A few weeks ago, I had a regular customer come into the bar with a colleague of hers. She was obviously flustered and they were talking in that animated way people do when they’ve just been wronged.
They’d been at a busy bar for a working lunch, during which staff bussing tables had dropped glassware 2 or 3 different times right next to their table.
The resulting noise and the fact that a piece of glass had ended up in someone’s lunch had upset them enough to speak to the staff member and then ask for the manager.
What upset them first off, was when they started speaking to the staff member they were interrupted with, “sorry, I’m busy.”
Next, when they asked to see the manager on duty they could see the guy ducking them and peeking at them from behind the pass.
Finally, when the manager did make it over to the table the first thing out of his mouth was “Fine, what drinks do you want”
The sad truth is, if you’ve ever dined out, walked into a bar or ordered delivery food, you’ve got a story like this and we’ve all heard service horror stories at parties or social events.
But as a business owner, horror stories mean quiet something else. They mean lost revenue, negative reviews on social media, visits from inspectors or even law suits.
What goes around comes around
The psychology of humans is that we love a bad news story. In journalism the common parlance is ‘If it bleeds it leads.’ This is why reality TV shows are so popular, we don’t tune in for gleaming teeth and washboard abs, we tune in to see those teeth eat a slimy bug or those abs cold and hungry, covered in mud and tears, as the contestant sobs and wishes they could have a hot meal instead of another helping of snotty bug guts.
When applied to Customer Service, this means that every customer horror story is going to be shared at least 10 times, so think, if it’s a real humdinger and goes viral on Facebook that could be any of the 85 million English speaking Facebook users. God help you if it gets translated into another language!
So how to prevent the next Horror story?
We work in cramped, busy, slippery and hot conditions. Accidents happen, long waiting times happen and sometimes that delicious Sea Bass ends up sliding off the plate and into someone’s lap, but how do we negate the issue, and maybe even pull off one of those rare feats – the accident that turns into a great review?
Normally at this point you’d be expecting a list of top tips, or do’s and don’ts but really there is just one sacred tip here, so follow closely.
For the Love of God and all things sacred, LISTEN to your customers
By all means, wipe up the spilt wine, or offer a clean towel to the lady with the gravy down her back, but make sure you listen to what the table is saying, BEFORE you open your mouth.
Instruct your team on how to listen. Instruct them to be able to mitigate the initial issue, then stop what they are doing, fix on the customer who’s the complainant and repeat back to them that they understand what they’ve just been told.
If the customer wants to speak to the manager, train your team to go grab the manager, straight away. This is a code red people!
Make sure the manager knows that they have to address the issue as soon as possible. Don’t hide, don’t duck, don’t obfuscate – get over there!
Sure, nobody wants to go over to a table of half-drunk patrons baying for blood, but if you practise listening, instead of trying to appease them quickly with a ‘free bevy’ you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can pull the situation out of the fire and get people back on side.
Defusing the Bomb
The aim here is to allow the customer to voice their problem, to have their say, to let off some steam, to react to whatever it is that’s just happened. 99% of the time once people feel as though someone has genuinely listened to their plight they’ll begin to relax once more and want to go back to their meal, drinks or conversation.
And the bit about the potential for plucking a great review from an initial complaint?
The funny thing about human psychology is that we love having a ‘shared story’ or even better, something that was a bit crappy turn into something that is funny or memorable.
Think of an event you went to where it started badly, or there was a minor incident. The story started with something bad happening, then there was a solution and then everything was ok, in fact it was even better than before because it gave everyone something to talk about and it made it a memorable story.
Imagine the scenario with the sea bass once more and imagine the member of staff or manager coming to the table, talking to the customers, listening to the patron complaining about their fishy trousers.
Now imagine the customer explain that they’re the designated driver, or on medication, so they can’t have another drink, and the manager or staff member is listening to all of this closely, and as they’re talking the customer is relaxing, and the staff member asks if they’d like another meal, and maybe they don’t want another sea bass now, can they have a burger instead? – So, the staff member now has the information to start making things better.
Now everyone starts to relax, and the bad moment is gone, and the staff member can apologise for the accident, and maybe tell a little joke about the sea bass being so fresh it jumped off the plate, and now everyone laughs, and now the customer gets his burger (express made by the chef) and his dry cleaned pants, and you just wait and see how that story ends up at the golf club, school run, weekend barbecue, Facebook, Twitter etc. etc.
Sure, it doesn’t always end this way, sometimes the incident is forgotten as soon as they leave the business, and you won’t always get a glowing review on social media – but I can assure you, you won’t get a negative story shared with other potential customers, and your Google review will stay positive.