Management consultant and author Enda Larkin, who is well known here in his native Ireland where he has worked extensively in the hospitality sector, now lives in the USA from where he writes an informative and entertaining daily blog. You can access this at www.htc-consult.com , but first read this extract:
“Hi, I’m really sorry about this, but my steak is far too tough to eat. And, it’s also kind of cold.”
“Oh, really? That’s strange, because nobody else has complained about that tonight. (A response accompanied by a faint throwing of eyes to heaven – a sort of ‘side-order’ of petulence, if you like).
“Well, thanks for sharing that with me and, honestly, I’m very happy for everyone else, but I think it’s too tough. And, as I said, it’s lukewarm.”
“So, what would you like me to do then, Sir.”
Biting tongue at this stage; restraining Crazy Paddy.
“How about you just get the manager for me, please…”
I made a complaint yesterday.
It’s something I rarely do and now I’ve been reminded why. Of the, maybe, five times I have ever complained about anything in my life, most of them have ended in me having to cross swords with one jerk after another to get a resolution.
It’s all very stressful; that’s why I usually say nothing and then never go back.
Very Irish, I know, but it’s the best thing to do, particularly where Crazy Paddy is concerned.
Keeps everything nice and calm.
But, in this case, the food was truly awful, we had waited forever, it was over-priced and the staff were arrogant, so I couldn’t help myself. I made the complaint – genuinely politely (at least initially) – and got the above reaction. Finally, the manager (Head Jerk, as it turned out) sauntered over and continued the intellectual debate about the precise definitions of ‘tough’ and ‘tepid’. At one point, the chef even arrived on the scene; I am not kidding either. Although to be fair, he was the least jerkish of the three. However, it is always a bit difficult to discuss the quality of someone’s handi-work when they are standing in front of you with faint blood stains on their apron.
Thankfully, he had left the cleaver in the kitchen.
And the solution in the end? After near-on ten minutes of debate? With group participation?
They wrote off the main course. How very innovative.
Then the manager spent the rest of the time throwing dirty looks in my direction until we left. I am not joking about that part either. And, would you believe, I actually saw the junior jerk make to come after us because we left the minimum tip.
In truth, Crazy Paddy had wanted to leave no tip at all; in its place, he felt a note on the back of the bill defining ‘Politeness’ and ‘Professionalism’ would be more appropriate. But, in the end, the other calmer, non-Paddy types in his company had managed to talk him down.
Will the three-amigos at this restaurant have learned anything from the episode? Hardly.
Yes, I most definitely did, and one of them is that I won’t be frequenting that particular restaurant again.
Neither, presumably, will the ten people – and counting – that I have managed to tell about the incident so far.
I would love to write the restaurant name on this blog, but this is America we are talking about here, and knowing my luck I would probably be sued.
Crazy Paddy wouldn’t care about that, but then he wouldn’t have to front up for the lawyers fees, now would he?
What I did learn more generally, though, was that despite all the training and talk of service orientation, it’s amazing how badly complaints are still handled in many places – although, I accept, this was a severe example of how not to do it. Yet, others at the table were quickly able to give recent examples of how they had problems when making a complaint, or in one case, when simply returning a faulty item to a store – so complaint handling remains a weakness in many businesses. Often, when you mention the word ‘complaint’ to an employee, the automatic response is “I’ll get the manager”, and as pass-the-buckish as that is, you know, I infinitely prefer that option to having to debate the matter with a spotty, smart-ass, student who thinks he’s sooo above waiting tables.
Now, I won’t insult your intelligence here by outlining the correct way to handle a complaint but would instead ask you to consider the following scenario.
Imagine a customer is making a valid complaint – something not too major, but important nonetheless – right now in your business. Ask yourself:
- Is that complaint likely to be handled efficiently and promptly?
- Will the ‘first responder’ be confident, and skilled, enough to sort it out themselves, or will the manager have to be called in?
- Is there a ‘set way’ for handling complaints in the business – known to all?
- How long will the resolution process likely take? Fast or slow?
- What is the likelihood of that customer feeling satisfied at the end that their complaint has been dealt with effectively?
- What, if anything, will be done to entice that particular customer back?
- Will there be learning from the incident? If changes are needed, will they happen as a result, or will the same problem likely arise again?
- If it’s a major complaint, will you hear about it?
- What do complaints in general cost your business each year?
- Is the number of complaints in the business higher or lower this year than last?
- What are the most common types or categories of complaints you receive? Do the same problems happen over and over?
- What do customers think about your complaint handling procedures?
- Are you better or worse than your competitors at complaint handling?
These questions are vital considerations for handling complaints in any business. How does your busines stack up against them?
Now, it’s hardly cutting-edge thinking to say that complaints should be handled in a way which empathizes with the customer and does so in a manner which translates each complaint into an opportunity to build lasting customer loyalty. What’s more, the approach taken should also serve to create a learning experience for your business.
Pretty basic stuff, really.
But, it really is surprising to see how frequently the basics just aren’t there and how the approach taken to complaint handling, in many businesses, simply ends up bringing out the Crazy Paddy in all of us