Any restaurant is bound to receive criticism about its food at some point, which makes it important for restaurant marketers to know how to handle food complaints in their online reviews.
According to a Corra survey – which uses a five-point scale to judge a consumer’s likeliness to complain – people complaining “when the food is bad at a restaurant” has an average score of 3.13 out of 5 points.
For context, that means that people are more likely to complain about bad food at a restaurant than issues in other industries such as bad service on an airline or if a company uses your contact information to “bombard you with advertisements.” To put it simply, the customers you work with love to air their grievances.
These complaints generally take the form of negative reviews, which can potentially scare away other customers. Research shows that 94 percent of consumers were convinced to stay away from a business because of its negative reviews. That makes it crucial for restaurant markets handle these complaints quickly and with grace.
These customer grievances fall under one of two categories, and each one has different approaches to resolving the situation.
- Handling Food Complaints About Taste or Presentation
- Handling Complaints on Food Poisoning
How to Handle Food Complaints about Taste or Presentation
Customers have expectations of the food even before they set foot inside the restaurant. Failing to meet or exceed those expectations might result in any number of complaints in their reviews ranging from “the steak was too well-done” to “the soup didn’t look appealing.”
The best option in this situation is to have a well-written and thought-out response . This involves apologizing and thanking the reviewer for spending their time and money at the restaurant, taking responsibility for poor experience, and finding a solution that will make them come back again.
Responding to reviews in this manner doesn’t just help you save face to the reviewer; it also helps attract new customers. Research shows that 44.6 percent of consumers are likely to visit a business if it responds to negative reviews.
Crafting a thoughtful and caring response to a customer’s complaints about the food shows that you care about each customer’s feedback and that you have a long-standing commitment to creating a better experience for every customer.
How to Handle Food Poisoning Complaints
Complaints about the taste or presentation is one thing, but customer complaints about food poisoning as a result of dining at the restaurant is a more serious matter. Even the simple accusation from a reviewer can severely damage any restaurant’s reputation.
To handle this delicate situation, you need to do three things:
Step 1: Address the Issue (but don’t Apologize)
It’s easy to take a page from the section above and immediately apologize to the reviewer, but that might actually put the guilt squarely on the restaurant before any evidence is presented. This is dangerous if the customer decides to pursue legal action.
To protect your business’s liability, refrain from apologizing. Instead, thank them for their feedback and assure them that you’re taking active steps to look into the problem
Step 2: Get Information from the Customer
When responding, you should also post an email address and ask the customer to contact you directly because the rest of this conversation should be offline or in private. This allows you to ask them information critical to finding the source of the illness. These questions include:
- When did they visit the restaurant?
- What did they eat?
- Did anyone else in their party eat the same thing?
- What are their current symptoms?
- Did they go to a doctor? If so, what was the diagnosis?
Step 3: Do Your Homework
While you wait for a response to those questions, you should also inspect the current state of the restaurant by checking the overall cleanliness of the kitchen. You can also contact suppliers to see if they had any food-related issues, check your stock to see if the food in question is still fresh or expired, and make sure the staff practice proper hygiene.
That last point about staff hygiene can be a major pain point for any restaurant. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Environmental Health Specialists Network revealed that 12 percent of food workers were still performing their duties even if they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea.
As a precaution you should also get legal counsel if the customer decides to take legal action against the restaurant. It’s also worth your time to familiarize yourself with the restaurant’s insurance policy, especially if it has a section on coverage for foodborne illnesses.
A Plan for Handling Food Complaints
It’s important to note that taking care of food complaints by being proactive, writing a response, or engaging with the reviewer isn’t something that isn’t done spontaneously.
These situations require you to have a plan in place for handling these situations. Every complaint might be a different type of scenario with its own set of challenges, but at least there’s a plan in place that provides some sort of foundation when interacting with customers about the complaint.
Once you have a plan formulated and implemented make sure that everyone on the restaurant staff, regardless of their position in the overall hierarchy, is familiar with it. This drives home the idea that everyone is involved and highly invested in the restaurant’s success.
An involved and engaged staff will not only reduce the risk of food complaints, but it can also improve the overall customer experience , which leads to better reviews and more exposure.
How to Handle a Customer Complaint of Hair in the Food. Few things ruin a meal like finding a hair in your food. This unsanitary accident can absolutely disgust patrons and cause them to question the overall quality of your restaurant. Knowing how to handle this situation is an important part of running a good establishment.
Listen to the customer’s complaint without saying a word. Every person will react to a situation like this differently. However, every customer wants to have his say in the situation. Listen without interrupting the story. This shows that you are concerned about this issue and value his comments.
Ask to see the food in a polite way. You will want to remove the food as soon as possible, but do not ask to see the plate in an accusatory way. The important thing to remember is that you wouldn’t like hair in your food either. Be sympathetic.
Remain on the customer’s side. Never argue with a customer, even if you are positive none of your cook staff would allow a meal to be prepared with a hair in it. Arguing with a customer makes it seem like there is something to hide or that you do not value the customer’s opinion.
Tell the customer that you will quickly get them a replacement dish and ask if there is anything else you can do. Different customers will need different things to feel satisfied. Some will be happy with an apology and replacement, while others will need to have the meal for free.
Do whatever the customer asks, as long as it is within reason. A free meal is an inexpensive way to save your restaurant’s reputation and will build goodwill between you and the customer.
As a fast food manager, one of your main responsibilities is to handle customer complaints. Most of these complaints can be quickly solved but there will always be a few customers who are difficult to please. Here is some advice on what you should do when handling customer complaints.
Here are ten things you should do when handling customer complaints;
10. Always be dressed professionally
1. Always apologise
Apologise from the start. The customer has complained because they are unhappy with the service. Just by providing a meaningful apology, you can calm the customer down and they will be more receptive to solutions.
2. Stay calm
Even if the customer loses their temper or starts swearing, it’s important you stay calm. By getting angry with the customer, you will quickly lose control of the situation and it will look bad for your restaurant. Bad and aggressive managers can deter customers from returning and these customers will likely spread negative reviews which will result in less profits in future.
3. Listen to the customer
Even though it is an obvious point, you’d be surprised how many managers don’t actually listen to their customers (or even their employees).
When dealing with a customer complaint, listen to them so you can identify why they’re unhappy and provide the best solution. Just by showing you’re actively listening, customers will appreciate that you’re listening to what they have to say and feel like you care about their issues.
4. Let the customer speak
While you may be eager to speak and give the customer a solution, you need to let them speak first. Don’t interrupt or speak over them. Interrupting an angry customer can worsen the situation and when handling a customer complaint, it’s your responsibility to ensure it doesn’t get out of control. Even if the customer is angry, let them speak and remain calm.
Important note: if the customer starts to threaten violence then politely ask them to leave and/or contact the police.
5. Ask questions
Once the customer has explained their unhappiness, ask them relevant questions about it so you can identify other issues and determine what is the best solution. For example, if they are complaining their food is cold, ask them what time they got it and what they ordered. With this information you can determine whether the kitchen is responsible for serving the food cold and you can get a replacement meal.
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6. Watch your tone!
When speaking to the customer, be careful with the tone you use. Speaking in a passive aggressive tone or coming across like you don’t care will really upset the customer. The best ending to any complaint is to make the the customer feel like you have solved the issue and that you genuinely cared about their situation.
7. Offer solutions (and freebies)
Always try and solve the issue for the customer. In some cases, the customer may just want to complain and leave, they’re not interested in getting a replacement meal. But in most cases, the customer will be expecting a solution to their complaint.
For example, if their meal was badly made, they may want a replacement or a refund.
As a manager, you will be able to offer freebies, discounts or provide a good will gesture to help the customer feel better.
8. Record all complaints
Every complaint should be recorded. That way they can be referred to again in future. In some cases, you may identify there is a recurring issue that is causing customers to complain. Is the same employee acting unprofessionally or is there an area of the restaurant that has been considered hazardous? On a negative note, customer complaints can be used as evidence when you’re terminating an employee’s contract.
It’s useful to record all complaints because if you have the same customer kicking off in your restaurant every month so they can get freebies, you need to have evidence you can use to show they’re being dishonest.
9. Learn from customer complaints
Customer complaints shouldn’t just be recorded and hidden away. They can be used to improve the overall productivity and profits of your restaurant. Complaints can help highlight weaknesses and problems you can fix to improve the overall happiness of your customers.
Good Tip: In team meetings share some of the customer complaints to your employees to help them avoid making the same complaints again in future.
10. Always be dressed professionally
To be a great fast food manager, you should always be dressed professionally. When handling customer complaints, customers will expect you to look smart and authoritative otherwise they will have no respect for you. By dressing smartly, making sure your clothes are clean and ironed, you will look more professional and customers will be more responsive to what you have to say.
Fast food managers are expected to dress professionally, follow the dress code and wear slip-resistant shoes. Restaurants have a higher risk of having slippery and wet floors but with slip-resistant manager shoes, you will greatly reduce the chance of suffering an accident at work.
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No one likes dealing with difficult customers. But what happens when your favorite customer or even simply someone who is being anything but rude has a complaint to get off their chest? Customers of all kinds are bound to share a complaint with your business one day, so why not be prepared for how to deal with it?
Below, gain ten tips to help you deal with customer complaints – as gracefully and successfully as possible.
#1: Put Your Emotions Aside
Whether it’s a friendly lady trying to simply tell you how to do your job better – with the best of intentions – or a disgruntled customer ready to erupt in rage, the best way you can handle any customer sharing a complaint is without your personal emotions getting in the way. Calmly listen to what they are saying, then just as calmly reply and react to them with the following tips in mind.
#2: Avoid Challenging Their Complaint
It’s easy and – quite frankly – natural to want to tell a customer they are wrong in what they are saying. However, this won’t help you in your efforts to diffuse a customer from getting more upset while sharing a complaint. Instead of challenging their complaint, listen to what they are saying. And – dare I say – even thank them. Here me out.
#3: Thank Your Customer
The old saying “kill them with kindness” could not be more true in a situation with a customer complaining. But rather than smile and pretend to care, genuinely let them know you are thankful they are sharing with you their complaint or concern. For example, you can tell them right off the bat that you appreciate them taking the time to talk to you about their concern and you want to make sure you understand exactly what they are saying. This opens up the opportunity for you to further listen to them, while hopefully giving them the understanding that you want to actually hear what they have to say.
#4: Acknowledge What They Say
Listening to your customer complain may not be your ideal scenario, but try your best to really hear what they are saying. Are they upset that something took too long? Or possibly a product they purchased isn’t what they had in mind? Maybe – but hopefully not – they are upset about a specific employee they encountered while working with your business. Whatever the “real reason” it is they are complaining, acknowledge it and ensure you heard what they said.
#5: Offer Support
Support comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s simply listening to them even more, other times it means exchanging a defective item for a new one. Support should not be black and white, though. If you really listened to what they had to say, you should be able to suggest a handful of ways to support them – or even better, one firm and perfectly ideal way to support them. You have to be the judge here on what works best here – but keep in mind that support means giving the customer something in response to their complaint. One thing to note? If what you offer isn’t satisfying their expectations, don’t give up. which leads me to tip number six.
Have a customer complaint? