Top 10 Customer Complaints of 2012: #2 – Service Is Bad

We are nearing the end of our countdown of the Top 10 Customer Complaints of 2012! So which complaint is runner-up on our list?

#2 – Service Is Bad

It may come as no surprise that this complaint secured one of the top two spots in our countdown. Most of us have experienced bad service a number of times from the customer’s perspective and here at OwnerListens, we have yet to meet an owner who hasn’t received a service complaint at one point or another. Like it or not, it appears this is a complaint that your business will inevitably face. The fact that this complaint is so high on our countdown also signifies that your customers care about service so much that they take the time to lodge a complaint.

There are over 500 million search results of on Google for “bad service complaints”. They include detailed explanations on how to draft a detailed complaint letter, what to do when you a have a bad service experience, and so on. What’s clear is that most people shun from expressing their complaint in person, and would rather avoid returning to the same place. Worse yet, some not only never return, they also bash the business on sites such as Yelp, TripAdvisor or Facebook.

Unlike some businesses where there is no alternative for the service (for example, dentists), diners have the alternative to buy prepared food or make their own meals. Instead, they go out to eat because they are seeking entertainment and convenience. Even if your restaurant excels in food, the negative experience of bad service lingers on and could cost you customers. Just read the horror stories at: or and you’ll get the picture.

We took a look into the 2012 feedback in more detail to shed more light on to why this type of complaint is bound to happen at every business and provide helpful tips for what you can do to minimize the resulting negative effects on your business. Let’s consider some of the primary reasons these complaints may occur at your business and what you can do to address each:

Experience. When looking into the 2012 feedback, we see a lot of bad service issues that result from mistakes and oversights from less experienced staff members. When hiring new staff members, make sure to ask thoughtful questions to ensure they have experience providing quality service. A few simple questions can easily reveal attitude problems, communication issues, and experience deficiencies that may ultimately result in customer service complaints.

We spoke with one restaurant who had a great idea for how to source great staff talent. Their recommendation was to assess candidates by observing how they greet you when they come in, how friendly their manner is and how relaxed they seem in your company. After you decide a candidate is promising, offer him/her a one shift trial – make it clear that this will be paid, and pay them in cash at the end of the evening. Throughout the trial shift, see how they get on, taking into consideration new job nerves and being careful not to suffocate them. If they perform well, offer them the position and clarify the requirements and conditions of the job.

Whether you add a hire to your staff or not, it’s essential to identify any red flags so you can properly onboard the team member and compensate with training and education before bad service complaints occur. Your goal is to create a service team that understands the meaning of service. It will require work and time on your part but it’s worth it.

Training. Regardless of experience level, a certain amount of training will be required to onboard staff members at your restaurant. It’s important that this training covers general principles and guidelines for providing good customer service at your location. Think about how your restaurant wants to handle service complaints: are there particular appetizers servers can offer on the house, do you have a protocol for when to send a manager by a table?

Document your policies and key training points and post them in a visible place for your staff to reference. Also, make sure to repeat this training overtime and modify it on an ongoing basis to reinforce service values at your location. Point out a service incident to your staff at a monthly service meeting and ask how it should have been handled. By your staff’s answers you will know whether your training is working.

The Customer. This is where it gets tricky – sometimes the root reason for why a service complaint occurs lies with the customer. Perhaps s/he is having a bad day, has unreasonable expectations, or is simply giving your staff a hard time. Whatever the core reason is, it’s essential that your staff handles these situations with care. Whether you or your staff is dealing with this situation, we recommend doing what you can to put the customer at ease and prevent the situation from escalating. Granted, if you own a bar and customer is simply being unruly, that’s one thing. But if a customer is just acting testy or is clearly exhibiting signs that s/he is not enjoying the experience, it’s in your best interest to try and pacify the situation. You can never go wrong observing simple courtesies and checking in to see if everything is okay with the meal, ask if there is anything else to bring, or even go the extra mile and offer a drink on the house in attempt to win him/her over. Experience as well as skills and protocols learned in training will be of great use in these situations as well.

Preventing service complaints is only one aspect of improving your business. The key to ongoing success is catching these complaints when they occur to help identify the cause and prevent future service problems. As we said earlier, most customers would rather walk out and never return rather than speak up about a complaint in person; or worse, write a scathing review online. Make sure your OwnerListens signs and stickers are easily viewable by your customers so they know they can send you feedback directly, privately and anonymously through the OwnerListens app. If you continuously address complaints not only at the individual level but also at the organization level, you will find that fewer and fewer complaints are brought up while your business’ online review scores have actually gone up. Moreover, you will actually start to get compliments through the app. This is what happened to our restaurant when we implemented OwnerListens. It can happen to yours too. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for OwnerListens now.

Owners – have tips for how to improve service at your business? Let us know here in the comments.

Consumers – have a service complaint for a restaurant you recently visited, use the OwnerListens app to conveniently send it to the owner directly, privately, and anonymously.

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