What if unhappy customers were a good thing? Sure, they can be scary (ok, downright terrifying) but they can also pose as a unique opportunity to showcase your hospitality skills and win a loyal fan for life. This month, we spoke with Brian Mohr who oversees the account management and support team for Yelp Reservations about. Brian deals with unhappy people on a regular basis, but what’s so amazing is that he views that as a good thing. Read on to find out why Brian appreciates a customer who is willing to air their grievances and why he believes anyone can turn an unhappy customer into their biggest fan.
Don’t think of an unhappy customer as a bad thing
Brian understands from diner perspective how it’s possible for so many things to go wrong when you’re out at a restaurant. “There might be a long wait time, there may be a mistake in the meal that is served, a reservation might not have been accounted for and you show up and the restaurant isn’t ready for you, or you may feel that food was ill prepared.”
However, as much as things may go wrong, Brian also believes that most restaurants have the ability to keep customers happy by serving with great hospitality and therefore earning loyal customers who will return time and time again. It’s okay to have issues, he says. It would be impossible not to. Rather, it’s how restaurants handle those issues when they arise that makes all of the difference.
Brian says the first thing is understanding that a customer complaint is really an opportunity for you to deliver great service, turn the situation around, and earn a loyal customer. He says, “An unhappy customer is really just a customer saying, ‘I want you to keep my business, and I want you to solve my problems.’ When you have an opportunity to transform that customer into a delighted customer, they’re an even better long-term value loyal customer than someone who you’ve maybe just satisfied upfront. I think the chance to win hearts and minds is a great opportunity for anyone in the service industry.”
Ways you can turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer
Brian has four things he considers to be incredibly important if you want to turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer.
- “It starts with listening.”
And Brian means really listening, seeking to understand the problem, and connecting with the customer’s emotions and feelings. “As service representatives we so often we want to jump right in and fix the problem because that’s our job, but first and foremost we need to actually listen to the customer, echo back to them that we understand their problems and how they feel. That way, they’ll be willing and receptive to listen to us once we provide that solution.”
- Don’t take it personally
“The thing I remind my team all of the time is we have to remember not to take the situation personally. If someone is upset and yelling at you, that’s uncomfortable, but you have to just take a step back and remember not to take it personally,” he says.
“It’s our job to create a memorable experience for them, so you just have to know that problems happen. If you’re in the tech industry, bugs occur. If you’re in the shipping industry, you sometimes mail the wrong order. And if you’re in the restaurant industry, meals get messed up.”
The most important thing Brian says is to remember that life happens, so apologize for the inconvenience, acknowledge what went wrong, and then go about fixing the problem.
At the same time, you also want to take detailed notes (in your head or on paper) because just fixing the problem once is not enough. “You need to take those notes back to your team and then fix the source of the problem so that it doesn’t happen again.”
- Go above and beyond when solving the problem
“If you have the opportunity to not just solve the problem, but to go above and beyond to truly delight the customer, that is definitely something you should seek to do as someone in the service or hospitality industry,” Brian says. That often means empowering your team to solve issues, so they have the tools, resources, and permission to offer amazing customer service.
You want to avoid frustrating bottlenecks. “Set up the appropriate guidelines to empower them to solve the problem right then and there. When you can immediately solve that problem for the customer, they’re much more impressed.”
- Always follow up
“Follow up is possibly the most important part.” You want to get immediate confirmation the problem was solved, but then even a day or two later, follow up again to make sure the issue was solved to the customer’s satisfaction. “It shows you value them and their business and that you’ve been thinking about them after that initial conversation. Everyone is really just looking to feel special and heard, so when you fix that problem and you get confirmation, it shows you really do value that business and that partnership.”
Don’t ignore online complaints
Brian acknowledges that thanks to social media and the internet, everyone has the opportunity to share their experiences not just with their friends and family, but with people all over the world. “We have basically given consumers a megaphone to share the good and the bad. And I think it’s important for customer service teams and particularly for restaurants to engage in that conversation just as if they would if that person were face to face with them.”
And even though Brian understands a restaurant’s primary responsibility is to deliver great service and hospitality when a customer is onsite, he still believes it’s very important to make sure there is someone on the team who is managing Yelp reviews. “The comments you want to respond to are the ones you want you would respond to directly if that person was in-house.” For some people, he says, it’s easier to go the internet to share an experience than to have that person-to-person interaction, but you still want to make that person feel heard and use it as an opportunity to wow them.
In addition, Brian says that if someone has publicly broadcasted their complaints, it’s important to publicly acknowledge that you have seen their complaint and that it’s been heard, so that others who are reading the thread see that you are acknowledging things. “After that, it’s okay to take that conversation off line and say,
‘Hey, sorry you had this experience or inconvenience; we want to make it better for you.’ And then have them DM you or ask how you can reach them.”
“The restaurants I’ve seen handle online situations the best are the ones who acknowledged the complaint, made the person feel heard, and encouraged the guest to come back to the restaurant so they can have an opportunity to fix the situation and show them the great service they can deliver. As long as you’re listening, acknowledging, and then solving that person’s problem and following up, that’s exactly how you turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer.”
Get excited about complaints!
One of the most important things for a restaurant is creating customers who come back. Which, Brian says, means restaurants should actually get excited when they hear a complaint. “I know that’s a little weird to say, but it really is a great opportunity,” and one he reminds his team at Yelp Reservations of often. “The most important thing to realize is that an unhappy customer who is coming to you with a complaint is doing so because they want you to fix the problem. That’s a way better person to work with than someone who suffers in silence.”
In fact, Brian believes unhappy customers can be the most valuable resource for a business. “It’s easy to build a business when everything is going great,” he says. “It’s easy to manage growth, success, and winning. But if you really want to and improve and beat the competition, it’s important to understand what customers are saying about your business, where they think you can get better, and then taking that information back to your team and having discussions about how to fix the issues.”
“We have to reward those customers who are telling us positive things as well,” he says. “There are things we can do to unexpectedly delight those customers.” But it’s the squeaky wheels who often end up making the biggest impact. “We have to treat unhappy customers as a very serious and important part of our business. Mistakes happen, but it’s our job to fix them. People have so many options today; you want to make sure you’re the business customers are choosing time and time again.”
And all it takes is listening, not taking it personally, going above and beyond to solve the issue, and remembering to follow up.