Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dealing with Uncomplimentary Reviews...

Is the Customer Always Right Even When They are Wrong?

I knew this day would eventually come. I am about to do something I have been told you should never do.

Review sites like Yelp, Trip Advisor and even Facebook are extremely important to us. A business's online reputation is a key part of attracting customers who have no idea what your business is about. Anymore, it is the tool of choice for travelers from outside the area to find a decent restaurant. In the old days when we dealt with a disgruntled customer, you could maybe expect that they would tell 10 or 20 people. Now they tell the world.

Everything I've ever read regarding responding to a review has told us not to be contentious, and do not create an adversarial relationship. Whether it is honest or not. Also a business should respond as quickly as possible, apologize, and look at one's operation for the depth of the problems. But what do you do if the review/reviewer is flat out wrong, malicious, or maybe even working for the enemy? There's a line that I have used in the past at our staff meetings, "The customer is always right even when they're wrong."

We have always taken any review very seriously. The bad ones even more so. When we get a review that we're not happy with, oftentimes we will go back and look at our security system, check our point of sale system tickets for times, look at our seating software data, interview every staff member involved, and review any physical evidence that might still be available to us. It is discussed among all the supervisors. We ponder what we could do better from the point of dealing with the customer and what can be done to prevent this from happening again. When I speak of this in our all-employee meetings, I tell them, "It is not the restaurant that never makes a mistake that is successful, because there are none. It is the restaurant that recognizes when things are not up to standards and then does something to correct it."

A couple of weeks ago we had an uncomplimentary review. I am glad I waited a couple of weeks to respond, as I was pretty hot at the moment. This particular review was actually directed at me in a way. We had got an inkling that the individual was going to post something. I never check my email late at night, but I happened to see this one immediately before going to bed. I did not get much sleep that night. That's how serious I take these.

When I was approached by the customer as they were leaving, I was caught off guard. I just happened to be eating in the dining room, after the rush, something which I might only do half a dozen times a year. The customer asked for the owner, approached me and wanted to tell me how terrible their evening was. The customer said they waited over hour, their service was terrible, mentioned a prime rib 'fiasco' and did not think that we were worth the money. I was taken aback because I knew from working on the floor that night there is no way that person waited anywhere close to an hour. I was involved firsthand. This immediately made me question the person's subjectivity.

The next day we performed our normal routine of follow up. Half of the party showed up at 6:25 for a 6:45 reservation. The other half came in at 7:00, and they were seated at 7:12. We were very full and had to seat their planned table because they were not all here. We knew there would be another table getting up shortly if they did arrive as promised. Everything we reviewed supports this time line. In reviewing the experience it sounded like they wanted to be compensated for their wait. When ordering the prime rib, supply was near the end. The server told them she thought we were out and within a few minutes returned to the table saying we had their request available. Prime rib is always limited in supply. Good prime rib is not cooked to order. There are times when you have a lot of orders and you do not know how far it is going to go until you actually start cutting it. You have to look 20 minutes ahead. There are points in the evening where we can not be sure as to what is left. They also requested to be compensated for this "fiasco."

In further reviewing the table service, they ate in an hour and forty minutes, they had 6 separate checks, and the server was at the table 39 times. If there were any complaints about the food, we never heard them. As an owner, we cannot control an employee's demeanor. That is why tipping works so well in our industry. But I will say the employee has been with me almost 20 years, and I trust and value her judgement and never get anything but compliments on her service. Unless I am missing something - which is possible - I thought, with my 40 years of experience, we did a pretty good job.

When perusing these sites, here is a tip to find an objective review. Look for the people with many reviews. Of which I can say ours are very positive. Someone with many reviews will usually be honest and fair in their judgment and not just write one good or bad for some ulterior motive.

As much as this affected me personally, I have too much respect for my staff to put them through this with supporting them when they are right. I can honestly say I have at least a couple of dozen people that work here that I trust deeply who are very familiar with the level of quality of food and service that we expect. I trust my business life to them.

Jim Sullivan is probably the most respected person in our industry when it comes to dealing with staff and customer service. One thing I heard him presenting in a seminar a few years ago was that the customer is not always right. He hates that phrase! His main contention is that if the customer is always right, that means the employee is always wrong. He went on to ask, "How long could you do a job where you were always wrong?"  Frankly I value my staff too much to say they are always wrong.

In the end, I do not think I can just take these reviews lying down. We are objective. We admit mistakes and we do everything we can to correct them at the point of sale and from a procedural stand point going forward. We know we are not perfect.

This is an honest response.

1 comment:

  1. I have never had anything but exceptional service and food from the Uptown. Love to come for the fish tacos. I don't usually read reviews just because it seems like to grumpy complainers waste their time and post and few satisfied customers do. The satisfied customers got what they expected. Keep up the good work.