Some compare dealing with angry people with taking a lava bath. It can instantly throw you out of balance and totally ruin your day. Ancient wisdom compares angry people to a house on fire. The problem is, if you are a guest, you will get burned too.
Knowing how to diffuse a situation with an angry or unruly diner is paramount. All members of your staff should be trained to handle uncomfortable situations—even those in the kitchen who do not get in front of customers. Having your whole staff well versed in conflict management will protect your restaurant in the long run, and will even improve interpersonal communications.
The Benefits of Knowing How to Diffuse a Situation with an Angry Diner
Serving good food is just one ingredient for longevity in the business. If you were to poll flourishing restaurants, they would emphasize excellent customer care as well. From a welcoming host to a well-timed kitchen, good service comes in many shades. Get your staff up to speed on all manners of service, including how to diffuse a situation with an unhappy customer.
Now, round up the crew and go over these pointers.
Tips for Dealing with Dissatisfied Customers
Ask for A Name
To call a customer “ma’am” or “sir” is formal and polite, but in this situation, get to know the name of your unhappy patron. By using his or her first name, you create a sense of intimacy and care. The diner will feel an inherent sense of being understood and looked after, which will help you ease the conversation through to a resolution.
This might be the most important piece of training: At no point should any member of your staff respond with anger, resentment, or rudeness to a customer. Such a response will be perceived as aggressive and will not diffuse the situation. Explain to your staff that they should never take feedback personally. Encourage them to maintain composure.
When diners are angry or unhappy, they need to explain themselves before a resolution can be reached. This is a part of the complaint and feedback process. To respond without compassion or in a rash manner will only escalate the situation further.
Be genuine and avoid using standard scripted language like “I understand how you feel; let me see what I can do.” Instead, put a bit of personality and compassion to throw them off and make them see that you genuinely care about their feelings, “Yikes, holy cow I don’t know what to say, this is embarrassing. (With your hand near your heart) – I’m so sorry we put you in this position.”
Hear them out and be on their side. When you match their voice tone and be angry with them (and not at them), they will subconsciously sense a friend, and their frustration will ease. You will become an ally in their eyes, and they may even leave your restaurant happier than they could have expected.
Do Not Interrupt
Listen to an unhappy customer without interrupting. To ensure that your customer leaves satisfied, you must assess what it is that he or she wants. When customers are interrupted, however, they will feel as though their needs are considered unimportant, which could lead to further anger.
Allow them to tell their full story. “Can you tell me more about how this happened?” Then LISTEN intensively. Look in the eyes and make sympathetic facial expressions if you can. This will allow them to vent a bit more. Think about this from your own perspective. Tension will only be released when you allow the customer to vent for a bit. Once they are calm, go ahead and explain your own position as to what could have taken place.
Don’t Offer Excuses, Offer Solutions
A common complaint from diners is that the food took too long. In these situations, diners do not want to hear that the kitchen is backed up. Instead, offer to send them free coffees at the ends of their meals or short discounts on the bill. This is what they care about—being taken care of. Responding with a solution, no matter how small, tells customers that you take their happiness seriously. Only in serious situations should an explanation be offered.
In general, it is wise not to get emotional at the customer. If you weather out their emotional barrage of abusive words or complaints and remain calm, they will leave embarrassed about their behavior and respect you even more. Think of a day you launched into a complaining mode and watched an awesome salesperson handle your emotional state in a calm and professional manner. Didn’t you secretly leave with a great amount of admiration for that person when everything was said and done?
Staying calm, listening, and providing a solution are the crucial steps needed to find a resolution. But the final clincher—the proverbial “cherry on top”—is an apology. One clear apology is enough for the average disgruntled customer. Keep in mind; this does not need to be a weepy, long-winded statement. Keep it simple and straightforward. By apologizing, you are showing deference to the diner, a feeling that will not be forgotten.
While apologizing, though, it is important to avoid sounding like a weakling as many angry customers tend to feed on the feeling of having power “over” someone. Don’t say “sorry” either; it’s way too overused. Say something like, “For what it’s worth you, I truly apologize for putting you through so much trouble. Honestly, we never meant for things to go this way. Let me see what I can do.”
Bonus Point – Remind Yourself That You Represent the Restaurant
This ties in with de-personalizing the client’s anger. Remember that dealing with angry customers is important even if you aren’t able to satisfy the angry customer’s concerns. Other customers may be watching, and how you handle yourself reflects on you and the restaurant. Dealing with difficult customers appropriately goes a long way towards convincing others that you will also deal appropriately with their concerns (which hopefully will be expressed more appropriately).
As you train your restaurant staff to deal with complaints, emphasize the importance of showing respect to customers, no matter what complaints (or insults) they might have. Your customer could be having a bad day or be in a perpetual bad mood—yet none of that matters to you. Make your staff comfortable with these situations in advance. That way, in the event that a mad diner calls for attention, your staff will be able to solve the issue smoothly and soothe the customer.