Unhappy customer resolution . . . how far would/do you go?

I have discussed in a previous thread an experience I had as a customer wherein I went to a newly opened restaurant and ordered a pizza off their menu. The sauce ended up having roasted red pepper pureed in it, which wife and I cannot abide in any form, and was utterly inedible (menu did not mention this ingredient). We ate all told about 1.5 aggregate slices (hoped the pepperoni half would be better than the cheese half) of the 8 slices of 14" pizza. When the waitress asked how things were, we responded that we found the pizza horrible tasting and were unable to eat it because of the red pepper in sauce (she found out for me when I asked on tasting the pizza). She left the ticket with an apology and brought a box for us (we asked for one “in case we could anyone else who would eat it”).
The cashier asked how things were, we re-stated that we could not eat the food because of taste. Waitress happened by and both said they we sorry (it felt sincere) and mentioned that they had other customers not like the sauce either. That was the sum total of the resolution. The cashier did then recommend we the next time we come in that we try one of their other sauces or menu items . . . to which I replied that I was never going to spend another dollar here if the only response I got to being completely dissatisfied was an apology and a suggestion we come spend more money, and explained we are repulsed by bell peppers, were surprised to find it in their sauce, and everyone seemed okay that we were this unhappy; further, we weren’t going to risk still more money when our only experience with their food was awful, and they were willing to take my money anyway. She then calmly asked for our ticket, took our money and gave us our change. We should have asked to see a manager, but chose not to at that point due to my inability to speak rationally and the full dining room.

My question is: What would you expect your service staff to do in that situation? Would you make any sort of offer to resolve the customer unhappiness? What sorts of things are in your general practices? Would you offer to replace food with something else or refund the meal? What would be too far?

 I was taught by a group of who I have come to regard as wise people that a customer in hand is worth their weight in gold in most situations.  They believed that keeping that customer happy or at least not unhappy was the number one priority because they pay the bills.  Of course, abuse of generosity will be dealt with.  The entirety of the marketing time, energy, planning, agonizing and expense is for ultimately [b][u]ONE GOAL[/u][/b]: get a customer to call or come into the store.  That's all it does, and all those resources spent are meaningless if the customer walks out miffed.  This is all paraphrasing, as many of them had cool catch phrases.  We all know what it takes to scare up a new customer . . . what's it worth to keep one you already have in the store?
 Direct mail has 1.5% to 2% success rate and we are excited.  They believed that a customer with real live experience in our stores is the most profoundly powerful marketing tool we can ever find.  Their success rate at impacting potential customers is probably more like 75% to 100%.  By that, I mean that when they share their first-hand experiences with their friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, PTA, hairdresser, etc. their opinion will carry more influence than all the full-color glossy flyers we mail in a year.  One customer experience has the potential to drive more customers TO the store, or AWAY.  Letting a customer known to be dissatisfied and unhappy with your business to walk out the door without doing whatever you reasonably can to recover, they claimed, is an unforgivable sin of business.  COGS for the food is like 30%, and that customer is worth a potential $800+ per year according to some research.  If $3 in food cost saves the $800 customer . . . seems like an easy investment.  Especially since that customer will now impact $800 in potential annual sales with every person they tell the story to.

WE GET TO CHOOSE THE STORY the dissatisfied customer tells:

  1. I went to this new place, didn’t like the pizza they brought me. Those people weren’t about to let me leave unhappy. As soon as I said something, the manager came over and said he wanted to make things right. He asked if it would be enough that he gave me my pizza free AND a coupon for a free pizza for my next order! I’m telling all my friends about that. Everyone there obviously cares that I’m satisfied and want me to come back. (impressively generous manager message)

  2. Those people didn’t give a rat’s arse about me. They took my money knew I hated the food and just told me to come back and try again later! I worked hard for that money, and they gave me crap. Do you think I’m ever going there again? Not with Dominoes delivering! I’m telling everyone I know “Don’t even try it . . . it’s soooo not worth the money” (and of course all the embellishments and exaggerations that come with retelling the story.) (dirtbag business message)

There is probably a lack of good communication and interpretation of events here. Right or wrongly interpreted, I was left with the impression the events went like this:

“This food is inetible, I want to save it for my dogs – where’s my refund?” I’m paraphrasing and shortening your story but that was what I was left with. Sounds very insulting. Your second post does soften it a bit and open me up as well.

