What do you do when customers complain? Do you listen? Do you try explaining or rationalizing your responses?

One thing we can agree on from the top. When you serve customers, it’s not always easy to manage complaints. There’s a fine line between explaining and crossing over into the excuse realm.

And, I’ve got a bad customer service example to share with you!

I recently visited one of my favorite local Thai restaurants. The food is delicious, but the last few times I visited, the service was poor.

But, when a friend suggested we have dinner there last Saturday night, hubby and I agreed to go. I thought I’d give it another shot.

Big mistake.

Our server was a shy young lady, with an inaudible voice, who appeared to lack confidence.

My instinct told me that she was new to the country and that this may have been her first food server job… ever. Knowing that the restaurant is family operated, I assumed she was a relative.

When we ordered, we asked for the appetizer to come first, followed by the main dishes. But the first main dish arrived before we ever saw the appetizer. Why call it an appetizer if it’s not served before the meal?

She was not attentive, did not check for water refills, and did not ask if everything was OK. In fact, a nearby patron held up his water-glass asking the nearest server for a refill.

When we wanted to leave, she had disappeared. We asked another server for our bill and paid her.

Before we left, I decided to ask for the owner to share my experience. Since I write about customer experiences, I wanted to offer some friendly advice.

I started with a compliment about the food. I told her that we had been patrons in the 11 years since she opened the restaurant. (Always begin with something positive!)

Then, I was brutally honest. “The last few times we’ve come for dinner, the service has been awful.” (Yes, I used the word, “awful.”)

You won’t believe how the owner handled my complaint! She said I should have come on a less busy night! (Say what?????)

My reply: “The service should be good, especially on busy nights.”

The rest of her “explanations” were pure excuses:

  • She can’t afford to hire wait staff.
  • It’s a family operation and everyone working is part of the family.
  • She doesn’t have enough servers when it’s busy.

I said that I understood her challenges, but the service could improve if her servers had training in customer service principles. I suggested that she look for customer service books written in Thai.

She smiled and said, “I’m glad you understand.” She believed that when I said, “I understand,” it somehow gave her a pass.

This type of business owner must have a horseshoe up her behind. Restaurants are one of the most difficult businesses to maintain solvency.

“To be sure, restaurants file for credit protection every year. They are capital-intensive businesses operating in a saturated industry that caters to a fickle consumer. They frequently borrow money to expand. And they lease spaces for their restaurants. Thus, when sales fall, bankruptcies can often follow.” (Jonathan Maze, Restaurant News)

Many small business owners and organization leaders struggle with limited resources every day. Common start-up costs are often overwhelming and growth takes time.

The one thing you cannot compromise is the customer experience. If it’s lackluster or bad, how long will it take for any business/organization to fail?

“At the heart of a customer-centric business is customer service — how your company manages its customer relationships, both internally and externally. What will success look like when you do this well?

The superlative outcome in external customer service is when customers have memorable brand experiences, return to buy again, and then rave about your business to others. The outstanding result in internal customer service is when employees enjoy their jobs, take pride in their work, achieve their potential, feel valued and appreciated, stay longer, and rave about your company to others.” (Beyond Your Logo: 7 Brand Ideas That Matter Most For Small Business Success)

It IS possible to provide excellent customer experiences in spite of limited resources. Alyssa Gregory at The Balance offers these “9 Tips for Providing Excellent Customer Service.”

  1. Know Your Product or Service
  2. Be Friendly
  3. Say Thank You
  4. Train Your Staff
  5. Show Respect
  6. Listen
  7. Be Responsive
  8. Ask for Feedback
  9. Use Feedback You Receive

Notice #9. Whether you ask for feedback, or your customers offer it willingly, it’s important that you take heed. They’re giving you an exceptional gift, especially when they complain. So, don’t ignore it!

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