How to Turn Complaint Handling Into Advocacy

How to Turn Complaint Handling Into Advocacy

James Sandrini 27th October 2017

Complaint handling is…hard. And even the very best receive complaints, but what differentiates them from the rest, is how they convert those concerns into a positive.

Very few industries receive the wealth of live feedback that hospitality does. Ok, so much it is unactionable, borderline overwhelming or plain crazy (spaghetti sandwiches…no) but still. The role of feedback isn’t just to help steer the ship; it’s a chance to relate to customers, create loyalists and generate some positive promotion.

Be Honest

Number one with a bullet. No, the kitchen didn’t drop their starters. Yes, you did forget to punch it in on the till. Be honest; they’ll appreciate it.

Get There Early

It’s generally pretty obvious when the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan. The drinks were late; the guest hasn’t touched their food; they were already annoyed at being asked to move table.

Heed the warning signs and make sure that the team is aware there could be an issue on the horizon, then take pre-emptive action. This should save you time and money, by avoiding any grievous scenes that affect other guests and ensuring the convo is rational.

Don’t worry about giving away *too* much. You won’t.

Welcome Feedback While Guests are Still on Site

Complaint handling isn’t easy for anyone. Train your team on the likely objections your guests may present (it’s usually the same few on repeat) so they feel confident when they do crop up.

Add a ‘complaints book’ to the waiter station / bar / reception so that guests can see their complaint is taken seriously and so that you can review any recurring problems. And make sure to ask for an email or phone number to follow up with them after they leave.

"It’s generally pretty obvious when the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan"

Successful Complaint Handling Starts with Empowering Your Team

“I need to grab my manager” is the death knell of many a drinking or dining experience. You just took away the person I’ve built a rapport with – the individual that took my drink order or brought me my food – and replaced them with someone that is:

– Less informed

– Will need the problem explaining to them from the start (which is crazy annoying)

– Has basically been introduced as the person I should be shouting at


So, train the team to handle these issues (as above) and give them a few tools to manage the situation to satisfaction: you could set a value that they can deduct from the bill or a button the till for free coffee or dessert in case of a complaint. If things really escalate then you might need to step in, sure, but do what you can to avoid this.

Follow Up

They were pissed off. They left. You probably won’t see them again anyway. You could be forgiven for turning your attention elsewhere. But you shouldn’t.

We’ve all seen the stats: an unhappy customer will tell 15 friends about their bad experience. 15!

So, you don’t want it to get that far. Follow up fast (24 hours is usually far too long), offer them something, be human and helpful and humble and, where possible, call or ask to meet them in person. And remember, it costs up to 7 times more to acquire a customer than to keep them – don’t forget your unit economics – so if you have to give away a free drink or even a free dinner to keep someone coming back, you probably did the right thing.

Get your complaint handling right, help your team and give your guests a reason to share a positive story.