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Turn Complaints Into Compliments Through Effective PR

For most people, dining out is an emotional experience.  And because restaurants must meet the physical and emotional needs of their guests, customer complaints present one of the biggest challenges facing those of us in the foodservice industry.  That challenge lies in how to turn a complaint into a marketing opportunity.

To ignore those customers brave enough or made enough to voice their satisfaction or lack of, is to ignore a potentially large avenue of successful repeat business.  The fact is, it costs five times as much money to attract new customers as it does to keep existing ones.  Therefore, it is much more cost-efficient to concentrate on improving relations with the customers you already have than to go after new ones.

Ignoring customer complaints can be fatal to your business; because lack of action on your part will not only make your customer go away and stay away, but can also turn that customer into a walking, talking negative advertisement for your restaurant.

Studies show that on the average, a dissatisfied customer tells 10-20 people, who in turn will tell their friends.  Compare this to a satisfied customer who only tells five people about your excellent service, and you can see that bad news really does travel fast!

One bright note, however, is the fact that 95% of all dissatisfied customers are willing to become loyal customers again IF only their complaints are handled well and their problem resolved quickly.  Herein, presents a terrific public relations opportunity to turn a negative experience into a positive one.

Since your employees represent your restaurant, all wait staff, hosts/hostesses, managers, cashiers and any other employees should be trained to inquire at the end of a meal whether they enjoyed the meal and service provided.

Should a guest voice dissatisfaction or wish to discuss a situation, be a good listener.  The goal here is not to let the discussion turn into an exchange of opinions.  Do not offer excuses.  The guest may not be right, but he is never wrong.  He is your reason for being.

Be grateful to the guest who takes the time to complain.  Nineteen out of twenty people who experience bad service in restaurants don’t bother to report it.  Instead, they go away mad, vowing never to return, intent on making sure all their friends know why.

This type of situation is extremely dangerous to your business because the guests who don’t complain are the “silent majority,” the reason why your sales are down.  They are business lost forever.

So when a guest lets you know about unsatisfactory service, thank them.  Agree that he has every right to complain.  Don’t become defensive or offer excuses.  And above all, don’t pin the guest down about which employee performed badly.  Such actions embarrass guests.  Instead show them - - and anyone else eavesdropping in on the situation - - that you’re sincere in your desire to make your guests happy.

The guest who complains is actually offering you another chance.  Most people who take the time to voice their opinion, would really like to give you another chance.  Invite the guest back with a free gift card, a bounce-back offering some kind of discount.  Have them ask for you personally on their return visit, and then make sure your service is up to par or better.

When a customer takes the time to call in a complaint, it would be extremely beneficial to have a properly trained and tactful employee to answer all complaint calls, if you don’t answer them yourself.

Ask for the customer’s name, phone number and email address, but don’t demand such information.  Make the caller happy that he reported the situation.  Again, apologize but do not make excuses.

Once you have the name, phone number and email address, follow-up the customer call with an email and simply thank the customer for addressing the complaint, apologizing for the bad service or incident.  Then invite him to patronize your restaurant again so you may make it up to him.

Try as you might, you can’t satisfy everyone, and a certain amount of complaints are inevitable.  So don’t look at complaints as failures, look at them as real opportunities to influence customers in a positive way.  Have a specific line of action when handling complaints, and make sure you communicate it to all of your employees.  Not only will you save far more customers than you’ll lose, you will save money and your personnel will have a greater respect for you.

In turn, you will train your staff and yourself to treat each complaint as a PR opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive experience.

Tom Feltenstein CEO/Founder - Power Marketing Academy
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