A “moment of truth” experience in hospitality is when a guest makes a conscious decision to “grade” your quality of service. This could easily equate to hundreds of instances while a party of 2-4-6 or 8 dines in your restaurant. As an operator you must recognize and be able to quickly resolve customer complaints as they pop-up and teach our team members that those adverse moments of truth only cripple your business.
On the other side of the coin, you have the customer who never complains, yet simply does not return. Yes, these are the worst. When this happens you have no opportunity to fix or resolve the issue and make it right. This signifies the importance of closely monitoring and actually speaking with your guests.
Here are 6 key steps in dealing with customer complaints:
1. Listen: This is not the time to defend poor service or food quality. Your guest simply knows that they were not delivered the best experience. Allow your guest, either in person or on the phone to explain what went wrong. Your position is to resolve their complaint if at all possible, period. Your guest does not need to hear that you were understaffed for the day or the delivery truck was late. They simply want you to deliver on your promise to excite and provide an outstanding customer experience.
2. Take Action: Resolve guest issues as quickly and thoroughly as possible so guests do not take the time to spread the word on how your food or service quality was while in your restaurant. Action may require you to dig in a bit and investigate with a strong sense of urgency. Do not allow complaints to linger or mount. This can be as easy as asking your guest if you can remove their drink or food item and replace it with one that will better broadcast your brand to deliver your promise. This approach is all about keeping it simple and sticking to the basics when dealing with a complaint. See it = Fix it = Apologize = Move on.
3. Follow Up: Simply fixing the initial problem does not mean it will never happen again. Follow up with your team to insure you have taken the necessary steps so that the complaint does not turn into a trend. Go shop the opportunity or complaint yourself at some point (put yourself in the customers seat) and insure you have completely resolved the issue.
4. Address Unfavorable Trends: Multiple complaints may provide you even more insight about trends becoming part of your environment and business. Consistent input on issues like high ticket times should tell you something and may provide enough input to quickly act and resolve the problem in your kitchen. A one-time complaint that your draft beer is flat may simply tell you to check and insure your lines are clean or that your gas level is functioning properly. Of course thank your guest for that input, and then deliver an ice cold draft beer as quickly as possible at no charge.
5. Have A Policy in Place: Whether handling complaints directly in your restaurant or long distance, have a consistent and comprehensive plan of action that can quickly resolve customer complaints. Cascading and teaching management and team members how complaints are handled will provide a foundation on how to interpret and react to numerous situations that takes place every day in your restaurant.
6. Learn From It: We learn from every guest interaction, whether a great one or one with opportunity. React to those that require action and insure what is shared will benefit your team. Customer compliments should be shared as well as this is the experience you desire to deliver every shift. Hold those team members that deliver excellent customer experiences up high and recognize their efforts. Peers will follow once they clearly understand what outcome is desired and how recognition makes us all execute better.
It may be easy for some of us to “brush off” a complaint or an overly picky customer; however you should treat every customer as though they are an honored guest in your home. This will help separate you from the competition.