When something does not agree with a customer we will do everything we can to make it right – different menu item, make again a different way, etc. If we just make a mistake we first offer to make it again, discount for next time, or full credit for next time. We would also refund right away if we made a mistake but it really never comes to that.

“This food is inetible, I want to save it for my dogs – where’s my refund?” does not come across to me as someone who wants to start or continue a relationship. Nothing wrong with appeasing even such a person as that as you can certainly build a case for it – as you already have.

I am currently reading Cashing in on Complaints by Bill Marvin (The Restaurant Doctor). In a nut shell he has figured the customer that is not satisfied when they have a complaint can cost an establishment up to $200,000 in lost revenue. I know I would rather have that jingle in my jeans than not.

My question is: What would you expect your service staff to do in that situation? Would you make any sort of offer to resolve the customer unhappiness? What sorts of things are in your general practices? Would you offer to replace food with something else or refund the meal? What would be too far?

Our WRITTEN policy (which all employees know) is: If a customer is unhappy with their pizza: If it is OUR fault, meaning burnt, too slow, made wrong, etc, the customer is allowed to keep the “old” pizza, and we give them a “rain check” for another pizza, which they can save or use at that moment. If the problem is NOT our fault, meaning the pizza given was the pizza ordered - the customer just forgot to order it correctly, then we take the old pizza and replace it with a correct one. If there is nothing “wrong” with the pizza, the customer just didn’t like it (this is Nickspizza’s situation), we would refund money and apologize. But we would also take the rejected pizza. If the customer expressed a desire to take the rejected pizza “home for the dog” we would explain that we could not refund his money if he kept the pizza. In all situations, any customer has the right to return the pizza and demand his money back, IF THEY DIDN’T EAT MORE THAN A THIRD OF THE PIZZA.

If we made the pizza exactly as you ordered, Large half cheese half pepperoni, and you told me you didnt like it but wanted a box to take the remaining pizza home… you would get just that a box and a have a nice night.

I really do not think there is an upside of refusing to refund money…Some clients will not like your food…Most will never bother you again (or complain to any of their friends and family) if they do not leave feeling they were ripped off…Now you may think they were not ripped off but it is only their feelings that matter…I am sure this kind of circumstance does not happen often to come down to hard on the customer.

Nick I understand the problem with the peppers and the fact that they really did not handle the situation all that well…but in your own words you were a little less offering of reason than you could have been. The long line that had formed…lack of manager to talk too…etc. Not trying too…but in their defense they are a new restaurant and you have new employees that are faced with a complaint and probably one of their first…as an employee… and even if told… they just do not understand what should have happened. Yes you should have been listened too a bit closer and not charged for the pizza…but also not given a box to take home for the dogs or someone else. All that being said… you cannot expect all ingredients to be listed all the time. That is part of the risk of eating anywhere other than your kitchen at home. Yes allergens are listed as required but other foods that some people dislike or react too are not. Not too mention a lot of restaurants keep these lists secret so they are not copied elsewhere. I think, and I know this is hard too eat, oh boy what a pun, but you need to accept a little responsibility on this one even though peppers in pizza sauce is a rare one, but if you have such an issue with them, you should inquire as a normal question when ordering anything that could possibly contain them. I would share your concerns with the owners / managers as more of a learning experience for them too help train their employees…and less of a demand that they list all ingredients on their menu. Remember… the town still knows who has the better pizza! :wink:


So I’ve avoided replying for a while, but I’ll take a shot at it now…

  1. Whether you like it or not, YOU ARE A COMPETITOR AND HOSTILE CUSTOMER.
  2. Follow the logical route and complain, chances are, you will drive more customers to HIM because you’ll come across as a disgruntled and envious competitor.

