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In today's overly competitive restaurant industry, customer retention is more critical than ever. Patrons have more options than ever before when it comes to restaurants and cafes to give their business to, and they're going to visit the places where they feel most comfortable - and places offering exceptional customer service.

In fact, more consumers read restaurant reviews this year than they did the year before. 90% of guests check out a restaurant online before eating there.

Even if you strive to provide stellar customer service, a customer will eventually have a negative experience.

As author and customer service strategist John Tschohl explains, "If there's an industry that seems to have more problems, and more difficulties, and more things that can happen that are bad, it's got to be in the restaurant business."

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When things go awry, it is essential to resolve issues and keep the customer happy. Doing so will help ensure that they continue coming back to your place of business.

What is Customer Service Recovery?

Customer service recovery refers to the process of identifying a negative customer experience or a dissatisfied customer, responding to them and resolving their issue, and then converting them into more of a loyal customer than if they had never had the negative experience.

Another term for this scenario is the service recovery paradox. Defined by Wikipedia as "a situation in which a customer thinks more highly of a company after the company has corrected a problem with their service, compared to how they would regard the company that provides non-faulty service."

Customer service recovery creates an excellent opportunity for you to convey to the customer how valuable they are to you and your business. And it is why every business should have a fair customer service recovery process in place.

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A Customer Service Recovery Example

Imagine visiting your favorite restaurant for a nice, relaxing dinner that you've come to expect from this establishment. You're seated quickly, and your drinks come out perfectly. So far, so good.

You order your favorite medium-rare steak and sit back with your drink and appetizer while watching a baseball game on the television by the bar.

A few minutes later, your steak comes out, and you're ready to dig in. But when you cut into it, you notice that it is cooked well-done. Unfortunately, a well-done steak is not what you wanted or expected.

The manager then approaches you and asks how your experience has been thus far. You inform him that everything has been incredible but that your steak is overcooked.

restaurant customer service

The manager immediately removes your plate from the table and heads back to the kitchen. He quickly returns and offers to get you another drink, free-of-charge. You accept the offer, and a few minutes later, you have a new drink and a delicious medium-rare steak.

When you are finished with your dinner and ask your server for the check, they tell you that the manager has decided to "comp" the entire visit and not charge for the meal or drinks. You leave the restaurant elated and satisfied, knowing that your favorite restaurant genuinely values you as a customer.

A few months later, you move to a nearby town, but because this is your favorite restaurant, and they've shown you that you are valuable to them, you drive the extra 10 miles to dine at this restaurant instead of choosing one closer to your new home.

This example demonstrates customer service recovery, turning a bad experience into a positive one, and creating a more loyal customer out of it.

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Restaurant Customer Service Recovery Steps

When customers complain or notice a customer having a negative experience, it is imperative to begin resolving the issues at hand as quickly as possible. This recovery is where having a defined customer service recovery process can make a difference, so that everyone involved will be on the same page.

Every restaurant is different, and every business place has its own set of challenges, policies, and procedures. Here are some ideas to help you create the best strategy for your business.

  1. Always offer a swift and genuine apology. Even if you feel the customer is petty or that the issue is trivial, remember that experiences are subjective, and to the customer, it is a genuine issue. Apologizing is not admitting guilt; it is merely a way to acknowledge that the customer is unhappy.
  2. Listen closely to the customer as they explain their situation. Remember to withhold any judgment and don't draw any conclusions at this point. Understand what the customer is trying to convey and ask non-judgmental questions if necessary.
  3. Once you understand how the customer feels, you must determine the cause. It could be a training issue, a staffing issue, an honest mistake. Whatever the reason, it is essential to know what that cause is so that it will be easier to make the customer happy and mitigate the issue moving forward.
  4. Offer a solution. If your company can allow offers, customers will be satisfied with some compensation, such as the example above. However, if you do not want to offer free items, one solution might be to give a percentage off the bill or a free item during a future visit. Whatever you decide, it is up to you and the customer to come to a resolution.
  5. As a restaurant writer and previous marketing manager for UpserveTheresa Navarra explains, "Of course, it's important to empower your staff to offer something extra to mend that relationship. Perhaps it's a free dessert or a glass of wine or 10% off the check. Be sure to determine what level of complaint warrants what solution beyond just fixing the problem for your restaurant."
  6. Once you find a solution, make it so as quickly as possible. This urgency shows the customer that you are serious about making them happy, and they are valuable to your business.
  7. If possible, make sure to follow up and thank the customer for their patronage and understanding. By continuing open communication, the customer will feel more appreciated, and future visits will increase.

Again, every restaurant and retail store is different, so your procedure may differ from the steps above. The important thing is to have something in place to act swiftly whenever a negative customer experience arises. The quicker you act, the better the results will be, and the more valuable and satisfied the customer will feel. Always leave things on a positive note.

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What To Do When You Miss a Customer Having Negative Experience

If you miss a negative experience without resolving the issue and find a negative customer review on one of the online ratings and review websites, follow the TACT method outlined here.

Ideally, though, you want to catch them before leaving a rating on a popular internet site. Bloom Intelligence can send automated messages to customers, asking them for a rating of their recent experience. If the customer gives a rating above a threshold you can configure, say 3.5 stars; you can respond with another email asking them to rate you on any of the significant rating websites.

This response is a great way to continue reinforcing higher ratings on these websites.

More importantly, should the customer give you a rating below your set threshold, you can respond with an email containing a sincere apology and an incentive for them to come back and give you another chance. This tactic can help mitigate the chances that they leave a scathing review on one of the significant rating websites.

service recovery examples

Identify and Engage Churning Customers

If you missed a customer having a poor experience at your place of business, and you miss a negative rating or review they may have left online, then there is a good chance they will not be returning to your establishment.

Bloom Intelligence uses advanced algorithm sets to help determine when this is the case. When a customer fails to return within their expected return date, they receive a mark that they are at risk of churning. Bloom can then send them an automated message asking them to come back, perhaps containing an incentive such as a free dessert or appetizer.

Bloom users see up to 38% of their at-risk customers come back through their doors. In today's competitive marketplace, rescuing any at-risk customer is huge for revenue. Imagine seeing 38% of them returning!

For more details on Bloom's ratings and at-risk features, along with real-life case studies, click the links below:

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