlikely to get as much attention as saying you found several roaches in the room or that there is mildew inside the shower.
Take pictures. Make careful notes. These bits of documentation will serve you well. If you can't resolve the matter during your stay, you'll be able to explain your problem at the next level of the hotel's bureaucracy.
Be certain your documentation includes dates and times. These details are sometimes neglected. But there's one fairly common mistake that leads the list of missed documentation. Click "next" to read about it.
When someone tells you they'll look into your complaint, make it a habit to glance at their name tag. If they're not wearing a name tag, ask them politely for their name.
Many complaints are devalued or dismissed because the guest refers to a staff member's promise, but can't identify that person.
It's a common problem, especially in large hotels with busy front desk areas. In those situations, it's usually not enough to say "the guy who was working here last night about 5." There may have been a dozen staff members working at that time.
Get the name of the person to whom you first communicate your concern. Keep taking names until your problem is resolved.
Last Resort: Escalate the Complaint
Sometimes, you will exhaust all reasonable attempts to resolve a complaint. That's the time to escalate the complaint to corporate, agency and public levels. The corporate level is a reasonable next-step.
I once encountered a front desk worker who was rude and even abusive toward my family. Instead of dealing with my request, she sought to simply end the discussion. She irrationally escalated the situation into a public scene -- even threatening to call the police.
I politely continued to make my point. I even invited her to call the police if she wished to do so.
It was an ugly scene that greatly upset my very young daughter, who thought her parents might be heading to jail for the night. The next day, I followed up with a complaint to the property manager. It was ignored.
This is a point at which many complaints simply die.
But I felt that if I owned a hotel chain, I would want to know if there is someone misrepresenting my brand with my guests. So I took my complaint to the hotel franchise's corporate headquarters. I mentioned the time of the incident and the name of the clerk. I offered to furnish other information at the company's request. I did not ask for any compensation.
Within a short time, I had a personal response from a corporate vice president. This executive expressed deep regret, promised an investigation and offered a voucher for a complimentary stay at any hotel within the franchise.
I don't know what happened to the worker. Frankly, it's none of my business anyway. But I learned that as a last resort, it can be very important to communicate with the corporate office.