We have all heard the saying that the customer is always right, and for the most part operators should always follow that rule. Our company lives by the slogan “Simply do the Right Thing.” This should also hold true for operators when handling customer complaints. The No. 1 complaint of customers is not poor food, but poor service.
A positive customer experience starts with a greeting by either the hostess or server. Customers want to feel important and appreciated each time they visit a restaurant. A smile goes a long way and I have always said you can serve average food, but you can’t hire an average staff. You want enthusiastic people who not only care about the customer, but they also care about their restaurant. Just take a look at the history of Southwest Airlines and how the airline’s success has been built on friendly customer service. Even today, its commercials make you feel special when they feature actual employees as the “actors.”
When you have a service complaint, a manager or owner should address it immediately. The key is to be a good listener and let the customer vent without interruption. Then, quickly and effectively, have a positive answer for how to handle the situation. For example, “I am so sorry Mr. Smith that we took so long to serve your food. I feel bad; I know Marci your server feels badly and believe me our kitchen is not happy about letting you down. We let you down and want you to feel good when you leave. May we take care of your dinner tonight?” I personally think customers feel it is an insult when you offer to buy them a dessert versus buying their meal. Our company policy is if we disappoint a customer, we waive the management fee, no questions asked.
It is important to remember that in today’s world, if customers have a bad experience and you don’t handle it correctly, they can go home and within minutes “tweet” hundreds of people or go on Facebook and post to 350 friends what a negative experience they have had. Before you know it, within a few hours more than 1,000 people can find out about a less than stellar consumer experience someone may have had in your restaurant.
Limitations on Hospitality
When it comes to offering a free drink because of a customer’s complaint, we advise you to be careful. If the customer has consumed two or three cocktails, the last thing you want to do is offer that guest another drink. We suggest offering an appetizer or some type of bounce back on their next visit written on the manager’s business card with a phone number. For example, “Mr. Smith, I am sorry we let you down tonight. Here is my card and phone number. Please call me and be my guest for dinner for two the next time you wish to visit. I will personally make sure you have a nice table and dinner.” Giving away food resolves any alcoholic legal issues. We also suggest you take the customer’s business card and within 24 hours send a note of apology to the guest’s business or home. I promise you the guest will be back and you will not have to worry about any toxic Facebook or Twitter remarks. It’s possible you might even have someone post a nice remark about how the situation was handled.
While the customer may primarily be right, no manager, server, bartender, chef or hostess should ever be subject to verbal abuse. It’s not something I tolerate in our company. In fact we have ceased doing business of our own volition, not theirs, with certain companies because they were rude to some of our employees. We even had one instance when a client was so rude that we vowed to no longer do business with him or spend time in any of his restaurants. In fact, his restaurant was one of my brother’s favorite places to go with his family and neighborhood friends and he has never been back.
The same holds true for a customer in your restaurant who is constantly demanding and no matter how much money he or she spends, it is not worth upsetting the employees or hurting morale.
To how effective a response to an over-demanding customer can be, I’d like to share a humorous story I heard regarding Herb Kelleher, founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines. Mr. Kelleher kept getting complaint letters from one of the airline’s frequent flyers. She complained about everything from the way they boarded the planes to the fact that no food was served to some seats being configured backwards to the flight attendants wearing shorts. Her last complaint was about the bathroom. Keller had had enough of this passenger’s complaints so he wrote her back saying “I don’t think we are the best airline for you and please find enclosed a complimentary roundtrip ticket on Delta Airlines. I think they are the best airline for you and you can direct any future letters to them.”
That response, in many ways, encapsulates stellar customer service.