Handling Complaints Part 1

Handling Complaints Part 1: Is The Customer Always Right?

When handling complaints in Hospitality we are often told: “The customer is always right!”  In fact, many businesses still live by, and preach, this phrase.

John Savage Avatar; Pointing up


But is it true?




And everyone knows it!




What the phrase “the customer is always right” really means is that it is best to assume our customers are always right, and give them what they want, rather than lose good customers. But is this a good strategy to follow when handling complaints?

I don’t think so, and there are others who agree with me, according to some of the things I read. These writers point out that there is a minority of bad customers out there who will take advantage of businesses, cost them money and should be “fired.”

And I agree!

Not all customers are worth keeping!


It can be a difficult situation, can’t it?!  After all, some customers are good and some are bad. Some customers are good but have off-days when they are bad customers.   And it can be difficult to use your judgment.  But the answer becomes clearer if we ask ourselves the proper question.

And what is that question?  The question you should be asking instead is:


Does the customer honestly believe he/she is right?”


If you keep this phrase in mind and preach it to yourself and your co-workers and employees, you will find that the proper actions for handling complaints will become apparent.  So, let’s look at it:

Handling Complaints: The Honest Customer

A customer may make an honest mistake, or complain about something, due to a misunderstanding or confusion. If you immediately correct them and/or reject their request it will simply create hard feelings and you may lose them as a customer (and their friends, family and anyone they tell their story to).

When a customer honestly believes they are right, you should treat them as if they ARE right; by honoring their requests and handling their problems.  This might be offering them a discount on their bill, or a complimentary drink or dessert.

One of the first things we are taught in the Hospitality and Services industry is that ‘saving a few dollars’ is not worth the loss of a good customer, or that customer’s potential contribution to the bottom line of the business for years to come.

Where more than a few dollars are involved in meeting the customer’s request, a Manager can be called in to aid in the situation.

Handling Complaints: The Less-Than-Honest Customer

If you think the customer is not honest in his/her request or complaint you should, in my view, politely refuse with justification. You may make some customers upset and they may not come back, but would you want to keep them if they are trying to rip you off?

I believe that politely refusing these customers with an appropriate explanation, is called for in such situations.

“I’m sorry, but you have finished your meal. Why didn’t you let me know something was wrong with your food when I asked you? This would have given me the opportunity to do something about it.”

Think of it this way: If you lose these customers, they simply become a problem for your competition.

Handling Complaints: The Judgment Call

What should you do if you don’t know whether or not a customer is being honest in their complaints or demands?

In such cases you should treat them as if they are correct, handle the complaint or situation to their satisfaction, but get any necessary information.  That way you have a record of the complaint and how it was resolved.

But, more importantly, if the customer turns out to be a Less-Than-Honest Customer and returns in the future, only to make the same or similar complaint in order to get discounts or “freebies” you have a way of tracking them and can determine how to handle their complaint.

If problems continue, you may change your evaluation and actions toward particular customers.

So, Yes, you can and should “fire” some customers, but pick your battles carefully;  when customers honestly believe they are right, make them happy. You will hopefully turn them into devoted customers.

If they clearly are not being honest in their complaints, refuse them and let them go. They weren’t going to build your business anyway!


Did You Know?

Did you know that the term Sharon/Karen to describe a badly behaved customer who moans and complains, was first “coined” by people working in the Hospitality Industry?  The name is given to both male and female customers.

Feel free to let me know what you think, experiences you’ve had handling complaints or ask any questions. Just click on Comments

What do you think?

Written by John Savage

John H V Savage, is the Executive Director of International Hospitality & Tourism Educational Programs (IHTEP Asia) has spent over 55 years in the International Hospitality Industry and worked in over 45 different countries for Multi-National, National & private owners.

John is a highly entertaining motivational lecturer, as well as a TV star in China for his 5Star Butler Course. John is also the author of the What They Can Never Teach You At Hotel School eBook series

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