Reputation Management: The 3-A's

I woke up this morning and came into work with a smile on my face and the usual chip on my shoulder ready to take on the world when a fellow employee came up to me and said, “Hey, did you hear about how this restaurant is responding to a customer’s complaint?” I replied, “No, please elaborate.”  Come to find out a customer had gone to a local French Restaurant on Thanksgiving and did not have the most pleasant experience.   She then decided to share her thoughts on Facebook, which she is more than entitled to do.
Evidently the restaurant Owner, Chef or General Manager didn’t appreciate her comments and decided to have a Social Media Meltdown!  Publicly engaging in an all-out harassment food fight at the customer.   See below, (I have blacked out the names of both parties involved in this incident because I don’t want to give the restaurant any exposure).
Reputation Management
Wow! When I read this I was in complete shock.  Having worked every position in a restaurant from dishwasher to Owner/Operator, I could not believe how this was handled.  Look, let’s face it, every restaurant is going to get some negative feedback from time to time; it’s part of being in the restaurant business, but you need to know how to handle these comments.  Customers are the best form of marketing for your restaurant.  Take care of them and they will take care of you.
If this person actually took the time to think about what the customer was trying to tell them, the restaurant might actually be able to learn something from this situation.  I know what you are thinking, “Well Mr. KnowItAll how do you handle these types of situations?”  Well, I’ll tell you…
It all starts with the 3-A’s: Act-Acknowledge-Apologize.
ACT: This is the first step when handling customer complaints.  When someone is complaining or trying to tell you that they did not have a good time at your restaurant, you need to quickly ‘Act’ upon this. Let the customer know that you are well aware of the situation and you have ‘Acknowledged’ the problem.  This takes us to our second step.
ACKNOWLEDGE: Customers want to know that they have been heard or recognized.  Acknowledging the customer and their request, complaint or comments lets the customer feel like you are on top of the situation and you are going to do your best to resolve the issue and that you care about what the customer is saying to you.  If the customer is having a bad experience this time, maybe they will give you another chance because you did not blow the customer’s thoughts off.
APOLOGIZE: Always apologize to the customer.  Be considerate of their feelings and opinions. Try to understand why they are feeling the way they are.  Maybe it’s a simple misunderstanding that can be easily fixed.  Now in this particular case, the customer commented/complained after they had left the restaurant, which isn’t always the best thing to do if you are a customer.  If you are not happy about something, ask for help while you are there.  You might get what you are looking for or maybe something even better.  In this case, the restaurant should have apologized in at least a private forum and tried to start a dialogue with the customer, letting them know that they are truly sorry that they did not enjoy their experience, especially on a holiday.  They should have offered the customer some type of Gift Card to potentially get that customer back into the restaurant so the restaurant would have as a chance to redeem themselves and turn the unhappy customer into a happy customer.  If the restaurant was afraid of how the customer’s response made them look to their Facebook community, they could have taken a very high road and apologized to them publicly, going through the 3-A’s and showing all their social media community that they are/were truly sorry for the experience that the customer had and they are doing everything that they can to resolve the situation.
Having spent a lot of time working in and with restaurants over the years, I have heard many restaurant owners and managers complain to me about these complaints on the web and how to handle them.  I tell them all the same thing.  Follow the 3-A’s and more importantly respond to EVERY comment or review written about you or your restaurant, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Reviews.  If someone took the time to write something about your business you should take the time to let them know that you heard what they had to say.  By doing this, you will insure that you are following the 3-A’s and you may also find a trend of items that need to be fixed.  For example, if you have 10 reviews telling you that your chicken parmesan is not good, well, it might not be that good and you may need to either work on that item or remove it from your menu.
Online reputation management may seem like a daunting task, but with daily monitoring and a structured system in place to handle each type of response, you and your management team can tackle any type of situation and serve up the best possible experience for your current and future customers.