Guest complaints happen every day. Dealing with them in a quick and professional manner can save the company time, money, and reputation.
Three Common Forms of Complaints
Guests commonly voice complaints in three different ways:
- Onsite at the taproom, restaurant, or bar
- Via an app such as Yelp, Open Table, or your company’s Facebook page
- Via word of mouth
When a guest complains, it is usually for a legitimate reason. The basis of the complaint will generally stem from having made a purchase that did not meet expectations—a product, service, or possibly a combination of the two. In the hospitality industry, it’s impossible to avoid complaints, but they must be addressed by listening, acknowledging the concern or complaint, and resolving it.
Fewer than half of unhappy guests will bring a complaint to your attention while still on the premises. Those who never say anything will tell an average of 15 to 20 people about their experience. One key takeaway for training staff is that complaints and concerns are opportunities for training and improved operations.
Most guests simply want to know someone is listening. They are hoping someone is willing to take care of the problem to their satisfaction. No matter what the situation is, when a guest makes a complaint or voices a concern—even if they do so in a less-than-desirable way—be thankful for the opportunity.
It is key to remember that the improper handling of a guest complaint can be costly to the business. Listen to the guest’s concern, be patient, and do whatever you can to fix the problem immediately. Train your employees to not assign blame or make excuses, but to simply be responsive.
Addressing a Legitimate Complaint
Give the Guest Your Full Attention
Listen fully to what he or she is saying without interrupting. Be empathetic and aware of your facial expressions and body language, which can communicate as much as, if not more than, the words you choose. If the situation is complex, jot down notes so they’ll know you’re taking them seriously.
Acknowledge the Concern or Complaint
Acknowledge the guest’s concern or complaint before apologizing. Empathize with the situation and assure the guest you will act immediately to address the complaint. This is not the time to worry about who is to blame or to make excuses. Remain calm and try to keep the situation from escalating. Thank the guest for bringing the matter to your attention.
Find the Best Remedy
Ask the guest what you can do to resolve the problem and offer any remediation within your authority. At a minimum, volunteer to replace cold food or a mistaken order immediately and make sure the kitchen staff understands the urgency of the situation. If the guest’s complaint is more involved, or if they remain unhappy despite your efforts, bring the management team into the conversation immediately and have them ready to step in if needed. Oftentimes guests feel better talking to someone “in charge” when they have a complaint and subsequently provide more insight into their problem.
Go the Extra Mile
Make an extra effort to mend the situation. Once the situation has been resolved, anything extra can potentially earn you a guest for life. “Extra” is not a 10% discount or a free dessert.
Instead it is pure guest service and attention to detail. Once a situation has been resolved, do not treat it as if it is over. Continue to check in with the guest, strike up a conversation, and continue to learn about them. Make them feel welcome and encourage them to return. Do not ask if there is anything else you can do to help them feel better about the situation.
Take Preventive Measures
Learn from the situation. Guest complaints often identify specific service or process issues that need improvement. Implement changes as appropriate to prevent negative situations from recurring. Be sure all employees are trained and aware of how to handle guest complaints, what types of things they are empowered to do themselves to address them, and when they should request a manager’s involvement.
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