To avoid bad reviews, treat employees with compassion
To avoid bad reviews, treat employees with compassion
20 MAY 2016 7:28 AM

Your guests expect good service, and anything veering from that could translate to bad online reviews. But it starts with you: Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your guests.

A funny thing happened when I was out to lunch with my husband this past weekend. We went to grab a quick bite at a fast-casual place we go to at least once a week. I won’t name the restaurant, but let’s just say we millennials love it, and no matter how much they charge for guacamole, I’ll pay it.

We’ve been to this same location more times than I care to count. We’ve had great experiences. We’ve had neutral experiences. But this time, we had a bad experience.

As we moved through the line, we had to repeat our orders several times because the workers kept interrupting us as we spoke. There was a new trainee on the line that day. Every single one of the other employees took turns yelling at her for something—she wasn’t scooping the rice correctly, she wasn’t smiling wide enough, she wasn’t asking in the right succession about rice, beans and meat. Then, they would apologize to us as if this trainee had created some great crime on the line. In our eyes, it was the behavior of the trainee’s peers that was unacceptable, not someone trying to learn a job.

Then, as we ate lunch, I noticed my husband clicking around on his phone. I asked him what he was doing, and he started reading bad reviews of the restaurant from Google. This is something we do from time to time when we are out at a restaurant and we’re having a terrible experience. We look up reviews and only read the bad ones to each other so we can commiserate. There could be 10 great reviews and one bad. We’ll scroll past the good to get to the bad.

I realized as I sat there listening to my husband that we were choosing our perception of the restaurant. And we only do this when we have a bad experience, no matter how many good ones we’ve had previously. If we get good or neutral service, we go about our lunch and never read the reviews—or write one. But when we can commiserate on the bad, we get fired up to write a bad review.

OK, so we’re the type of guests you would hate. But there are many people like this. When it comes to the service industry, people tend to dwell on the bad, not the good. People expect good service. When you veer from the norm and provide less-than-ideal service, that’s when a lot of people will take action, usually in the form of bad online review or formal complaint.

You can’t always control the circumstances. After all, trainees are going to take more time to adjust. But you can control how you act.

In the above restaurant example, the manager apologized to us for his trainee’s mistakes. But what the manager failed to realize is that people, for the most part, are empathetic. Many of us have been that trainee, trying to take direction while a line of people stare us down. We scramble to remember how to use the point-of-sale system, how to measure out the rice, and smile. Don’t forget to smile! The last thing we need is an angry manager berating us in front of customers. Yelling at a trainee, “Smile bigger while you greet the customer” in front of said customer not only makes the trainee feel awkward, but guess what, your customer feels just as awkward.

I stayed at a hotel recently where the front-desk supervisor was a shining example of what to do in such a situation.

When I entered the hotel, there was no one at the front desk. I couldn’t find a bell to ring, so I stood there and figured someone would pop up eventually. I wasn’t in a huge hurry, though I was tired. A few minutes later, someone approached the desk from another area of the hotel and apologized to me. As we started the check-in process, it was clear that she was new on the job. She couldn’t quite figure out the computer system. I have to admit, at this point I was silently becoming irritated because the check-in process was turning into an ordeal.

Then, her supervisor appeared from the back room.

Her supervisor was patient with her and helped her work through the system. Although I could see the trainee becoming flustered, her supervisor stayed calm and talked to her quietly and with encouragement: “It’s OK. Remember, you type the last name here. Great. Now, you go to this screen …”

As the trainee had her eyes locked in and focused on the computer screen, her supervisor would glance up and give me a warm smile. A line began to form behind me. The supervisor acknowledged every single person and let them know she would be with them shortly. The guy behind me was clearly getting impatient. But I watched as the supervisor stepped aside to help him as soon as her trainee was situated in the computer system. She apologized for his wait: “I’m sorry about the wait, sir. Because of the wait, I’d like to offer you and your wife a voucher for a free meal in our restaurant.”

While I didn’t think he waited so long that he needed a free meal, it was nice to see the hotel employee handle a clearly agitated guest with grace while supporting and encouraging her trainee.

People don’t learn their jobs when orders are barked at them. They don’t learn their jobs through humiliation on the front line. What they do learn is how to hate their jobs. When people hate their jobs, they tend to hate everything in the environment of their jobs—including customers. And in this industry, you can’t hate your guests if you want to survive in business.

But when management is compassionate and empathetic, employees will be, too. Then, by extension, so will your guests.

And your online reviews will thank you.

Email Alicia Hoisington or find her on Twitter.

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