Fifteen years ago I had a complaint at a very well known
Italian restaurant in Minneapolis. I still remember how badly the employee
responded to my concern. In fact, I’ve used it in my customer service seminars!
It shows the power we all have to attract or repel customers.
Here are some rules I teach people to handle customer complaints. If you and
your staff follow these rules you will turn unhappy customers into loyal
cheerleaders for your business.
1. Listen completely
Give them your complete attention. Don’t multi-task. Don’t “half-listen”.
Write down what they are telling you and get specifics from them. Then confirm
that you understand. Focus only on them.
2. Let them vent.
Don’t interrupt. Don’t explain, defend or justify. They don’t care why the
problem occurred and they don’t want your side of the story. They are angry and
they want to vent so let them.
3. Apologize and mean it.
This is often hard especially if you did not cause the problem. When you
apologize in this situation you are not necessarily taking blame for causing the
problem. You are apologizing for the customer having a bad experience. Put
yourself in their shoes. Be sincere.
4. Ask them how you can make things right. Then do more.
Too many employees have either no response to complaints or a generic, stock
response, like taking money off the bill. But that risks making the customer
even more angry if that’s not what they want done. In fact you might even offend
someone by offering them a discount.
A better strategy is to ask them what they want. You have be genuine and very
polite. Most people don’t want much. They usually just want you to listen. But
whatever they say always do it and more. If they ask for their meal free your
response might be “Mr. Smith, of course your meal tonight is on the house. But
I’d also like to buy you and your family dinner the next time you join us. Would
that be okay?”
5. Assure them you’ll fix the problem
Because you listened and you confirmed their complaint you know why they are
upset. Take the next step and assure them you will take action to see it does
not happen again. Otherwise, why would they come back? (By the way, you need to
actually work at fixing the problem too.)
6. Thank them
Without direct customer feedback we have no idea if we are delivering the
experience our customers want. When they tell us we have failed they are
offering priceless information on how we can improve our business. They are
telling us what we need to do to keep customers coming back. So thank them for
their help. It’s a rare customer who will take the time and effort to offer
feedback. Thanking them will go a long way toward winning them back.
If your employees handle every customer complaint using these steps, you’ll
keep 99% of them coming back. And you’ll have a healthier business because it
keeps getting better. And we all know happy, loyal customers are the foundation
of a healthy, sustainable business.