handling difficult customers

In this business handling difficult customers is an everyday occurrence.  As a server and a manager I dealt with difficult customers every shift of every day.  The challenge was, you knew it was part of the job, you knew at least one person was going to be difficult maybe more than difficult (and usually more than one), but over time it became harder to handle the situations when it should have been easier.

We hire servers with the expectation that they are able to handle difficult customers.  But it seems like the expectation is also that they learn to do this on their own.  I think it is the manager’s job to prepare them.  The question is how?  How do we help our servers keep perspective and focus on turning a bad situation in to a good one? How do we help keep them from getting jaded after having to handle their millionth difficult situation?

One solution might be discussing different situations before they happen, and how to handle them.  In the restaurant we have our staff try the special and talk about how to best sell it to their customers.  Why not talk about how to recognize a difficult customer and how to best turn it around before it becomes a problem? Not only does this help your serving staff continue to discuss how to give better service, but it can also give them the right mind set before their shift starts.  A lot of times bad situations are made worse by a server that doesn’t know how to respond or responds poorly to one of their customers.  Strategizing early can make the difference.  Also, give your servers a chance to share some of their own experiences and how they handle them.  It can be cathartic especially if you allow a certain sense of humor.  To quote comedian Daniel Tosh, “Your ranch is not that important sir”.

Also, when a server makes a mistake see that it as an opportunity to teach not just discipline.  Working with people is what makes this business great, but sometimes it’s also the most challenging.  Understanding this and helping your staff manage their customers better will help them enjoy their work more. Tough customers are a part of the business…the funny thing is if you eliminated all the tough customers, you’d be out of business.  It’s better to learn how to serve them.

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