Is The Customer Always Right?
“Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?” is the opening line of a well-known joke. On stage the response might be “The breaststroke, sir.” In real life such a comment will surely land your restaurant firmly on Yelp along with a torrent of negative reviews.
A fly floating in a diner’s chowder is no joke. Nor is a chipped glass or food that doesn’t meet the diner’s expectations. It’s how you deal with these unfortunate events that determines whether your restaurant drowns with the fly or rises to new heights of customer service.
“The customer is always right.” This adage has caused confusion since 1909 when Henry Selfridge first uttered it. Anyone in the service industry knows the customer is sometimes wrong.
A variation on the phrase from Germany may be more helpful: “The customer is king.” A quick look at the world stage shows that kings and leaders are not always right but they still demand respect. And invariably get it.
Customers should be treated in the same way. It’s harder when they’re wrong but still possible- and a requirement for leaving them truly happy
Fact Or Perception?
Complaints may fall into one of two categories. Fact or perception. With facts, recognizing the problem is easy. There either is a fly in the soup or there isn’t.
In the matter of perception, Henry Selfridge was half right. For your business to do well, the customer must be allowed to think they are right. After all, the diner is the only judge of whether they are satisfied with the food and service.
Before attempting to resolve a conflict with a diner, be sure you know what their issue is. Separate perception from fact. Complaints involving facts can be settled quickly. Issues about perception may need more careful handling.
Your goal must be to go beyond solving the problem. You want the diner to be delighted with the outcome, not simply satisfied.
Prepare for Positive Outcomes
Excellent service doesn’t just happen. It must be planned and part of the business’s culture. All restaurant staff need to understand your principles and guidelines. Those who interact directly with customer should be empowered to follow these policies.
The basic steps involved are:
- Identify the problem by listening without interrupting. Repeat the diner’s words to confirm you’ve got the correct understanding.
- Apologize for the inconvenience. Whether it’s a fact or perception, the diner is unhappy and to deal with that, empathiy is key.
- Find a solution that works for you and the customer. Simply listening and apologizing works in most situations. Know in advance how far you are prepared to go to pacify the diner. Will you offer a free dessert, replacement of an offending item or a complete refund? Or nothing.
- Follow through by checking that the diner is now happy.
You may add others but make no mistake, without empathy, none of these steps will achieve your ultimate goal of a delighted customer. It is possible to solve the problem but still have an unhappy diner.
A report by Dimensional Research showed that 45% of people post their negative experiences on social media. Without empathy you can employ all the above steps and still get a bad online review.
Win-win with Empathy
Empathy is a common word when customer service is discussed and for good reason. Have you noticed how two different staff can be confronted by angry diners and one always ends up in an argument while the other calmly resolves the situation? As often as not, the latter is better at expressing empathy.
If you put yourself in the other person’s position, your whole attitude will be affected. You will listen with sincere interest, focused on the person with good eye contact and genuine concern. Their complaint and the desire to address it will be important to you.
Showing empathy goes a long way towards making your customer more relaxed, feeling that their problem is being taken seriously. They will be more open to accepting a solution or reasonable in negotiating one. Treating them as ‘king’ is a win-win situation.
A study by the White House Office of Consumer Affairs said a customer whose problem was resolved will tell up to six others about their good experience.
Is Free Always Good?
Cesar Ritz, famed for his Ritz Hotels, has been called the King of Hoteliers. His mantra was: “If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.”
This may be easier for the owner of the Ritz than a restaurateur struggling with rising costs. But if the wrong food is delivered or incorrectly prepared, there should be no debate – replace it. Keep in mind the need for empathy. Will the replacement meal come after the diner’s friends have finished theirs? If so, you may have merely solved the problem but still have a dissatisfied diner rather than a delighted one. Is more needed?
Your options may include free drinks, desserts or even a voucher for another meal. This will be appreciated but don’t be too quick to offer freebies.
Being too liberal with compensation can create an expectation that will later backfire. You must weigh up the issues involved and balance the potential damage to your restaurant’s reputation against the cost of the compensation.
In most cases, a small token goes a long way but you may find a sincere apology will suffice.
From conflict to delighted diner
King or not, some diners will always find fault despite your efforts to appease them. After you have done your best, take stock of the situation. If there is a risk of a complaint going online, make a note of the details. Even a hint of review blackmail should be reported without fail to sites, like TripAdvisor, that take them seriously.
Be ready to respond to any negative online reviews professionally. Handled properly, such replies can increase the positive rating of your restaurant.
The customer may not always be right but they are always ‘king’. By displaying empathy and genuine interest in them, a complainer can become an advocate. Leave the witty repartee to comedians and concentrate on making your restaurant a haven of excellent food and superior service.