Using customer complaints to your advantage

Unhappy-Customers_1Recently I dined in a newly opened restaurant in my local community. I was particularly interested in experiencing something different, and as with all new local businesses, I was keen for it to succeed and so felt I should support it.

The evening started well even though there were small issues with things like some lights not working and some small service challenges that I could put down to an inattention to detail. However the general atmosphere was charming, the service personnel themselves were making a real effort to deliver a warm and friendly experience and the first course well and truly met expectations.

Then the main course was served and mine was, at best, tepid. It definitely was not hot enough to be pleasant. On checking with the others at the table, 3 out of 4 of our meals were not hot enough.

On indicating this to the service staff, they apologised, reacted quickly and returned our meals to the kitchen to rectify the situation – it was not an issue for us as, in all honesty, in a new restaurant, we were more than happy to make allowances.

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That was the case until the chef/owner came on the scene.

A few minutes after the meals were taken back to him, he appeared at our table, stood over us and delivered what was clearly intended as an admonishment along the lines of “As you are customers, I will not argue with you. However in my opinion as a chef, your meals were served hot enough.”

We were stunned! He single handedly turned what had been up until then a very pleasant evening, into a very unpleasant evening. And it made me reflect on what I already knew about customer complaints, and which was reinforced by something I recently read in the E-Myth blog:

 “It is paramount that you not act on your knee-jerk, emotional reactions to a complaint, because the situation could escalate in the wrong direction.

“On the contrary, the ideal way to solve complaints is to take the time to discover the root cause of the customer’s dissatisfaction, and then deal with the situation in a practical manner. It is much better to proactively address the complaint, so that the customer feels heard and the problem is quickly rectified.”

There are good business reasons for doing this. In some statistics I read in Colin Shaw’s online article “15 statistics that should change the business world – but haven’t”

  • For every customer complaint there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent – Lee Resource.
  • 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back – 1Financial Training services.
  • A dissatisfied customer will tell between 9-15 people about their experience. Around 13% of dissatisfied customers tell more than 20 people. – White House Office of Consumer Affairs.

In business complaints can’t be taken lightly, even if it is felt that they are unjustified.  Each complaint that reaches you is an opportunity to draw yourself closer to the customer. The complaint represents an opportunity to fix a problem, fill a need, right a wrong or ease a stress. This is important for the following reasons:

  • It lets your customer know their concerns are your concerns and your follow up actions reinforce this.
  • Your customer knows they are being heard and problems will be addressed.
  • You have begun to mend your reputation with the customer which has already been damaged to some degree just because there is a complaint – even if that complaint is just in the form of constructive feedback.
  • In many instances the complaint gives you a wonderful opportunity to gain some real mileage through service recovery – our chef could have still made his presence felt by coming to the table at the end of the meal to check that everything had been rectified to our satisfaction.

According to the Prosell blog of Sunday 30 June 2013, the following can assist in really using customer complaints to advantage:

1. Make it easy for your clients to complain

Customers who complain are much more likely to continue to do business with your organisation. Ensure that your complaints process is simple – for example, in some businesses, the first person to hear the complaint owns the complaint until it is resolved satisfactorily. However,  if the process is difficult to navigate and customers are required to jump through a number of hoops, these dissatisfied customers will simply give up and take their business elsewhere.

2. Own up to the service failure

Put your hands up and accept that you have made a mistake. Then ensure that the issue is resolved quickly and to the satisfaction of the customer. Speed and clarity of service recovery is important, as you do not wish to have unhappy customers who are uncertain of the complaints handling process and likely outcome.

3. Empower your frontline teams to put things right

Give your frontline employees the ability to put things right fast, with the minimum of fuss. Where possible, enable your staff to take the initiative, without always having to refer to a more senior member of staff.

4. Improve customer skills through training and coaching

Ensure that high performance standards are embedded throughout your organisation – including senior management. In particular, your frontline employees should have the required customer service skills – so when even they are under pressure, they can deliver the desired service standards and are comfortable in handling customer complaints effectively.

5. Monitor and improve

Set key performance indicators and monitor these. Where possible, identify pinch-points where frequent problems occur, perhaps due to ineffective systems and processes. And finally ensure that your business rewards and recognises team members that handle difficult complaints effectively.

If only the owner/chef of my local restaurant had taken this advice on board; perhaps then I would not be telling this story to the thousands of people who subscribe to ehotelier! He is just lucky that I am not putting the name of his restaurant here!

About the author

Tim Millett2_2Timothy Millett’s training roles have seen him deliver programs across Australia, Asia, Europe, Africa and America ensuring cultural sensitivity as well as a broad base of experience in lecturing, teaching and training.

A graduate of the Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne, Switzerland, his hospitality career spans management and director positions in Front Office, Guest Relations, Public Relations, Food & Beverage and Training with organisations including the Regent of Melbourne, The Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Mövenpick Gastronomy. He was also a founding staff member of the internationally renowned Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School in Australia.

Tim is currently the Director of Training and Development at iperform, an organisation that specialises in Sales and Service, Leadership and Effective Personal Organisation programs.

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