Canadian Pizza Magazine

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Giorgio’s corner: December 2016

How to approach and resolve complaints


November 16, 2016
By Giorgio Taverniti

Topics

We have all been on the receiving end of a wrong order, a cold meal, a defect in an item or an experience of lacklustre customer service. Stuff happens: we are, after all, humans and not perfect. How we as clients choose to raise these complaints and how we as business owners choose to address them are the biggest determining factors of a downfall in client satisfaction, client retention and profit.  

We have all heard the phrase “The customer is always right.” This non-rule is a set of words most businesses live by. I agree that as a client I want to be right all the time; however, as a business owner I see both sides of the issue and approach complaints and any negative feedback about my business with both viewpoints in mind. Although, I do my best to resolve complaints and retain my clients, my best isn’t always good enough. That being said, the phrase “You can’t please everyone” is one to understand and recognize in business.  

I’d like to share my approach, checklist and philosophy with regards to this sensitive subject.

LISTEN AND APOLOGIZE
As a restaurant owner, I come across various complaints about everything from the quality of the food to the customer service, or lack thereof. The trick is to have a resolution checklist that you and your staff may follow. The two starting points of my checklist are to always listen and to offer an apology. Every client wants his or her complaint heard loud and clear. They want their complaint taken seriously and validated regardless of how small it may seem. They want to know they are being heard and that someone cares about their problem. The moment you start listening, you are showing the client you care about their experience and point of view. A general rule of thumb is not to interrupt a client while they are explaining their complaint be it on the phone or in person. Rather, be patient and let them finish before responding. Facial expressions and tone of voice are important because they are transparent markers of sincerity or insincerity. I’m sure as clients ourselves we can all attest to the infuriating feeling you’re not being listened to. Once the complaint has been announced, a genuine apology should naturally follow. These two simple starting points set the tone for the resolution process and whether it will be successful or not.  

ACKNOWLEDGE
Once we have listened and apologized, what comes next? The root of a complaint may be different for every situation. However, when it stems from an error your staff has made, acknowledgment is the next step. Acknowledging an error is a simple act that leaves a huge impact on a client. This validation of your error goes a long way in proving how humble you and your staff are.

Once you’ve acknowledged the complaint is valid, the next step is to offer the client another product and/or reimbursement. When the error is on your part, you should always offer something to the client to help compensate them for their bad experience. When I make an order wrong or forget an item, I always offer the client something to ease their dissatisfaction. It may be their meal on the house, comped drinks or desserts, or a credit to use on future visits or orders. Offering something to customers extends an olive branch in the hopes of mending the unsatisfactory experience and bad impression of you and your business. This shows the client you not only care about their experience but also want them to remain your client. It shows you are prepared to back up your words with actions.

KNOW THAT YOU CAN’T PLEASE EVERYONE
Although my checklist approach generally receives positive feedback, there are times when I can’t appease a complaining client or resolve a situation as well as I would have liked. That’s where the phrase “You can’t please everyone” comes into play: although I try my best and follow my checklist, I know I truly can’t please every client. Sometimes an imperfect experience can forever alter their image of my business and cause them not to return.

Incidents like this don’t often occur; however, I like to ensure that when they do I review the situation and make revisions, if any are needed, to my resolution approach. Regular reviews with your staff of the complaint and resolution approach will help to prevent future complaints and, hopefully, reduce the number of lost clients.


Giorgio Taverniti owns Frank’s Pizza House in Toronto, which has been in his family since 1990. A graduate of George Brown College’s culinary management and Italian culinary programs, Giorgio helped found a popular pizza-making workshop at the college and ran it for three years.