The Complaint-O-Meter

T.J. Schier

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In a past life, a former colleague of mine taught our company the concept of the Complaint-O-Meter for handling guest complaints.

We’ve all been through various types of complaints as both a customer and an employee. You remember both ends of the extreme. On one hand, the Ritz Carlton hotel has empowered any employee to handle any complaint or issue up to $2,000. On the other hand are many of their competitors: Have a complaint? You’re told to call the office or fill out this comment card.

When handling complaints, here are a couple keys:

- Understand the lifetime value of a customer. Too often, managers and employees worry about the cost of the replacement item or refund (the pennies), but forget about how much that customer spends with them (the dollars). If a customer visits you twice a week and spends $6 per visit, they are worth about $600 per year to you. Now, if they have a complaint over a $5 value meal - even if they are wrong - is it worth losing $600 in annual sales over $5? Try attracting that much business with that small an investment.

- Educate the employees on what they can handle without the manager. For example, are a customer's fries cold? Replace them with hot ones. Wrong drink flavor? Replace it with a larger size of the right one. People just want their issue handled!

You likely have a few typical complaints. Rate them between 1 (minor) and 10 (major). Unfortunately, each typical complaint is different in the eye of the beholder. While I might believe a hair in the food is low on the scale, if I have that attitude with a customer who feels it is a 10, we lose.

Gauge where the customer is on the Complaint-O-Meter in their mind and handle their problem accordingly - they just want it fixed. It might entail a replacement item or apology on the low end, or a refund and lifetime comp card for the higher end. Ensure that you address the issue they have today - cold fries are not fixed with a comp card. Don’t trip over dollars to pick up pennies. Ensure the customer leaves happy so they return again!

T. J. Schier is service professional, consultant and speaker with over 20 years experience in operations and training. Founder and president of Incentivize Solutions and podTraining, T. J. has helped numerous clients enhance their service and training programs and spoken to tens of thousands of managers, franchisees and operators in various fields. Visit for more info motivating today's employees, training today's generation and delivering outstanding guest service; or , a unique new system and the foundation of ‘i-learning’ - using the device of today's generation, the iPod - to train your workforce.


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