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Customers and complaints

It is important that staff have formal guidelines on how to deal with complaints about your wine, merchandise or service, and know how to handle situations with difficult and/or intoxicated visitors.

Staff guidelines

Set out a clear chain of responsibility for receiving and subsequently dealing with verbal complaints received in person or by telephone.

Develop a formal procedure for recording complaints, including details of what information must be recorded. This may involve creating a standard complaint form.

Develop, and ensure all staff are aware of, policies for:

  • Replacing faulty stock or providing refunds
  • Responding to complaints in regard to wine quality
  • Handling faulty stock physically presented

Complaint form template (Word)

Handling verbal complaints

The following six steps usually form a good approach for dealing with customers who are upset or proving difficult to deal with.

Stay quiet and listen

No matter how angry a person is, they normally won’t unload on you for more than 30 seconds if you give them time to have their say and get it out of their system without interrupting. If appropriate, relocate to a quieter and less public area.

Thank them

Thank them for bringing the problem to your attention. This is a simple way of acknowledging what they have said and indicating that you are taking them seriously and want to find a solution

Get all the facts

People in an emotional state tend to exaggerate and say such things as “never returns my calls”.  Don't argue with them; simply ask them to be more specific.

Make an empathy statement

Don’t say "I understand how you feel".  Make a statement that acknowledges the situation and suggests that you respect their rights and their views. You might say ''you're right, we do have a problem here”, or “I understand this is unacceptable to you”, before explaining what steps you can and will take. This may include inviting them to make a formal written complaint.

Do what you can to fix the problem

At this point it is important the customer believes their problem is a high priority for your business.   Advise them who the best person to attend to the problem is, without being seen to be passing the buck.   Arrange a time for them to speak with this person (if they are not immediately available), and reassure them the problem will be fixed quickly.

Follow up

Be sure to check that what was promised was carried out.  If a colleague was to speak to that person by the end of the day, ensure this has happened.  If a letter of apology was to be written, check it leaves the office that same day. Satisfy yourself that the problem is fixed, and ensure either you or your colleague has checked back with the customer, to ensure they are now satisfied their problem has been dealt with.

Dealing with aggressive and/or drunk customers

Develop clear work instructions for staff in dealing with aggressive and/or intoxicated customers, including a chain of responsibility and when to call police.

Work instructions may include the following directions:

  • Stay cool and calm
  • If possible, move to a less public area to negotiate
  • Have a witness in attendance, preferably another staff member
  • Remove alcohol/tasting bottles from sight
  • Explain the situation from the winery’s perspective, including legal requirements and licensing regulations
  • Request modification of behaviour twice
  • Calmly request person to leave
  • Call management for assistance
  • Call for police assistance


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