How To Empower Employees To Help Customers With Uncommon Issues

As a restaurant manager, part of your job is to help navigate tricky situations with customers. They happen all the time. In the heat of the moment, when tensions are running high and you’re put on the spot, it can be hard for you or your staff to know the best path forward. But when you and your staff are prepared, you can sail through the issues without a problem. Here are a few ways you can empower employees to help customers with uncommon issues.

Be a service-focused organization

Remember the old saying: the customer is always right? It’s not used as much these days, but the truth is that companies still live and die by their ability to create a great experience. Your restaurant wouldn’t exist without your customers. Keep that in mind in every situation, and communicate it to your staff often. Doing so will help pave a path of service, and your employees will know - no matter what the issue - to consider the customer’s needs above all else.

Educate when you can 

In dealing with customer issues, many times the problem is actually that a staff member doesn’t fully understand the situation. Like anything, it’s easier to know what steps to take to solve a problem when you have all of the information. Take some time to think about the less common issues, like credit cards being declined or food allergy confusion, and give your staff information that will help them better handle these issues when they arrive. After all, many times your customers just want to be sure they’re heard - and speaking to someone who is knowledgable about the situation will help bring some calm.

Be clear about your limits

Most managers have a default offer they fall back on when there’s been a situation with a customer. While it might be ok to offer a discounted or even free meal, it can also be a slippery slope that can get you into trouble. Whatever your offer, make sure your staff understands the limit, and remind them of it before their shift or at staff meetings. You can set a monetary limit ($10 credit applied toward a bill) or an item credit (free entree). One thing to be cautious of is offering discounts for future visits. To avoid confusion from your staff, make sure future discounts involve a coupon or gift card, and are clearly recorded.

Be consistent

One of the trickiest things you’ll need to balance is serving the customer’s wishes while still trying to have a consistent policy in every situation. Each customer will want something different in return for their trouble. The only way to navigate this is to be as consistent as possible and to provide a sound rationale to your customer and the staff member handling the issue. Bring your employees through this process early and often so they understand what’s similar about each situation, and how you’ve been able to be consistent even with different circumstances. Understanding your rationale will help your employees feel empowered to take on the next challenge.

Don’t be overbearing

If you overhear an employee speaking to a customer about an issue, resist the urge to run over and step in yourself. The fastest way to shatter an employee’s confidence is for your actions to show you don’t trust or believe in their ability to handle every issue - even the uncommon ones. Instead of trying to help right away, listen in and look for what your employee is doing right. If you sense that they need support, or if the customer is asking for a manager, then you can approach to see how you can help. And when you do so, remember that you’re a team: don’t belittle or berate your employee in front of a table. Stay focused on serving your customers with your team, and the rest will fall into place.

Are your employees empowered to help your customers resolve issues? How did you help them get there? Tell us in the comments!