5 guest service recovery tactics you can use to make it right with unhappy guests

Carla Vianna
Carla Vianna
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5 guest service recovery tactics you can use to make it right with unhappy guests

Considering that a single negative experience can turn away a longtime customer, tour and attraction operators should have a plan in place when an experience goes south.

In essence, guest service recovery is about going above and beyond to ensure that guests leave with a positive impression, even when things don’t go as planned. It involves actively listening to guests, taking ownership of the problem, and finding effective solutions.

In this post, you’ll learn how to approach guest recovery in a proactive manner, ensuring that you’re building a stronger relationship with your guests even when things don’t go as planned.

What is guest service recovery?

Guest service recovery is the process of taking proactive steps to rectify situations where guests are dissatisfied. Simply put, it’s about turning a negative situation into a positive one.

Imagine the following scenario: You’re running a helicopter tour and things are flying smoothly. But then the weather goes haywire, or a reservation slips through the cracks. Guests get upset. That’s when guest service recovery comes into play.

Rather than seeing these situations as setbacks, guest service recovery allows you to enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty. In other words, it’s not about aiming for perfection; it’s about how you respond when issues pop up.

When a business demonstrates its ability to make things right, it’s not just recuperating a lost customer, but also cultivating loyal guests.

Proactive vs. reactive service recovery

There are two fundamental approaches to successful guest service recovery: proactive and reactive.

Proactive service recovery refers to a preventative strategy. In this case, the goal is to assess guest issues and challenges and prevent them from occurring in the first place.

This approach requires a deep understanding of your guests and their expectations. By analyzing guest feedback, you can identify potential pain points, bottlenecks, or sources of dissatisfaction that guests may encounter during their experience.

You can then take the proper measures — such as sharing the findings with your staff — to address them before they become significant problems.

Reactive service recovery, on the other hand, comes into play after a guest issue or complaint has surfaced. In this case, you’d address the problem and find a solution after it occurs. The goal here is to repair your relationship with the guest and ultimately regain their trust.

While reactive recovery is essential, especially when unexpected issues arise, it is generally more resource-intensive and can sometimes lead to a less-than-ideal guest experience.

Why proactive service recovery is the preferred approach for forward-thinking tour operators and attractions

By taking steps to prevent problems before they occur, you can create a smoother, more enjoyable experience for your guests. There are many pros to taking a proactive approach to guest recovery, including:

  • Enhanced guest satisfaction: Guests are now less likely to encounter problems, leading to higher overall satisfaction.
  • Cost efficiency: Preventing issues saves both time and resources.
  • Stronger guest relationships: When guests see that you’re committed to their well-being and enjoyment, it builds trust and loyalty. The result? Repeat business and positive word-of-mouth recommendations.
  • Positive brand image: Businesses that tackle guest issues proactively are perceived as attentive, caring, and customer-focused.

The HEART principle for assisting unhappy customers

The “HEART” principle is a proven guest service recovery framework for effectively communicating with unhappy customers and turning their negative experiences into positive ones. Each letter in “HEART” represents a key step in the process: Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, and Thank.


The first step is to actively listen to the customer to fully understand their concerns. Giving them your undivided attention will make them feel heard and valued.

  1. Give the guest your full attention: Eliminate distractions and focus solely on their feedback or issue.
  2. Avoid interruptions: Let the customer speak without interruption, allowing them to express their concerns without feeling rushed.
  3. Ask open-ended questions: Encourage the customer to elaborate on the situation by asking questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” response.

For example, a guest complains about a long wait time at an exhibit at your attraction. You, as an attraction operator, respond to them by thanking them for sharing their experience with you. Assure them that you fully understand their concerns. Follow up with: “Can you please tell me more about your wait time and how it affected your visit today?”


When a guest tells you how they feel, you’ll acknowledge their emotions and make them feel like you’re on the same side.

