Experts’ Guide to Customer Management: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Customer management in a restaurant is an art. Right from handling tough customers who are never satisfied no matter what, to ensuring the service is up to the mark – dealing with issues related to restaurant services with your personal touch and care can transform unhappy customers into repeat customers.

Unhappy Customers often share their complaints with peers and register those with customer reviews registries or forums. Hence, you need to be extra careful in addressing and resolving their issues no matter how swamped you are. Resolving their complaints can create opportunities to keep them coming back for more.

That’s why we have talked to some industry experts, restaurant owners, managers and chefs to discover to help you deal with difficult customers successfully using their practical customer complaint handling tips.

1. The customer is always right

The golden rule of any customer service: the customer is always right, no matter what! If a customer is not satisfied with the food or service, listen to them, empathize and apologize. You can offer them compensation in the form of a dish on the house, discount on the bill or a discount coupon for future visit. Even if you don’t agree with the customer, stay calm and politely try to resolve their grievances. It might not be possible to accommodate every customer request, but you can always try to make them feel valued. Remember to be always courteous, no matter what.

Humility goes a long way in customer management. More than often your customers demand extra personalized attention which when they don’t get turn them furious. The trick is to give them what they ask! Even the most aggressive customer would calm down when treated with patience and respect.

2. Staff training

A restaurant takes the entire staff to perform efficiently. Therefore, it is important to have a strong and efficient staff that works and coordinates smoothly with each other to deliver seamless service. It is not just the responsibility of the waiter or the server to cater to the customer, but everyone, right from the doorman, the host, the busboy to the manager, to play their part well in restaurant management.

Pre-launch training is a must before the restaurant opens. Even if the person is experienced, you must train them to get them versed with your restaurant’s code of conducts.

 

Experts’ Guide to Handling Customers

3.  Asking for Feedback

Feedback gives you opportunities to grow. Customers, in case, not satisfied would never return, might voice their opinions later on social media channels, forums, complaint registries or review sites. Remember, this will damage your restaurant’s reputation as well as business.

To minimize the odds of customer complaints – the best method is to be the first one to hear it from them, encourage them to give you feedback. After the guests have finished dining, ask them to share their experience and feedback. Let the host or the waiter directly ask them – in this case, you should remember that often customers might not be reluctant to give their feedback openly. To break the ice, you can simply present a feedback form along with the check to let them pen down their opinions at their convenience. Feedback form will also facilitate you gathering customers’ contact details and use it for your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) campaigns.

But what to do in case of negative feedback? The best thing to do is to listen intently to what the customer is saying, empathize, and try to resolve their issues.

 

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Experts’ Guide to Customer Management: Dealing with Difficult Customers

4. Monitoring online reputation

People often rely on others’ experience when it comes to judging a restaurant since word of mouth seems to be the most reliable source of information. In the age of digital media, it has become a norm to check out the restaurant’s reviews online before trying a new place or booking tables. There are a number of restaurant listing and review sites where people log their opinions about the place, ambience, food, service and overall experience. The restaurant’s ratings and reviews give a clear picture of how the restaurant functions and what to expect from the place. Therefore, monitoring your restaurant’s online reputation is extremely important. You must invest good amount of time to respond to feedback, whether negative or positive. Acknowledging and responding to feedback help build stronger customer relationships and fixing existing issues. While acknowledging and propagating positive feedback will amplify your restaurant’s reputation, on the other hand, addressing negative feedback will help mitigate the damage which is likely when you leave those unattended.

5. Responding to complaints

Let’s face it; no one likes criticism. However, instead of taking complaints as criticism, take those as opportunities to grow and improve. First of all, you must take all complaints seriously.  Listen intently to the customer and try to resolve the issue immediately. Take immediate action to rectify the situation.

For example, if the customer claims that the food is cold or undercooked, send it back to the kitchen pronto and replace it. The key to efficient customer service is to serve quick; however, there can be delays at times. If a dish takes more time to prepare, inform the customer beforehand. That way they would expect the time lag and not be annoyed. Offer to bring an appetizer or bread if it is taking too long for the dish to be prepared. This gesture lets your customers know that they are valued.

“If we can provide an immediate response to the problem at hand, we have to do it. This may mean breaking our own rules every now and again… but then again, isn’t that why we are the boss, manager or in an authority position? While this won’t – and shouldn’t be – the answer for all difficult guest situations, having the flexibility to quickly respond to difficult guest should be considered.” Sandeep Chatterjee, F&B Manager, the Resort.

 

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Experts’ Guide to Customer Management: Dealing with Difficult Customers

Biting the bullet

Often a customer might act ruthlessly, throw tantrums, or turn volatile when they are drunk. Their harsh behavior or yelling at the staff can disturb the peace at your restaurant. The first thing to do is to stop topping up their glasses and offer them appetizers that would help soak up the booze. In case the customer is getting too rowdy and going out of control, the best thing to do is to ask them to leave. Do not hesitate to call the security in case, they start disturbing the other guests. Apologize to other customers as it may turn unpleasant for them and ensure the situation is taken care of.

There are also occasions when customers dig up a problem just to get a discount or a complimentary dish. Don’t randomly offer discounts or complimentary food. Review the situation at hand. For example, if the customer complains of dissatisfactory food, you can offer to replace the dish. In case of delivery orders, where customers place the order on phone or online, you can use your CRM database to blacklist them for future references.

No matter how good your service is, odds of unruly customer and volatile situations at your restaurant cannot be ruled out. Then, you would have to take a stand and make the unpleasant decision of asking him to leave.

 

The hospitality industry, rewarding as it is, also calls for some difficult moments and customers. It is then, when the management has to deal with, address those difficult situations and handle customers’ complaints efficiently. With a little patience, you can soften the toughest of customers. All you need to do is to keep these points in mind and gather the love of your customers! But there will be more and we are willing to learn from you – do share with us how you do it at your establishment. 

 

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