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Apologizing To Customers And Making Them Love You More

Restaurant mishaps—there’s just too many of them that could happen. We checked one popular review site and read oh, aplenty..! There’s one complaint by an angry diner where she found a sliver of glass in her soup. A Band-aid (yes, and a used one, at that), a baby roach, caterpillar, hair, plastic, a piece of wood, chewed gum—you name it and it could also land in your diner’s food.

And that’s just the not-so-serious incidents. The more serious ones, and there are also hordes of them, would not only hurt customer traffic through word of mouth, but could also entail lawsuits.

The sad thing is that we, as managers, can never really control these sorts of things and guarantee that these mistakes would never happen. But thank goodness apologies have been invented—we can apologize, try to make things right, and in the process, make our customers love us more.

First things first: make sure you have your customer’s email. We just can’t stress it enough—complete your customer database as these are really handy—not just for marketing purposes, but for cases like this.

Once you have completed your email directory (and other customer details), segment your list. This does not only ensure that you can easily locate a client that you need to find, but for future marketing purposes as well. You can categorize your customers according to geography, their type of dining style (corporate, family, or friends), or according to day part. Sometimes a simple alphabetical arrangement does the trick, too.

Now we proceed to the actual scenario. When you hear about any customer service mishap, waste no time and deal with it immediately. A good restaurant manager is always ready with a “fix” to make it right for a diner who experiences a problem. The soonest that trouble is dealt with, the better—sometimes even before you receive the complaint.

We know of a hotel restaurant manager who once had a group of twenty regular, yet very detailed (read: painstakingly fussy) corporate diners in her dining room who ordered a bunch of the restaurant’s specialties. She went to them, welcomed and assured them that their order is on its way. Forty-five minutes later, she realized that the guests haven’t been served yet. She went to the kitchen and learned from their chef, in his superior chef apron, that there’s been a little accident with one of the line cooks and, coupled with some problems with stock inventory, the dishes will have to take another 30 minutes before it can be served. Drinks, bread and appetizers have been served and consumed, too.

The great thing there is she has a ready “fix” for these things.

She went to the guests, humbly explained what happened and apologized. Instead of having a defensive stance and waiting for the guests to complain, she looked at the mistake as an opportunity to get to know her customers, no matter how unfortunate the circumstances were. She invited them for a quick tour of their recently renovated poolside lounge (to kill the 30-minute waiting time) and gave everyone complimentary passes for the use of the hotel pool with a round of drinks from the poolside lounge…all for future use. A day after, she emailed all of those guests to apologize once again and to remind them to use their pass and look for her when they come visit the place again.

Some guests were clearly upset; some guests didn’t really care about the delay brought about by the accident of one chef in quality chef apron. But the restaurant manager was able to make all of them come back in the next months that followed—they even referred friends and colleagues to try the premises.

She gave a high-value, low-cost giveaway as fix, and at the same time managed to promote one of their products. It also gave her a chance to get more patronage from the customers.

The lesson there? Be humble and be human. Mistakes can really happen, and customers often forgive honest mistakes. But what they can’t forgive are empty-hearted and defensive corporate apologies. These customers realize that, yes; mistakes can happen in your place. But they’ll hang in there, because they know that when this happens, someone’s there to fix it.