What Customer Complaints May Really Mean

Customers complain. It’s a fact of business life. Sometimes they have a valid complaint, but often they’re just cranky, having a bad day, or upset because they can’t find what they’re looking for. Whatever has set them off, they are likely to take it out on an employee. But if you are hearing a lot of complaints, especially if they are not targeting a single employee, they’re telling you something about your leadership.

Recently a potential client who owned a restaurant told me one of his major concerns was what he considered a high number of customer complaints. The complaints were not aimed at a particular employee, but seemed to be more general. What could he do about it? Just before he mentioned this, he told me he had a problem with employees who didn’t show up on time, or sometimes at all. That was a big clue

As is common in the restaurant business, many of his workers were young and just starting out. It was obvious he was treating them that way, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. That’s not unique to the restaurant business, and it seems more common today than ever before.

And it’s fixable.

  1. Make sure everyone knows what’s important about the business; its mission, and how they are important to achieving that mission. This doesn’t have to be a great, society changing mission. Perhaps the restaurant has a large lunch crowd because it’s located near several other businesses. A quick and attentive staff provides an important service to the local business community.
  2. Share success with the team. You’ve ensured everyone knows how they contribute to mission success. Now show them you appreciate their contribution. That doesn’t have to involve money, but if you’ve had a really good year, remember who has made that possible.
  3. I’m all for flexibility in worker’s shift schedules, but you’re running a business and it’s not unreasonable to expect people to show up on time. Make the rules clear and enforce them fairly and evenly.
  4. Don’t label your staff with a generational category and then assume they will act a certain way because of the category you put them in. People are a product of many influences. You are one of those influences and people tend to rise to the level the boss expects. If you expect great things, you’re more likely to get great things. If you expect problems, that’s likely what you’ll get.

Taking these steps will produce good results, but it isn’t a quick solution. Stick with it. You may have to take stern action at first, but over time the problems will diminish as will the customer complaints. In fact, you will probably start hearing customer compliments.

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