In today’s overly competitive restaurant industry, customer retention is more important 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.
Even if you strive to provide stellar customer service, there will eventually come a time when a customer has 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.”
When things do go awry, it is important to act quickly to resolve any 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 if non-faulty service had been provided.”
This 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 good customer service recovery process in place.
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 hoped for.
The manager then approaches you and asks how your experience has been thus far. You inform him that everything has been great, but that your steak is overcooked.
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 that there is no 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 is a great example of customer service recovery, turning a bad experience into a positive one, and creating a more loyal customer out of it.
Steps for Effective Restaurant Customer Service Recovery
When customers complain, or when you notice a customer having a negative experience, it is imperative to begin resolving the issues at hand as quickly as possible. This 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 place of business has its own set of challenges, policies and procedures. Here are some ideas to help you create the best procedure for your business.
- Always offer a swift and genuine apology. Even if you feel the customer is being 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 simply a way to acknowledge that the customer is unhappy.
- Listen closely to the customer as they explain their situation. Remember to withhold any judgement and don’t draw any conclusions at this point. Understand what the customer is trying to convey and ask non-judgmental questions if necessary.
- 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 cause, it is important to know what that cause is so that it will be easier to make the customer happy and mitigate the issue moving forward.
- Offer a solution. If your company allows the manager to offer solutions at his or her discretion, many customers will be satisfied with some sort of compensation, such as in 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.
As restaurant writer and previous marketing manager for Upserve, Theresa 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.”
- Once a solution is decided upon, make it so as quickly as possible. This shows the customer that you are serious about making them happy and that they are valuable to your business.
- 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 odds of a future visit 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 so that you can 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.
What To Do When You Miss a Customer Having Negative Experience
If you miss a negative experience without resolving the issue, and you find a negative customer review on one of the online ratings and reviews websites, follow the TACT method outlined here.
Ideally, though, you want to catch them prior to leaving a rating on a popular internet site. Bloom Intelligence has the ability to send automated messages to customers asking them for a rating of their recent experience. If the customer gives a rating that is 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 major ratings websites.
This 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 can help mitigate the chances that they leave a scathing review on one of the major ratings websites.
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 are marked as being at-risk of churning. Then, Bloom can send them an automated message asking them to come back, perhaps containing an incentive such as a free dessert or appetizer.
Bloom users are seeing 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:
- Rocket Your Restaurant Ratings and Reviews
- Reducing Customer Churn and Saving At-Risk Restaurant Customers: A Bloom Intelligence Success Report