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Lessons learned: Empathy is king when handling complaints

December 24/31, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 15

By Tom Jennings

 

My wife and I were recently having breakfast in a very nice local restaurant. While not the Ritz, it was certainly not an all-you-can-eat chow hall. It had very comfortable décor, properly attired staff, handy location and an interesting menu. Most business owners only wish their operations looked this appealing. The store planners and design staff had obviously done their homework. So far, so good. What came next was not. If only management had spent as much effort properly training the staff as they had designing the décor.

I am certainly not a food critic. How we enjoyed our meal is likely of very little interest. What we should all take note of is how the staff reacted to adversity.

My wife ordered a waffle purely due to the well-written descriptive copy on the menu, stating, “This sounds delicious.” What she received was so cold it would not even melt the butter. Disappointing for sure, but no big deal. We have all had it happen. What happened next was a critical point in “saving the customer’s confidence” handled poorly.

When I observed she was not eating much, she commented the staff was busy, and she did not want to bother them nor wait for an appropriately warm replacement. (Remember: it is estimated only one in six customers will advise you of minor disappointments. The problem is they will tell everyone but you.)

Then the waiter asked her if she was hungry since she had not eaten much. Rule No. 1: Never attempt to shift blame or responsibility to the customer. He should have asked what he could do to make her breakfast more enjoyable. Instead, he acted like it was her fault.

I then commented that there was nothing wrong with her appetite—the food was cold. She was just being nice. His response was classic. He stated that should not have happened since “we get these things frozen. You’d think anyone should be able to warm one up.” If this were bowling, he would have gotten a strike with this comment. He managed to knock everyone down with one roll of his tongue.

He threw the kitchen staff under the bus as being incompetent. He undermined the great menu presentation by revealing they basically served overgrown toaster waffles. By doing so, he cast suspicion on all other menu items as well. He then acted like an authority when he proclaimed he could remove the charge from our ticket. All this accomplished was reducing the revenue for all involved. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

What he failed to do was show the least bit of empathy. Never once did he say he was sorry or disappointed. He was too busy pointing fingers and trying to solve a problem with a discount. I am sure he told his boss that “he took care of it.” Remember, customers are not really interested in how things happen. They just want to know what you are going to do about it.

The restaurant business is not easy, but neither is the flooring business. Always remember it is most important to manage the emotions of the customer first—then worry about the product. My wife did not want a free breakfast. She wanted to pay for a hot and delicious one. When things do not go as planned in your business, make sure you take great care of the customer first. They will be quick to forget a “cold waffle,” but a “cold attitude” will linger much longer.