When it comes to achieving success in your restaurant business there are many aspects to consider.  Most importantly, in a saturated market of competition, a key differentiator for brands is often their approach to customer service. Of course your guests should expect excellent quality and service if that’s what you promise to deliver. But what about those moments when service falls short of expectation?

How a restaurant responds to a guest complaints could have an impact on profits and hinder turning one-time customers into a loyal patron. Be mindful that people will always share and talk about their experiences, either recommending an establishment – or warning friends to stay away.  There’s no mistaking that word of mouth is a powerful “make or break” form of publicity so brands must never forget they have the power to control the narrative through their actions.

Reassuring an unhappy guest that you are committed to resolving issues and providing excellent service is referred to as recovery. Experienced management and a well-trained staff are the gatekeepers of recovery and turning things around to ensure guests will want time and time again.  With some guests you may not get a second chance, so it’s imperative to respond to each matter confidently, empathetically and prepped with a resolution that will show them you value their business.

Studies show a direct correlation between strong guest relations and securing brand loyalty from restaurant guests. Through basic principals such as attentiveness when addressing a concern, customer relationships can be saved. Listening closely and staying engaged in the few moments you share with them. This lets them know you take what they have to say seriously and you have interest in finding a resolution.  On the contrary, poor body language, thoughtless replies, ineloquent word choices and even the slightest hint of condescension can quickly convert a dissatisfied customer into an irate customer who will never come back.

Let’s examine some specific ways in which we can maintain a high level of guest relations and long-term brand loyalty:

Set Tone
Being conscious of your voice, body language, hand gestures and eye contact can help you set and maintain a tone that shows you take interest in what they have to say. Reassure them with statements such as “Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention, I am going to do my very best to make sure it doesn’t happen again” or  “I’m dedicated to making sure the rest of your experience with us tonight meets your expectation.”

Always allow guests the opportunity to explain their concern without interrupting them.  Listen intently and be sure to ask them to provide as much detail as possible about the experience.  Proper resolve will rely upon you fully neither understanding the matter and neither challenging nor being confrontational with the customer.

It will only add insult to injury if a customer feels at any time you are placing the blame on them with what we shall call “clarifying fault”.  An example of this might be “Well ma’am, are you sure you asked Bob for a diet coke and not regular? He doesn’t usually make such mistakes”.  Avoid examples like this at all costs. It will immediately put your guest on the defensive and they will feel that you have not fully recognized their complaint but instead more intent on shifting blame onto them.

Additionally, simple actions such as looking customers in the eye and nodding your head in the affirmative as they address a concern lets them know they have been heard. Ask questions and even recite back to them their points of concern. This reaffirms that not only did you listen but you also understood the situation.

One of the easiest ways to set the tone is to show you care when a customer has a complaint.  Saying, “I’m sorry to learn that you’ve had this experience. Let me make it right” is an immediate way to calm the mood of an annoyed customer.  Share with them that their substandard experience is not the norm for your establishment and you take the matter seriously.

To further express empathy, offer that you too are disappointed to learn of this concern – whether it is a product issue or poor quality of service.  Be prepared with possible words and phrases to say to show empathy for the customer.  A few statements that can express a sense of caring might be, “I apologize and I share your concern. I understand how frustrated you are.  I will do my very best to turn this around.”

You should always apologize when your guests complain about a less than stellar experience and assure them you will get to the bottom of it and find resolve immediately.

In the competitive landscape of restaurants and hospitality, the most important sentiment to convey to a patron is gratitude.  No time is more important to do so than in a moment of dealing with a dissatisfied customer.   Not only do you want to use this opportunity to thank them for raising a concern but this is also the time to thank them for selecting your place of business.  A combined message of the two sentiments is also effective.  An example of this might be, “We really appreciate your business and I am committed to resolving this issue for you right away”.

Chances are you are not the only brand out there to provide a certain hospitality good or service so your brand’s special nuances – like handling complaints, are what sets you apart and will help you to rise above the competition.  Proper response to concerns helps to facilitate customer retention and a loyal following is key to the success for any business. Ultimately making your customers feel appreciated is the main goal and all the points covered in this article can help you do so.

You can survive and recover from volatile customer relations moments but remember, customer loyalty is dependent upon 5 easy-to-follow steps:

  • Listen
  • Set The Tone
  • Recognize
  • Apologize

And most importantly show gratitude, which instantly makes every customer feels appreciated.

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