  1. Express understanding: Use empathetic language to convey that you grasp the customer’s frustration or disappointment.
  2. Validate emotions: Let the customer know it’s okay to feel the way they do and that their feelings are important.
  3. Avoid blame or defensiveness: Even if the issue wasn’t your fault, focus on the customer’s emotions rather than assigning blame.

Let’s go back to the example we mentioned above: When you respond to your unhappy guest, they continue to express frustration about the long wait time at your exhibit.

An empathetic response might look something like this: “I completely understand how waiting longer than expected can be frustrating, and it’s not the experience we want our guests to have. I’m genuinely sorry for any inconvenience this has caused you.”


Apologizing to your customers demonstrates that you’re willing to take responsibility for their negative experience, regardless of who or what caused it.

  1. Be sincere: A sincere apology shows a genuine desire to make things right.
  2. Avoid conditional language: Don’t undermine the apology with phrases like “if you were offended.”
  3. Express regret: Show genuine remorse for any dissatisfaction the customer experienced.

Following these tips, the apology might look something like this: “I want to sincerely apologize for the extended wait you experienced. That’s not the level of service we aim to provide, and I’m truly sorry for any frustration it caused.”


The next stage is about taking concrete steps to solve the problem.

  1. Assess the situation: Understand the problem thoroughly and brainstorm possible solutions.
  2. Propose a solution: Share your plan of action with the guest.
  3. Follow through: Ensure that the solution is implemented promptly.

For example, to make amends, you might offer the guest a complimentary return ticket.

Thank you

“Thank you” represents the final step of the HEART principle. Here, you’ll express gratitude for your guest’s patience, feedback, and continued relationship with your business.

  1. Show appreciation: Thank the customer for bringing the issue to your attention and for allowing you to resolve it.
  2. Remind them of your commitment: Emphasize your dedication to providing excellent service in the future.

Here’s a look at what that might look like: “Thank you for allowing us to address your concerns today. We genuinely value your feedback, and we look forward to providing you with a much-improved experience in the future.”

5 best practices for solving issues quickly

The HEART principle can serve as the foundation of your guest recovery process. Now, let’s see how you and your staff can best put this into practice.

1. Inform your frontline staff

Make your frontline employees, such as tour guides or customer service representatives, aware of your guest recovery processes. They should also be given the authority and training to address common issues on the spot. That way your employees can often resolve problems more quickly without the need for escalation.

2. Establish clear communication channels

Have clear communication channels in place, both internally and externally. What do we mean by this? Internally, ensure that your staff knows how to reach out for assistance and who to ask for information. Externally, make sure customers know how to contact your business with their concerns, whether it’s by phone, email, or live chat.

3. Leverage technology

Invest in technology that can help streamline issue resolution. This might include customer relationship management (CRM) software to track and manage customer issues, or mobile apps that allow staff to access information efficiently. You might also leverage AI tools like ChatGPT, which can facilitate communication with guests. 

For example, you can integrate the chatbot on your website and train it to answer frequently asked questions, like “How can I cancel” or “Where can I park?”  

4. Create standard operating procedures

Having a documented guest recovery process in place can help staff address problems consistently and efficiently. 

For example, if a customer complains about the wait time to a staff member standing at the entrance of an exhibition or ride, does that staff member know who to report the complaint to? The same goes for negative reviews. If a customer leaves a bad review, is your customer service team aware of the next steps to resolve the issue? SOPs should be easily accessible to all employees, such as outlined in an online document.

5. Gather and monitor customer feedback

Regularly ask for feedback from your guests. This can help you identify and address issues before they become a bigger problem. To do this, establish a system for collecting feedback after tours or attractions, such as NPS surveys or automated emails asking for reviews

Make sure you’re checking and replying to online reviews and survey responses regularly.   


Guest recovery is a process that can transform unhappy guests into loyal supporters of your brand. The HEART principle — Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, and Thank — provides a structured approach to navigating unpleasant situations.

Remember, proactive service recovery is the preferred strategy for forward-thinking operators. By preventing issues before they occur, you build stronger relationships with your guests and maintain a positive brand image.


Writer Carla Vianna

Carla Vianna

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