Nobody’s perfect, but try as I might I can’t seem to convince the people in my life that I am the exception to this rule. (Probably, I’m not . . . but maybe it’s them?) Seriously, I try hard to be a good person, and sometimes I fall short. In these cases, I do my best to fix my mistake.
A zero-defect goal in a food and beverage operation is an admirable and probably necessary method to deliver the level of service excellence expected by patrons and required to assure the long-term success of any establishment. Even infrequent failures can lead to the erosion of a customer base and have a profound effect on a restaurant’s ultimate survival. And yet, try as they might, sometimes they fail to deliver. Prepared professionals should have a plan in place to recover service in those cases where they fall short.
A Case for Service Recovery
The Nature of the Business: Mistakes are inevitable. The nature of the restaurant business makes them more likely and more frequent than in most other industries. Patrons are in closer proximity and can almost infinitely customize their orders. Production takes place in front of the customer, and is virtually instantaneous. Demand is difficult to predict and therefore manage. To top it off, the success of any service-related encounter is determined by the guest, sometimes making even the best efforts ineffectual. Mistakes are inevitable.
The Cost of Failure: Mistakes are expensive. Refunds and comps are just the beginning. Lost customers and the erosion of a reputation are much worse. Research indicates that it costs five times more to attract a new customer than to keep an existing one. Conventional wisdom indicates that dissatisfied customers relate their negative service experiences with twice as many people as those who have had a positive experience. Arguably, their current customer base and reputation are a restaurateur’s most valuable assets. Mistakes are expensive.
The Benefits of Recovering: Recovering is profitable. Turning a service failure into a success is always worth the effort. Customers who have experienced one of these service “flips” become more loyal as the result of the experience. They also become enthusiastic advocates for a brand, likely to be even more satisfied than they were before the failure and more likely to spread positive word of mouth. The result is an even more loyal customer base and enhanced reputation. Recovering is profitable.
A Plan for Service Recovery
Empowerment is the Key: Empowering managers and front-line service providers is the key to an effective service recovery plan. Research indicates that the most effective service-recovery efforts are immediate and appropriate. Waiting for a manager or having to contact a supervisor not on duty or not on property will, by their very nature, scuttle any service-recovery efforts. If managers are readily available, they can handle problems. If they are not, it is imperative that direct service providers be given the ability to fix problems when they occur. They are capable of the ”immediate” part of effective service recovery by the nature of their positions. They may not be prepared to handle the “appropriate” part of effective service recovery and will need your support and some training.
The Disney Model: Many years ago, I had the good fortune to attend “Service Disney Style” at the Disney Institute. I like Disney World and have been many times. Getting a behind-the-scenes “tour” of their facilities and philosophies gave me a real appreciation for the science of providing their exceptional level of customer service. I was particularly struck by how much emphasis they place on recovering service failures, especially considering their iconic status for service. I employed a version of their strategy at every operation I ever managed and continue to advocate for it as a simple, straightforward and effective plan for turning service failures into successes.
Disney has trained its employees to evaluate service failures based on two factors: the severity of the failure, and the organization’s responsibility for that failure. You can do the same. Here are those factors and the corrective action they suggest their employees take in each.
Factor: The problem is not that severe, and you are not responsible.
Corrective Action: Empathize.
- Real-life example: One of the customers at your bar is complaining that bad weather has forced him to cancel his plans. Show genuine concern, and suggest an indoor activity.
Factor: The problem is not that severe, but you are responsible.
Corrective Action: Fix it.
- Real-life example: One of the customers at your bar asks for a cocktail and then doesn’t like the way you made it. Apologize and happily make another one.
Factor: The problem is severe, and you are responsible.
Corrective Action: Roll out the red carpet.
- Real-life example: You have a small function room in the back, and you have double booked it. Apologize and reschedule. Comp all or part of the bill. If the date can’t be rescheduled, find another venue and pay all or some of that bill. Handling these situations badly will lose you customers and have a negative impact on your reputation.
Factor: The problem is severe, and you are not responsible.
Corrective Action: Be a hero.
- Real-life example: A customer has booked that same small function room for a birthday party and forgot to get a cake. Send someone out for one. These situations will have the greatest impact on loyalty and positive word of mouth.
Professor Warrener will be presenting on this topic at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show being held in Las Vegas March 7 through 10. If you are interested in attending, you can use this $50 discount code for online registration: ADBOARDNCB27.
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