Seize the Oppurtunity

Foodservice and Hospitality, Friday, August 2000. David Lipton

A complaint is often regarded as a bad thing, but in a service-oriented industry, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Complaints provide an opportunity to seize the moment, turning the experience of a disappointed customer into an opportunity to identify the establishment’s overlooked problems and improve customer service. An, of course, by properly appeasing the customers who voiced concerns in the first place, a business can be sure to retain those once-dissatisfied patients.

Customers have an expectation that something will actually be done about their complaint, and fulfilling this expectation will benefit the business as much as it benefits the customer. Actions can range from a sincere apology (which at least acknowledges the validity of the complain), to a refund, a product replacement, or even future product discounts or coupons. When deciding how to resolve a situation, the establishment should take into account the cost of satisfying the customer versus the cost of losing future patronage. Since it can cost up to five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain an existing one, it’s in the company’s best interest not to let complainers go. As long as customers receive something of value, they’re apt to hold a more positive image of the company in their minds, and they’re more likely to remain customers in the future.

The key, however, is to handle the complaint quickly. Between 54 and 70 per cent of dissatisfied customers will do business again with an organization if their complain id resolved in a merely acceptable amount of time, while 95 per cent will return if the complaint is resolved quickly. The only way to ensure complaints are dealt with in a timely manner is to empower front-line workers to resolve complaints the moment they become known.

That’s why it’s imperative that employees who have direct contact with customers, such as wait staff or cashiers, are aware of the operation’s complaint system, guidelines and procedures. It’s equally important to provide extensive training in handling customer complaints for all customer-contact employees. In many cases, front-line employees feel frustrated when they can’t fix the situation. It’s exceedingly common to hear “let me check with my manager” or “there’s nothing I can do” from servers, but employees need to have faith that their employees will make the right decisions- in fact, they should openly encourage them to be proactive when responding to customer concerns. That said, clear guidelines should be set to assist employees in their decision-making, which could, for example, include monetary guidelines for the limit on what can be spent in order to resolve a complaint.

Of course, an employee can’t satisfactorily address a concern if it’s impossible for the customer to voice it. To facilitate the complaint process, many companies use toll-free customer service numbers or comment cards – by eliminating the trouble involved, the operation will be able to hear more complaints, fix the problems more easily and lose fewer customers in the process. If a dissatisfied customer has no way to complain, they’ll silently take their business elsewhere and you’ll ever know there was a problem.

In any hospitality-oriented business, it’s important to stay focused on customer satisfaction at all times. That’s why handling complaints in a proactive manner, and even going as far as to actively encourage customers to voice complaints, is common sense for any service-driven organization. Ignoring a problem will only make it worse, while handling it properly is sure to keep customers happy.

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