Handling Customer Complaints in Hospitality

Handling customer complaints is a special application of conflict resolution skills. Dissatisfied customers can have a very negative impact on your business. Most food service businesses depend on repeat business and word-of-mouth advertising. When a customer is unhappy with a meal or with the service, you lose potential business in the future. You may also lose other customers who have heard about your customer’s bad experience, as people are more likely to share a bad experience than a good one. Especially today, with sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp, it has become very easy for the average person to post public feedback about his or her experiences.

Customers who have complained and whose complaints were satisfactorily addressed are more likely to become repeat customers than those who did not complain in the first place. This is because many dissatisfied customers simply walk away and never return. A complaint is an opportunity to find out what mistakes your company has made and to correct them, turning dissatisfied customers into satisfied ones. It is in your company’s interests to resolve customer complaints promptly and satisfactorily.

You may receive a complaint whether or not you were responsible for the problem. If you take the attitude “That’s not my responsibility; I cannot help you,” the customer will become even more angry and difficult to deal with. Customers who complain want to be taken seriously and treated with respect. They may want immediate action, compensation, or punishment for the person who wronged them. They may also want to clear up a problem so it does not happen again.

To handle a complaint, you have to be a problem solver. The skills required are:
• Diffusing anger
• Recognizing when to move to problem solving
• Problem solving
• Knowing the boundaries of authority

Diffusing anger

When a customer complains, he or she may react strongly and negatively to the situation. This may have been the last straw in a day filled with frustrations. You must deal with the emotion and upset before you can solve the problem. Until the emotions have been calmed, the person is unable to hear logical suggestions and solutions.When someone is angry and complains, it is easy to become angry yourself. You need to stay calm and controlled. Keep eye contact and adopt a concerned body posture, voice tone, and facial expression.

Do not take the complaint personally. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself if necessary. Encourage the person to blow off steam. Apologize and acknowledge the person’s feelings. Keep your apologies sincere and dignified. Do not apologize so abjectly (in a miserable, degraded manner) that the customer may begin to doubt your sincerity. Show empathy by nodding, encouraging the person to finish the story. Be sure to be an active listener. Reassure the person that you want to help solve the problem.

Solving the Problem

When the person is calm and able to discuss the situation fully, you can move to the problem-solving stage. Ask the customer what he or she would like done to resolve the situation. Offer solutions that are within the scope of your authority. Agree on a solution. If you are unable to offer a satisfactory solution, assist the person in taking the complaint to the manager or owner. Take full information from the individual about the problem and promise to relay the information to management. Let the individual know when the owner or manager will respond. Always thank the person for bringing the complaint to your attention.

If you are in charge of staff, make sure that they understand effective complaint resolution procedures. Make sure that they know how you want complaints to be handled in your restaurant. Many companies have a policy of “no questions asked.” If customers return a menu item, the item is replaced free of charge or their money is refunded.

Sourced from Conflict Resolution by go2HR is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.