4 Steps to Resolve Guest Complaints

In today’s socially connected environment the voice of the customer cannot be ignored. Social media and direct corporate channels allow Guest feedback to be instantaneous – often customers are still in line as they document their experience.

This new way of giving instant feedback is a real-time report card of how your restaurant is performing. Good feedback is easy to read, accept and reward while the F’s and 1 Star reviews are not so easy. Sadly, the negative ones matter most to customers making a decision between your restaurant and another brand.

The challenge in a Franchise restaurant system is that the brand is affected by each customer visit. Great customer experiences at one location will often lead to repeat visits, brand loyalty and the willingness to visit other franchise locations. A bad customer experience at one location can permanently damage brand perception. It’s not just one location that loses a customer, it’s the entire system. Handling customer complaints is truly a focus on customer recovery.

Having responded to thousands of customer complaints over the years, I’ve found they tend to play out the same – regardless of what the issue was initially – leading me to develop four key steps to handling customer complaints:

1. Acknowledge

Hearing negative feedback about your business is tough. However, you must read them as a customer, not the business owner. Choosing to quickly address the complaint with empathy signals to the customers that they have been heard, and everyone wants to be acknowledged. It’s the first step to winning them back. Typically, customers who take the time to share their feedback are loyal to your location and the brand. Either something happened that was atypical or they’ve recently seen a pattern that should be corrected. Sometimes new customers have a bad first visit and the level of response they receive will determine whether they will give your restaurant a second chance. Plus, with today’s social media a response to one customer is then seen by thousands of future customers.

2. Apologize

This is often the hardest step because you have to accept that your team failed the customer somehow. However, whether the complaint is truthful or colorfully inflated, the best remedy is to quickly apologize. Apologize because the customer made a choice to spend their money in your restaurant, and for whatever reason, they perceived their experience to be less than excellent. Offering a quick and sincere apology is the easiest way to smooth over any issue and regain the customer’s goodwill and loyalty. Failing to apologize sends a message that you don’t care or value your customer’s feedback. Not surprisingly you’ll then lose that customer.

3. Resolve

    We’ve all read our share of “fake” reviews and complaints, and while they shouldn’t be given too much thought, a public apology for the sake of future customers is never out of line. Customer complaints that are genuine and clearly from a regular guest, necessitate going beyond just an apology. Inviting the guest back in for a free meal or sending a gift card shows the guest that you’re taking appropriate steps to correct the issue and that you value their business.

    4. Improve

      While the first three steps are often about current customers, the last step is about future damage control. In a franchise system, utilizing readily available customer feedback is an opportunity to see how your brand and location are doing. It shows you a clear picture of what needs need to be corrected.

      Sort through the one-off customer complaints and learn to recognize the pattern in the issues. If you look closely enough you can identify key service or product quality issues. These are opportunities to make improvements to your business by streamlining processes and retraining the crew in order to prevent future complaints. Remember, few customers take the time to complain, so ignoring one complaint here and there can cause you to miss the big picture.

      Your Customer Service Department can help turnaround a negative review but the best defense against complaints and growing compliments is a properly trained restaurant crew team. It’s vitally important to take feedback as information to help retain loyal guests and make improvements. Failure to listen and take action will only cause more complaints and loss of business, as well as erode the brand.

      Simona Krebs is the Brand & Guest Relations Manager at Togo’s and she oversees all guest response and engagement for the Togo’s brand. She has vast experience working with individual operators, corporate support and outside partners to maintain one brand voice.


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