How to deal with complaints

I heard an interesting story last night about an incident in a restaurant. An elderly customer became ill during the course of a meal and was actually sick at the table (she had an existing medical condition, nothing to do with the food). She’d just about finished her starter and her main was being prepared in the kitchen. This was obviously embarrassing for the poor lady, but instead of coming over to deal with it, the manager allowed the junior staff to clean up the mess and handle the problem. The lady was asked to pay for the starter but the waitress was asked if she could cancel the mains so the lady and her husband could go home. The girl checked with the manager but he insisted they still pay for the mains, as they were already being prepared.

To me this says two things. Firstly, it’s all very well giving junior staff responsibility and delegating effectively, but this incident required the attention of the senior staff. Second, it indicates how important an opportunity this is (and note I use the word ‘opportunity’) for the business to deal effectively with a complaint.

I met John Timpson the other week, he of the shoe repair chain. He told me he’d empowered his shop managers to spend up to FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS to resolve a customer complaint – without having to seek authorisation! In his experience, complaints that are ‘processed’ by sending the matter higher and higher up the food chain rarely get resolved satisfactorily and leave a residue of ill feeling that spreads through word of mouth. Far better in his view to nip it in the bud AT SOURCE and minimise the damage.

But the reason I mentioned ‘opportunity’ is that a complaint is a chance to win a new friend. If dealt with extremely well, a disgruntled customer can often turn into an advocate for you and your business.

So treat complaints as a great opportunity to ‘turn someone around’ and win new friends.

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