'Can I please speak to the manager!"

How hotels can retain customers when things go wrong - research

Undersized beds, broken air conditioning or noisy neighbours – there are a million and one things that could go wrong when staying in a hotel.

So, dealing with complaints is paramount for hoteliers, particularly as boosting client retention by as little as 5% can boost profits by more than 25%.

A new study by Liverpool Business School into the personality types of tourists and travellers, may show that all is not lost for businesses – even when they epically fail.

Not only do many customers take a very pragmatic view when things go wrong, they might even come back if the hotel staff take the right approach to solving the customers’ problems.

“In popular culture, the hotel is a favourite place for customer service battles. We can all think of fights with hotel receptionists in film and TV dramas, but a large number of customers do not kick off in this way,” explains Dr Amr Al Khateeb, senior lecturer in marketing.

In his paper, written with colleagues from Qatar University, Dr Al Khateeb proposed that brand forgiveness is moderated by the interpersonal traits and thinking styles of individual customers.

He and his colleagues surveyed 570 people who had travelled in the past 12 months and had experienced service failures in hotels. What they found was fascinating.

Tourists with a ‘secure attachment’ style, that’s to say, those who feel emotionally close to others and comfortable relying on them, were more likely to collaborate with the hotel to constructively resolve an issue. They didn’t tend to escalate a problem or get angry and were more likely to find resolution.

Similarly, tourists with a holistic thinking style, in other words, people who look at things as a whole, assumed that external conditions may have led to the service failure because they attribute outcomes to fate rather than someone’s fault. They diverted the blame and didn’t interpret the failure very negatively and thus forgave the hotel.

On the other hand, people displaying ‘anxious attachment’ and ‘analytical thinking’ styles were more likely to be those ones who escalated an issue and failed to find resolution or satisfaction, damaging irrevocably the relationship.

Dr Al Khateeb said: “Hotels which understand customers’ emotional and cognitive characteristics are much more likely to respond with the right recovery strategy.

“Understanding and interpreting tourists thinking styles and emotional attachment styles can be very useful for hotel staff and should be included in training programmes or be part of the customer complaints procedure.

“The recovery strategy can make it or break it and the last thing a hotel needs after a service failure is another failure in dealing with it. Managers can also use psychographic segmentation for better targeting of customers taking into considerations our findings.”


The paper The effect of service failure severity on brand forgiveness: the moderating role of interpersonal attachment styles and thinking styles is published in The International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management.


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