You’ve probably heard the old saying, “The customer is always right”. And some of us may not believe that’s always true, however, the crux of the saying is really about dealing with customer complaints in the most effective, advantageous way possible.
Nobody likes dealing with unhappy customers, particularly difficult ones, however knowing how to effectively deal with customer disputes, should be an essential part of your restaurant’s customer service strategy. And if done well, can mean the difference between never seeing a customer (and their wider contacts) ever again, or having them return time and time again knowing they’ve accepted your apology.
But how is it done well? Here are our top 5 tips for managing customer complaints in your restaurant.
Tip #1: Put Your Emotions Aside
Whether it’s a customer who’s disgruntled with your restaurant’s service or an angry customer who is unhappy with their chosen menu item, there’s no point both of you getting upset. The most productive and sensitive way to handle customer complaints is actually without letting your own personal emotions get in the way.
Of course it’s a natural human response to want to tell a customer that they’re wrong (especially if they are). After all, you are passionate about where you work and the products and services that go along with it, however reacting emotionally won’t help you in your efforts to diffuse the situation, and may actually make things worse.
First up, remain calm. You work in the service business and your customers are your livelihood, so you need to treat them with respect. But no matter how irate a customer becomes, try to stay as composed as possible no matter how unreasonable the issue is.
You should also watch your body language. Regardless of whether you sound sincere, body language can often tell a completely different story! Good body language also shows your customers that you value not only their opinion, but their business. How? Maintain eye contact as much as possible, keep an ‘open’ body position, nod and smile while you’re listening, and most importantly, don’t exude negativity! Rolling your eyes or crossing your arms over your chest will do nothing to help the situation.
Tip #2: Acknowledge What They Have To Say
The old saying, ‘kill them with kindness’ is a very apt strategy to employ when you’re dealing with unhappy restaurant customers, however it’s important not to just smile and pretend you care, you need to genuinely let them know that you’re thankful for their feedback. Mention that you appreciate them taking the time to talk to you, and make it clear that you’re there to assist in whatever way you can.
Listen carefully and allow your customer to complete finish talking before you butt into the conversation. Remember that your customer is not attacking you personally, they’re just after a solution to their problem so avoid getting defensive. Often customers just want a sounding board and they’ll probably feel better even just by venting.
Be sure you are sure about their complaint and acknowledge what they’ve said – it often helps to repeat a customer’s words back to them to make sure you’ve listened well and understood what it is that they’re upset about. This will open up the opportunity for you to listen further, and hopefully give you some insight into how you might be able to resolve the issue.
Tip #3: Offer A Genuine Apology
It’s not easy to take ownership when handling restaurant complaints, however it is important to own the problem by being transparent and by letting the customer know the problem will be fixed. Try to emphasise with them by putting yourself in their shoes. Empathy often goes a long way towards alleviating customer issues, to the point where they may not even need you to give an actual solution.
Offering a sincere apology lets your customer know that you actually do care about not only their grievance but their business in the future. Letting them know you’re truly sorry can also help diffuse some of the emotion that often goes along with a complaint. When apologizing, don’t blame your customer or your staff, repeat their problem in your apology so that they understand that you are working hard on a solution, and thank them for the chance to resolve the problem in the most conciliatory way possible for both of you
Tip #4 – Find Out What They Want
When dealing with customer disputes, try to work out exactly what might make your customer feel better. Show concern, offer support, ask more questions if you need to, and try and understand the complaint from their perspective. Ask them what an acceptable solution might be, and be your customer’s partner in helping to solve the problem. Was their meal undercooked? Then offer to cook them something else. Was the service slow? Offer a discount.
If your customer doesn’t exactly know what they want, still ask. And if you can’t solve their exact problem, propose a solution of your own that’s at least a compromise. And if what you’re offering doesn’t satisfy their expectations, don’t give up! Support doesn’t have to be resolved in terms of a black and white solution, and sometimes the more creative you are, the more your customer will appreciate the time you’ve spent listening and acknowledging their issue.
Also, try to solve the issue as quickly as possible, or if you can’t, engage the help of a superior – don’t simply pass them off to someone else – you’ll only add to their frustration! All employees should be empowered to handle customer issues, however, if the issue does get out of hand, it’s time to call in the Manager to help diffuse the situation.
Tip #5 – Follow Up Down The Track
A valuable tip to handling restaurant complaints is to personally follow up with your customer within 48 hours of them expressing their concerns. Asking upper management to get involved will also further enhance your commitment to customer service. But then make sure you move on. The hospitality industry and customer complaints go hand in hand, unfortunately, so your best strategy is to acknowledge that you’ve handled the problem, and ensure that your business has a plan of attack when it comes to navigating customer complaints in the future. You never know, that recent disgruntled customer you dealt with so well, may just turn into another now-happy, returning customer!