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Unresolved customer complaints can have a devastating impact on restaurants, making it essential to address customer complaints quickly. A study by the Technical Assistance Research Programs Institute reveals that up to 70 percent of complainers will return to your business if the complaint is resolved, and up to 95 percent will return if the problem is resolved in a timely fashion.
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In today’s world of instant communications, especially, where information and opinions run wild on large restaurant review sites like Yelp, or on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, staying one step ahead of complaining customers can be a real challenge for today’s restaurant owners and managers. If you find yourself caught in this dilemma, here a few tips to most efficiently handling customer complaints both online and in the restaurant.

Manage your restaurant’s online reviews and guest comments at least twice a day: If you don’t have time to do this yourself, delegate other staff members to take the lead on monitoring customer complaints online. Helpful mobile apps are also available for Yelp, Twitter, etc. allowing you to quickly view and respond to customer comments directly from your mobile device.

Prepare appropriate responses in advance: While there is no way to predict what a customer’s complaint will be exactly, it usually falls under one of these categories: food, service, cleanliness or atmosphere. Knowing that, you may find it helpful to prepare sample statements in advance that can be used by your service staff to respond to complaints and issues.

Personally check in with unhappy customers at their table to make sure the issue was handled to their satisfaction: As the owner or manager of your restaurant, your unsatisfied customers will appreciate hearing from you directly. This level of high-touch attention shows that you greatly care about their experience and want to do everything that you can to resolve the situation.

Make it up to them: Apologize for the negative experience and then go the extra mile to win back their trust by inviting them back in with a complimentary appetizer or dessert, for example. This type of gesture goes a long way.

Get customer feedback frequently: Email and web-based surveys can be a valuable way to get customer feedback on a continual basis. Keep track of your customers who were unhappy with their experience and circle back with them asking how well they think you resolved the situation.

However, in an effort to quickly respond to a customer’s issue, it is equally important to respond with a calm demeanor, even if that means stepping back a bit to evaluate the situation. Responding to an upset customer can further escalate the situation. So be courteous, apologetic and keep a cool head in all situations, and remember, “The customer is always right.”

For additional tips on how to deal with a complaining customer, read our previous blog post on “6 Simple Steps to Handle a Dissatisfied Customer.