How To Handle Customer Disputes At Your Restaurant

handle customer disputes

Resolve a customer dispute, and your diner is likely to do business with you again.

The equation for your restaurant’s success begins with a great location and great food. It is solidified by great customer service. But what happens when you have a customer dispute at your restaurant? Part of great customer service is knowing how to effectively deal with customer disputes as they arise.

You’ve probably heard the age-old adage that the customer is always right. Keep that in the back of your mind as we talk about some ways to relate to your customers and solve your customer disputes.

In the 21st century, customer service isn’t something you can “pretend.” Your customer service has to be personalized, and it has to be genuine. That means when customer disputes occur at your restaurant, you’ve got to immediately act to repair customer relationships.

No matter how hard you or your staff tries, problems will arise. The important thing to remember is that you should try to please your customer and send them away knowing that you value them and their situation, and you did everything possible to fix their problem.

How you handle customer disputes will determine whether they return to your restaurant in the future. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, dissatisfied customers will tell between 9-15 people about their dispute with your restaurant. Around 13% of them go on to tell more than 20 people. That’s a lot of lost business.

Unsolved customer disputes lead to a loss of revenue for your restaurant. Lee Resources says 91% of unhappy customers will not willingly do business with you again. On the flip side, if you resolve a customer dispute, they are more than likely to do business with you again. (tweet this)

Complaints are inevitable in the restaurant realm. They range from food and service problems to your customers’ individual temperaments. Whatever the problem, it’s important to solve the dispute in a professional way. Here are some tips to help you handle customer disputes at your restaurant.

Listen Carefully

It’s important to listen and let the customer completely finish talking before jumping into the conversation. Don’t get defensive. Remember that the customer is not attacking you personally. He/she just wants a solution to the problem.

Listening is the most important step when dealing with customer disputes. (tweet this) Your diner will probably feel better just by venting the problem to you.

It often helps to repeat the customer’s words to make sure you completely understand and to show you have listened well. Even if you can’t remedy the dispute, it still shows good will to listen.

Stay Calm

You may not feel your customer is right, but since you work in the service business, and customers are your livelihood, treat them with respect. It may be hard especially if they are attacking you. Stay calm and composed no matter how irate the customer and unreasonable (or reasonable) the issue.

Watch Your Body Language

You may sound sincere, but your body could be telling a completely different story. The way you stand or sit and look at your customer speaks more than words. Here are a few guidelines to show you value their opinion and their business:

  • Maintain eye contact
  • Don’t cross your arms over your chest.
  • Don’t roll your eyes.
  • Keep an “open” body position.
  • Nod and smile when you are listening.

Find Out What the Customer Wants

While you are listening carefully, try to ascertain what might make your customer feel better. Show concern and be caring. Feel free to ask questions for more information. This helps you understand the customer’s perspective.

Your customer may not know what they want, but it never hurts to ask. Try asking this question: “What is an acceptable solution to you?”

You may not be able to provide their solution, but at least you’ll know what it is. You can then propose a solution of your own and try to come to a middle ground. Be your customer’s partner in solving the problem. Is their meat undercooked? Offer to cook something fresh. Was the service incredibly slow? Offer a discount or coupon.

Empathize

Imagine being in your customer’s shoes. How would you feel? Your goal is to solve the problem; it’s not to argue and create a bigger dispute. Your empathy goes a long way towards showing your customer you are willing to solve the problem.

It seems counter-intuitive, but if you can effectively deal with your customer’s dispute, you just might turn him/her into a lifelong diner and promoter of your restaurant.

Apologize, Don’t Blame

If your customer knows you’re truly sorry, you’ll immediately diffuse some of the anger. Don’t blame the customer or your staff. The words, “I’m sorry,” will suffice.

Try repeating their problem in your apology to show you understand and are working hard on a solution. For example: “I understand you aren’t happy about the wait, ma’am, but we are working as fast as we can to seat you. We really appreciate your patience and willingness to wait. May we get you a drink until your table is ready?”

Own the Mistake

It’s not easy to take ownership of the dispute, especially if you aren’t to blame for the customer’s problem. But, it is important to own it.

Be transparent and let them know when the problem will be fixed. This helps alleviate tension and solve the dispute.

Positive Reviews

Handle customer disputes correctly, and you’ll have glowing reviews.

Solve the Problem Quickly

Make sure that you solve the dispute in person and quickly. If possible, don’t pass them off to someone else. You’ll add to their frustration especially since you, or they, will have to explain the problem to another person.

Employees should be empowered to handle customer disputes because it is the best and most cost effective way to solve a problem.

But, what happens when the customer escalates and gets loud and unruly? It’s probably time to call in the manager. Sometimes the presence of an authority figure can help diffuse the situation.

Consider a Freebie

Could you have prevented the problem? If so, then one of the best solutions is an apology and offer of compensation. Here’s a quick list of freebies that don’t cost a lot and might help you maintain your customer’s business:

  • Free drinks
  • Free dessert
  • A discount (or free comp) on their meal
  • Gift certificate for a future visit
  • Restaurant T-Shirt

Say Goodbye to Formalities

Your diners don’t want to hear about your policies or your mission statement. They want you to listen and treat them as individuals. You might have to occasionally “bend the rules” to solve a customer dispute. In the end this will cost you less than if your customer leaves and starts telling negative stories about your restaurant.

Remember that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience. Train your staff and give them the tools to solve customer disputes quickly and effectively to eliminate bad feelings about your restaurant. Learn from the dispute and try to avoid similar situations in the future.

Do you have a great tip for handling customer disputes at your restaurant? If so, please share them below. We’d love to hear your comments!

Images: Dominic Alves and Lisa at Sierra Terra

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