Lend me your ears.

Three years ago, Donna Lee and I went to Conyers, GA for a meeting with our new accountant Jimmy Warren. Conyers is about 10 miles from our town of Loganville, GA. We asked Jimmy’s receptionist where we could get a good seafood lunch. She recommended O’Charley’s, a new restaurant to us. We loved O’Charley’s salmon on a cedar plank. We looked forward to future trips to our accountant and lunch at O’Charley’s.

A couple of months ago, our entree came out like shoe leather! That’s way too harsh, but it was overcooked.

When the manager stopped by to ask how everything was, I told her the fish was overcooked. She handled the complaint perfectly. She followed the outline I scripted in Repeat Business. She listened, thanked us for telling her, apologized, and told us she would speak to the cook right away. She insisted on replacing our meals. We declined. We just wanted her to know, not feel obligated to do something for us.

Last week, we were back again. This time the salmon came out perfect. When the manager happened by, we made a point of how perfectly prepared the salmon was. She graciously thanked us.

As we were preparing to pay the bill, she came back by to tell us all the servers had given the cook a standing ovation.

This story is about the power and importance of providing meaningful feedback. I wasn’t there when the feedback was given to the cook for over-cooking the meal. I’m guessing based on what I’ve learned about this manager, it was handled well. She told the cook privately there was a complaint about the salmon being overcooked, didn’t imply there was something wrong with him. When a customer praised the perfectly prepared dish, she made it a team celebration. The wait staff knows when things are perfectly prepared, life is easier, and they get bigger tips. Here was the manager’s opportunity to create an event for everyone to publicly praise an important behind the scenes team member.

The action I call you to take is to respond to complaints by thanking the complainer, then pass along your corrective feedback privately. Most important of all, look for every opportunity to publicly celebrate — “with a standing ovation” – all the positive feedback you receive from customers. Make sure the people behind the scenes feel valued and appreciated.

The benefit you will gain is high morale, improved performance, low turnover, and continuous improvement in all the important areas essential to remaining successful in these ever-increasing competitive times.

What do complainers want?

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