Celebrate Customer Complaints!


A major step in executing a world-class Customer service culture is admitting you and your team are going to screw it up.  And get excited about it!  That’s right, you need to get excited when a Customer complains.  The sooner that you understand there are going to be times where you fall short of the Customer’s expectation and being OK with it, the sooner you will be on your way to winning an upset Customer’s loyalty.  Almost 60% of Customers have higher expectations for Customer Service today than they did a year ago so it is crucial that you are effective in your response when things go wrong.  Clearly you want to do all you can to minimize Customer issues, but when they do occur you have to change your mindset on how you approach the complaint. 

Customer complaints are gifts

I always look at Customer complaints as beautifully wrapped gifts.  When a Customer complains he/she is presenting your team with a golden opportunity to win them over.  Complaints give you a chance to go above and beyond the call of duty, presenting an opportunity you don’t usually get during a routine service interaction. In many industries this is called “service recovery.”  Interacting with an upset Customer can be a nerve wracking experience but you have to remember you hold the keys to turning it around.

Understand no Customer is the same

Every Customer complaint is different and the same goes for their level of frustration.  A Customer with a billing issue may simply just want to see the issue fixed and require very little to no service recovery beyond a sincere apology. But a Customer that is staring at their over drafted checking account because of your mistake not only will be upset but could be facing problems outside of just your establishment.  Being able to read a Customer’s level of frustration and being empathetic will guide you in in knowing what steps you need to take for that particular Customer.

Empathetically owning it

The most important step in service recovery is showing sincere empathy. Showing the Customer that you understand their frustration will pave the way for you to turn the Customer into a loyal fan.  You then need to own the fact that a mistake was made.  One of my go to phrases when interacting with an upset Customer is admitting “Mr. Customer, what you experienced is not OK. We take a lot of pride in what we do so I am truly sorry we fell short.”  This humanizes the interaction for the Customer and seems to tip the scale to help them remember no one is perfect. 

Stop restricting your Employees

I once walked into a hotel’s back office and saw a large chart that listed dozens of Guest complaints the front desk employees might encounter along with what they should offer for each complaint.  For instance, if a Guest complained their Internet didn’t work during their stay, they should comp the Internet charge.  I immediately ripped the poster off the wall and threw it away.  You have to give your team the freedom to read the Customer and empower them to do what they feel is going to most satisfy the Customer.  A Customer who couldn’t access the weather forecast during their stay due to poor Internet will require a different response than the Customer who missed out on a required company Webinar. 

Boxing your employees into to prescribed responses will only produce robot like apologies that will leave your Customers even more frustrated.

Ryan Minton is the President and Founder of CRM Hospitality & Consulting.