The Mirror or the Pillow: Reacting to Difficult Guest Situations

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The Mirror or the Pillow: Reacting to Difficult Guest Situations

Holly was a twenty-something woman who worked on my Box Office team in Vegas back around 2001. She was a good person who arrived to work each day with a smile on her face and the right mindset. However, like so many of us, Holly had a problem dealing with Guests in negative situations. Holly’s problem was about to become my problem too.

One morning, soon after I arrived to work, my boss called me into his office. He had just listened to a voicemail from a very upset guest who had encountered Holly the night before. The guest had been at the Box Office to pick up their show tickets and the reservation was not immediately located. Holly had apparently been unable to resolve the situation and it quickly went from bad to worse. As my boss replayed the voicemail for me, I heard the guest identify a few key things:

  • The guest admitted that he was upset from the start (and he let it show in his interaction with Holly)
  • Holly became defensive right away, mirroring the guest’s frustration right back at him
  • The interaction quickly took a turn for the worst; tempers flared, and nothing was accomplished
  • Ultimately, the supervisor came out, apologized, and resolved the issue; however, the guest still asked for my boss’s contact information which told me that this had gone to an even higher level.

I needed to address the situation with Holly quickly and before it could happen again.

On her next shift, I called Holly into my office. “Holly,” I began, “a few days ago, we received a phone call from a guest complaining about his interaction with you. Can you tell me what happened?”

Holly immediately became defensive, “Oh, let me tell you, this guy was rude and obnoxious from the start. I couldn’t find his reservation and when I told him that, he just started yelling at me. Marty, I’m not going to take that. It’s not right. When somebody comes at me like that, I come right back at them. I can’t help it. I guess I really take it personally.”

Holly was describing how I think we all sometimes feel. When we get in the middle of a situation where we are being attacked, human nature tells us to defend ourselves. If somebody hits us, we want to hit back right away--maybe hit back even harder. However, in the service industry, of course we cannot do this. If we hit back, we become the bad guy and it can quickly blow up in our face, just as it did for Holly.


The Mirror.

When the guest became angry and started yelling at her, it was as if Holly held up a mirror in front of her and spewed that negativity right back at the guest. Instead of improving the situation, Holly made things worse. I asked Holly to consider another way of responding to similar situations in the future.


The Pillow.

I asked Holly to imagine that there is a big, fluffy pillow that she keeps down underneath her ticket counter. Whenever a guest is upset, she needs to hold the pillow up in front of her and imagine that it is absorbing all of the guest’s negative energy. But the pillow isn’t a way of just ignoring what the guest is saying. The pillow represents our way of filtering through the negativity, identifying the facts of the situation, asking clarifying questions, and then finding a reasonable solution. This is what I asked Holly to do from now on.

  • Be the Professional. Don’t take things personally—let the pillow absorb them instead.
  • Commit to Helping. Tell the guest right away that you want to help and that you are committed to finding an agreeable solution. Then, do it.
  • Listen. When we take the time to listen, take notes, and ask questions, it shows to the guest how much we care.
  • Empathize. Put yourself in the Guest’s shoes. I love using the phrase “I understand how that would make you feel.”
  • Resolve. Don’t ever tell your Guest what you can’t do. Instead, tell them what you can do. Fix it. Resolve it. Create raving fans.

 Holly agreed to follow my advice from then on. She made a choice to use the pillow in tough situations rather than the mirror. She learned to do this in her work life…and ultimately in her personal life too.

In difficult situations, are you using the mirror or the pillow?


People won't care how much you know

until they know how much you care.

John Maxwell


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