The 9 Best Ways to Win Back an Upset Customer

Hotel restaurant

Steve DiGioia reveals his best strategies for winning back upset customers.

Many service providers have lost sight of what really matters. It’s not the ROI, the seamless journey between touchpoints, or even the capacity to personalize the product or service we offer.

It’s the ability to sustain relationships that will enable long-term viability and growth. Here is a case in point.

I was standing outside our hotel restaurant one evening and noticed a middle-aged couple walking out of the restaurant. I overheard their conversation about how disappointed they were with their meal and that their favorite dining spot had changed for the worse. They now considered finding a new location to celebrate their special occasions.

As an experienced hospitality professional, I just had to speak with this couple and find a way to turn their experience around and rekindle their loyalty to our company.

My mission was to win back an upset customer. Here’s what I did.

After introducing myself and asking about their meal, I apologized and let them know how sorry I was that we didn’t live up to their expectations. I asked them if they have ever dined with us during one of our big holiday buffets offered by our fine Banquet Department (which I just happened to manage). They’ve never attended one of these events because they thought the service and overall experience would be less than in our restaurant. But I knew better.

I invited them to be my guest at the next upcoming event and offered to personally arrange for their reservation, at whatever time they wanted and would ensure an excellent seating location. I let them know that we are very proud of our service and didn’t want their recent experience to be their final memory of our business. I asked them to allow me to rebuild their trust in our company and that I will not let them down.

They were very appreciative and thanked me for my concern and effort and said they will let me know if they will take me up on my offer. Frankly, I didn’t think that they would.

But, then it happened.

Three weeks later they called me to say they would accept my offer. This was fantastic. I knew I now had a chance to make things right for this special couple.

Needless to say, their next holiday meal was wonderful. I personally escorted them to their table, introduced them to their server and floor supervisor and presented them with a nice bottle of champagne. As they dined by the window, I happened to remember that they loved chocolate-covered strawberries. This topic came up during our initial conversation and I made sure to keep this in mind. Now, even though we didn’t offer this item at this event, the kitchen staff graciously prepared a selection of their finest berries for the couple to enjoy.

During their meal, I noticed they had engaging conversations with their server and the guests at the nearest table and it sure seemed like they were having a good time. Of course, I stopped by to check on them and were reassured that yes, they were, and their sincere smiles were my proof. I asked if I could take a photo of them so they’d have a memory of the event. They agreed but insisted that I join in the photo. All was well.

As they finished their meal and exited the ballroom I could easily see their previous disappointment turned to delight. I made sure to wish them well and let them know how happy I was to see they had a wonderful experience. But had we turned these customers around? Well, I thought so but it wouldn’t be proved unless they returned. And, return they did.

Over the next 3 years, my new favorite couple joined us at each of our three holiday buffets, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving, and almost always came with friends or other family members who in turn became our future customers. We again became the “go to” dining spot for their special occasions and were given additional opportunities to create cherished memories.

Most service can be mechanical when we focus mainly on the specific steps-of-service to be taken and forget what’s really important; how we make a customer feel special, feel appreciated and how disappointed we are when we fail them.

Sometimes all it takes is a little effort to find out what is most important to our customer. Does it cost us money to do this? Sure, sometimes. But…

To sum it up, here are my 9 best ways to win back an upset customer.

  1. Engage your customer and “read” the unspoken messages given from their facial expressions or body language. You can usually tell when someone is upset or disappointed. You just have to pay attention.
  2. Own the problem and take personal responsibility to fix it. No handoffs allowed.
  3. Thank your customer for giving you an opportunity to win back their trust.
  4. Pay attention to what they say and listen for the subtle hints of an item or service they desire. I’ll say it again, listen to what is said, really listen, and take notes.
  5. Make sure your resolution is easy and convenient for the customer. No jumping through hoops.
  6. Introduce your customer to the person(s) who will be servicing them and ensure your team knows how important this interaction is.
  7. Check back with your customer multiple times to confirm they are satisfied.
  8. Look for an opportunity to create a memory. Sometimes all it takes is a photograph, a small gift, or an unexpected and welcomed surprise.
  9. When your customers return, cherish them. They now may be your biggest fan and advocate because you proved how much you care.

It’s not that hard to do. All you have to do is, your best.

About the Author

Steve DiGioiaWith 20+ years in the hospitality industry and a lifetime of customer service experience, Steve DiGioia uses storytelling to share real-world tips and tactics to improve your customer service, increase employee morale and provide the experience your customers desire.

As a certified trainer, author & speaker, Steve has been recognized as a three-time “World’s Top 30 Customer Service Professional” by Global and a “Top 50 Customer Thought Leader” by ICMI. He is also a featured contributor to the leading hospitality and customer service websites. Steve continues his pursuit of excellence on his award-winning blog sharing his best tips on customer service, management, and leadership. Follow Steve on Twitter @Steve DiGioia.

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