Letters of complaint have been largely replaced these days by reviews on the web, making it even more important to sort out problems promptly and tactfully when they occur, says Peter Hancock, chief executive of Pride of Britain.
Even the best establishments get complaints sometimes. It's an inescapable fact that when service forms a big part of your business there's plenty of potential for things to go wrong. The marketing director of a small airline once told me that his company tipped unopened letters into a skip when the volume became overwhelming.
I know that TripAdvisor has, to a large extent, taken the place of individual letters to the management, but people still write them - and occasionally to the likes of me instead of the owner or general manager. Over the years I have kept a handful, either because they are amusing or instructive.
You will understand that for legal and career reasons I can't name the hotels involved, but here are just some of the priceless comments it has been my lot to respond to:
â- "There was a smell of horses in the lobby."
â- "I had to get my own cereals and juice from the buffet. What is this, British Rail?"
â- "The wine was supposed to have ‘gooseberry notes' but it didn't. It had a screw-top."
â- "The bathroom floor was very slippery, especially for a one-legged man."
What surprises me is how differently hoteliers react to criticism. Some try to be as constructive as possible and offer free stays or meals in an effort to win back the customer; others will do anything rather than admit their team were at fault and may spend hours composing a stinging reply designed to put the customer firmly in his place.
Dealing with people is skilled work, and that is why I have so much admiration for front-of-house professionals in our industry. For every letter of complaint there may be a hundred disasters averted by the right approach or by listening properly.
The late Charlton Heston had an unusually long and happy marriage for a Hollywood star. When asked by Michael Parkinson for his secret, he quoted the three simple words that his wife appreciated most of all: "I was wrong."