I’d just keep it to myself, knowing my product is (better?) If, after a good bit, he shows a lot of growth, then perhaps you could revisit your assumptions about what appeals to the general public.

As for myself, I’d simply not go back. Actually, I’d have never went there in the first place (the whole competitor thing).

I think Nick is trying to sift through this as a learning experience rather than rehashing the other thread. With this in mind think of the promises and guarantees that we have seen discussed on this board in the past.

There is the marketing angle that has been discussed here more than a couple times where an operator will not only guarantee their product but everyone’s product. If you are not satisfied with ABC’s product call us and we will replace it for free. If you are going to be that bold you need to make sure you are up to the highest standards with produce and service.

Then there is If you like our product/service tell a friend. If there is a problem tell us.This one is not as easy because the tendency is to quietly walk away and not mention there was a issue.

Here is a little something to think about:

[list]Take care of an inconvenience before it is an irritation
Take care of an irritation before it becomes a complaint
Take care of a complaint before it becomes a problem
Take care of a problem before it becomes a crisis [/list]

The question is where is the line drawn? In my mind it is important to deal with in a manner much like smeagol8. I have to admit there are times when I have not handled complaints quite right but hopefully learned from the experience.

Now if the customer is a chronic complainer you have to know when to cut your losses. I have seen it done but have not done it, where a restaurant will give a habitual complainer a gift certificate to another place. The customer is told that they may be better served to try another eating establishment and the first time is on us.

My Policy is : We will replace or refund any pizza no questions asked. Minimum 3/4 of the pizza.

It might be possible that they didn’t know how to handle the situation.

My rule of thumb…Nobody is leaving with or keeping whatever they are complaining about. Thats fine you don’t like something. But you are not gonna take it home with your money. If some one calls me and says their pizza was too cooked… My first reponse is " Im very sorry. We will get one sent down to your house right away. But also would you mind sending the pizza back so we could see it and have a chance to teach our employees what is acceptable and what isnt?"

I had someone call me and tell me they found a hair in their pizza. They came back with a box with 2/8ths of the pizza left. Of course I gave them their money back…even you can clearly tell the hair was on TOP of the pizza…Simple science says- if the hair is on top and not baked in…it prob came from your head. Especially when it is long and black and we have a bunch of short haired dudes working here.

I wouldn’t lose a customer over this even knowing we werent wrong. but honestly Nick…why are you worried. Being that you serve the same product…couldnt hurt to be competing against them.

I intended this thread NOT to be about me specifically, but about the question of customer retention, dissatisfaction and commitment to recovering customers when we misfire our product and/or service. I have moved past the whole incident of my own unhappiness, and should have posted it as a generic “Any Customer” story.

It became a source, like Daddio hit on, of curiosity as more people kept telling em they would never offer to refund a customer $$$ just because they didn’t like the taste of something they ordered. The original story went an entire other step into a cashier suggesting an angry and unsatisfied customer come again. To address someone else’s suggestion . . . the original story included the two employees BOTH relaying that they had gotten more than one customer complaint about taste previously. Which is interesting to the question, but not crucial.

For me, it would make me all the more committed to training and empowering my staff to step in immediately for some solutions and asking for a manager in the others . . . . without the customer needing to ask. I think of it as proactive customer service, which is light years ahead of reactive management and service in terms of effectiveness and reception. I have found it takes far less action and effort to do it the way Daddio shared in his bolded truism. I can get off with a free dessert without having to comp the whole ticket . . . and the customer feels even more cared about and respected than waiting for it to build to problem or crisis. My/our fault, their fault, nobody’s fault.

