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.
Your core offerings provide a foundation upon which you build your business. To really strengthen your business and bottom line, you must add in other elements that do not relate to your core functions. One of the most important of these elements is customer service. Often customer service is the difference between turning a one-time customer into a regular, or even retaining a long-standing client who is weighing his options or faced with budgeting decisions. The name of the customer service game is pleasing clients, leaving them smiling and thinking fondly of the relationship that you have built with them.
Even in today’s digital environment we still have an intrinsic need for human contact and relationships. This need is the basis of customer service and provides you with multiple means of building your business. Taking the time to get to know your customers and setting some standards within your business, from the management team all the way down to part-time staff, will allow you to build customer relationships that you can capitalize on. This is a necessary focus for any industry, regardless of whether you serve individual patrons at a restaurant or focus your efforts on business-to-business operations.
Factors to Consider
Customer service involves talking to your customers, making sure you solve their problems, planning for future opportunities to serve them, and finding ways to constantly improve your business. You need to consider the value of customer service when:
- Hiring staff- Your employees interact with your customers. You might be the best communicator in the world who leaves everyone you meet with a sense of fulfillment–but if the people who talk to your customers aren’t, then you have a problem. Without friendly and attentive waiters, most restaurants will fail before they can get off the ground, and customers expect to speak with a pleasant and accommodating administrative assistant when they call your office. Come see us if you need well-trained and friendly staff on a temporary basis or even if you need a permanent hire.
- Tip: A well-focused hiring process will bring you good employees. Improve customer service by reinforcing the company’s dedication to satisfying customers; allowing staff to attend seminars or internal training that focuses on customer relations; and giving employees enough autonomy to do whatever it takes to make an upset customer a smiling brand ambassador.
- Using a Head-on Approach- Face customer complaints and problems head on. Talk to the customers immediately to let them know you are addressing their concerns immediately. Then you must actually do it. The most humble apology along with great interaction that leaves the customer happy in the short term is worthless if you do not fix the problem.
- Tip: Collect feedback as often as possible. Doing it face to face allows you to address the issue right away and show customers that you want everything to be perfect for them. Feedback collected after the fact–via surveys, emails or the occasional angry phone call—is also useful. Follow up with customers as soon as possible and let them know that you intend to fix the problem. If you use written surveys, be sure to get contact information.
- Accepting calculated change- Some people are afraid of change, as it may alter the focus or mentality of your staff while taking time and money to retrain your employees. A calculated change, however, is beneficial because the end result is improvement. Anything that makes you better is worth taking the time and maintaining an open mind.
- Tip: Be on the lookout for problem areas within your customer service. If customers aren’t getting food fast enough at a restaurant, evaluate your operations from how quickly servers take and enter orders all the way down to how long it takes to expedite a plate. You know your business better than anyone, so identifying problems should be fairly simple. Once you have grouped several complaints into a problem area, think of the ways to fix it that will make customers the happiest. In these cases, the most cost effective way is not always the best way.
A customer-service oriented business can thrive even in harsh economic times. Yes, sound financial policies and putting out a great product must be addressed also, but customer service helps you to directly maintain your revenue stream. It doesn’t matter how innovative your products and services are if this stream dries up.