Monday, July 20, 2009

Customer Complaint Resolution / Student Presentations / Bubbly Tasting

Our next to last class started with a brief Odds n' Ends. Everyone spent the weekend working on their final projects, or are in the midst of working on them. Richard told a story of a friend who had a catered event on his boat in Nantucket this past weekend. His caterer canceled less than a week out before the event because one of the caterer's employees quit to work for this friend in some non-food capacity. The friend scurried and found another caterer hungry for work, and as it turns out the caterer did an excellent job, and now this friend has gotten this new caterer a ton of work, and the old caterer's name has been dragged through the mud in a wide circle of friends. Be careful who you choose to punish.

When a customer complains, they are saying, "I would like to purchase again. What are you going to do to fix this?" So when a customer does not complain, they just pay the bill and leave an ordinary tip, they have given up on the company and it is unlikely they will return. A non-complainer's rate of return has been measured at under 10%, but a complainer whose issue is NOT resolved has a rate of return of about 40%. Complaining is cathartic, straight up. And when a complaint is quickly resolved, rate of return shoots up to around 90%.

The non-complainers are the bane of restaurants, and leaving out comment-cards for the customer to voluntarily fill out is not a very strong solution. An owner who sits by dishwashing waiting for full plates to come back so they can approach those particular customers will only go so far. There needs to be management on the floor looking at everything at all times, looking at faces and looking at tables. This may not be a reasonable expectation of a small restaurant on a tight budget, but someone keeping their eyes on a dining room, who is smart enough to react, is a hallmark of a successful restaurant.

An angry customer needs to be handled correctly, appealing to the emotional need to be taken seriously and taken care of. These steps are a framework to defusing a customer on the edge:
  • Listen effectively
  • Empathize and apologize if necessary
  • Determine problem
  • Propose solutions and reach closure
  • Follow through FAST
  • Do something extra
The ultimate objective is to make the customer come back. But on the other hand, there are situations where the customer is a liar. Guytano told a story of a group of 4 who came in on Mother's Day and claimed to have a reservation, though there was no record of it -- they might of called the wrong store. They had to be worked in, and catered to, checked in on -- like the restaurant is doing them a really great service.

We did some role playing, with one playing the host, the other the complaining customer. It definitely takes some fluid thinking to stick to the customer resolution framework while dealing with wound-up, questionably sane members of the public.

One role play was illuminating. A customer calls to make a same-day reservation for a large party, under the gun from his employer. One of the slower students played the reservationist, and her solution when confronted with the insistent customer on the phone was to....pass him off to the manager. And I thought the last 9 months we were here in these classes was studying culinary....MANAGEMENT. The solution, after listening, apologizing, and stating that it's not possible was to what Richard called a "Holiday Inn". Holiday Inn's policy was to never have a 'no vacancy' sign. If a customer came in and there was no space, the Holiday Inn would call other hotels and find a space for the customer. Even though the customer did not spend money on the Holiday Inn, it was an opportunity to leave a good impression and offer something for when they are back to spend money. The reservationist could of made a reservation fro them at another place, and offered a round of drinks or something when the next time the customer does come in.

Next up we went through three student presentations of their business plans (which means we have 15 or so to get through on Wednesday, including mine), and then we tasted a number of sparkling wines. Nothing particular jumped out at me, the Spanish cava was ok, the Italian Prosecco fresh, the French champagne musty.