A colleague shared a story with me about a poor customer experience they had in a restaurant. A group of co-workers had arranged to get together for lunch to celebrate a colleague’s birthday. They chose a restaurant that they hadn’t been to before but wanted to try. My colleague called ahead to made a reservation for the group of 25 people.

The group arrived at the restaurant on time. However, despite having made the reservation, they had to wait quite a while before even being seated. Once seated and menus had been handed out, the group were ignored. Everyone was hungry and ready to order — plus they also had a limited amount of time before they needed to head back to work.

A waitress finally arrived to take everyone’s order.

After waiting for longer than seemed necessary, and observing other tables get their meals ahead of theirs, the group’s meals arrived EXCEPT for the meal ordered by the birthday guest. He didn’t receive his meal until most of the others were finished.

A complaint was lodged with the manager — but he didn’t seem to care. He offered no apology and, after being asked to comp that meal, refused to do so.

Because of this poor treatment, my colleague decided to write a letter to the head office of the restaurant chain. They detailed the experience and mentioned that in addition to the 25 customers they had lost directly — everyone would tell their friends they would not recommend visiting that restaurant as well. Ultimately, that meant that a much larger number of customers would be lost.

A few days later my colleague received a letter of apology in the mail and a $40 gift card.

However, they couldn’t find anyone willing to return to the restaurant to use it due to that bad experience.

My Perspective: Bad things happen in every business. However, the key to keeping customers happy is through honest communication and being accountable for the poor experience.

Your teams must be prepared and empowered to make things right — on the spot. Research tells us that when we fix a problem on the spot that loyalty actually increases more than if the customer is simply satisfied.

So rather than seeing a complaining customer as a problem — start seeing them as an opportunity to demonstrate your exceptional service recovery — and a way to build loyalty.

For example, if there was to be a delay in the preparation of meals, then the customer needs to be informed. Offering something to help address the situation also helps — in this case perhaps a basket of bread or something else could have been offered while they were kept waiting.

In this case, the effort was too little too late. They couldn’t regain the trust of the customers they lost through one bad experience.

The key is to take steps to rectify the problem quickly — instead of ignoring it. After all, we all know it’s easier to keep existing customers than to find new ones.