Ok I would like to hit on what Nick is asking here. My personal opinion is that if the customer does not like their meal for whatever reason, you should replace or refund it without making a big deal about it. Yes it might not be the fault of the establishment and as in this case just a dislike of the sauce…but either way… you want the customer to leave happy and satisfied. Be that with a totally different offering or a refund. The original meal might have been an issue but showing a high level of customer service and the accommodating of the customer’s needs will only help make you look better and drive more business to you. Having someone say “we tried this new place out and the food was horrible and after complaining they handed us our bill” or “tried the new place, food was not good, but they apoligized and made us a great ____ or said sorry and removed the item from our bill and gave us a wonderful dessert” ??? Every business will have customer complaints every so often…but not handling them well will only get passed along word of mouth a whole lot faster then you want. Also, how often does this happen? If this is a regular thing…you have bigger issues than just how too handle the complaints…you have problems with your food! You also have to watch out for the ones that use this as a regular way to get free meals. Those need to be stopped and asked not too return. It is always hard to remember who complained about what…but keep a log. Tell the customer you are sorry for the problem and would they fill out a survey card with their contact info and it helps “correct” the problems in the kitchen and also puts their name in the system for future promotions and whatevers! Gives you a polite way of saying…we are going to keep track of you so the next time you wander in for that free meal after eating 90% of my mistake!!! :shock:

Maybe I am weird, but I after being in this business for a while I never complain about food or service. I enjoy trying new things and new places and as a result get an ocasional unpleasant suprise but that comes with trying the unknown. I ordered a Blue Cheese Sirloin at a local place here and found it horrid, but i scraped everything off the meat and struggled through it because that is what I ordered. My son ordered the same thing and had the same response. Our waitress noticed and asked if everything was OK and I told it it was fine just a little more flavor than I expected. She said people either love it or hate it and would I prefer something else. It was understood that I did not like it and she was willing to do something about it but I felt it was my responsibility since I ordered it.

Most complaints we offer to replace the food or give a credit’ if the customer is still unhappy with that proposition we offer to refund their money. If we are sure, or reasonable suspect the fault was ours we ussually sweeten the pot a little with gift of cinnamon stix or something. If we really screwed up the order we have been known to both replace and refund. If we are sure the customer is BSing us then we offer to replace and want the old stuff back “so we can show the kitchen staff what they screwed up since they are insisting it is right” otherwise we don’t ask for food back because we are just gonna toss it anyway. How far we are willing to go depends on the customer. If the customer is rude insulting offensive and MFing us as we are apologizing we tend to be less cooperative than dealing with someone who is upset but polite or better yet,just plain polite. :smiley:

Mike pretty much covered what I was going to chip in, but…I’ve got nothing to do so…

EVERYone of our employees is empowered to make it right. period. I’m hoping the fact that this particular establishment is still very new is the only reason the two personal contacts you had were both unresolving of your complaints.

We’re becoming very well known for our Italian Beef sandwiches. Just last week we had a table come in, all three ordered one, one young lady commented to the server that she’d never had one before and was anxious to try it. She took one bite, and a different server noticed her reaction…asked if everything was “ok”, and when the customer replied “it’s just not what I thought it’d taste like”. She was immediately offered a replacement sandwich, which she took us up on with a plain ol’ grilled chicken Brea$t with plain ol’ mayo. This gal wasn’t ready for spicy it seems.

The thing is, EVERYone in our place is trained to notice, react, rectify. We even do the same with our beers. Since we feature over 30 craft brews in bottles along with our 8 or 9 on tap, we have a standing offer that if you order a bottle on our recommendation after we discuss craft beers with you, and you end up less than satisfied…it’s on the house, and of course we take it back.

We put this open of a satisfaction policy in play in part b/c I’ve got a gastric Lap-Band, as such when we do have the chance to dine out, most of the time I can simply not eat much of what I ordered. There’s nothing wrong with the food…I’m just filled up even on small portions. It was remarkable to me, even well before we got into this business, the number of times where I had only consumed a few bites of my dinner, and NO one said anything, NO one questioned what was wrong. The servers who did I remember and I tipped them very nicely simply b/c I knew they were doing a great job.

In your stated case, I don’t know that I’d have let you leave with your inedible pizza after I’d removed it from your tab, I think that may be asking too much from anyone. Bottom line, I’m in a small town like Nick. Every customer is precious and we’ll go out of our way to let them feel that way.