Smoothing Things Over

At some point, every manager will have to deal with a customer complaint or negative review. No system is perfect, and pleasing a population with increasingly individualized tastes tends to create speed bumps. As difficult as it may seem, responding to customer complaints is extremely important. It does not matter whether you run a restaurant or a construction firm; if the people who help you pay the bills are not happy, you run the risk of losing a customer.

Decide Whether to Respond

By and large, you will be responding to most negative reviews. There are some exceptions which make it acceptable not to respond or to delay a response.

  • Your emotions: As a manager, it is your responsibility to remain calm and mop up messy situations. As a human being, you may find this is not always possible. Angry customers will say rude things and possibly even yell. You must be mentally prepared for this to happen. If you are having a considerably bad day or are upset about the complaint itself, it is best to delay responding or have another, calmer, staff member respond for you. Turning a complaint into an argument is a lose-lose situation.
  • Debbie Downer: This is an expression about someone who always finds the negative side of things and focuses on them. Some people complain simply because that is the way they communicate the majority of the time. Responding to these people can lead to disaster, as they are truly just looking to argue and have no real problem with your staff, product, or service. You should still provide customer service to these people, but do not plan on going above and beyond. It is important to note that these customers comprise the minority of the population. Do not be too liberal in defining customers as fitting into this group simply because you do not want to deal with a complaint.

Tips for Responding to Customer Complaints

  • Listen: The number-one thing that you must do is listen to your customers or clients. Let them speak their entire mind without interruption. Do not interject until they have finished talking. This lets them know that you want to get to the bottom of the problem, and it gives you an idea of exactly what the issue is.
  • Stay level headed: Even when customers are yelling, they are not yelling at you. You represent the company that has displeased them. Do not allow yourself to get into the mindset that they are personally attacking you; it takes away your ability to communicate effectively.
  • Repeat the issue: Once you have calmly listened to your customer, you must show that you understand the specific problem. Restate what you see as being the specific issue, and let them know that it is not acceptable (assuming there is a real issue; there normally is).
  • Make it up to them: You must resolve the issue to satisfy your customer. How you go about doing this often determines whether you retain the customer or not. It might be as simple as replacing a meal or defective product. It might be as (financially) painful as reducing a bill/invoice for a set period. Regardless, you must make up for what went wrong and do what it takes to keep the customer.
  • Be equitable: The customer might not always be with you here, but your resolution must fit the issue. A less than optimal experience at a restaurant does not necessarily mean that you are giving up a $100 gift card. Stress to the customer that you want to equitably fix the mistake, but remember to be polite.

Not very many people wake up in the morning and hope to have to diffuse a situation with an angry customer. Unfortunately every manger will have to do it at some point in time. One way to reduce complaints is to employ well trained staff who can deal with your customers successfully. That is one of the major criteria we use when hiring temps who will work directly with the public. If you need to save some time on the hiring process, drop us a line.


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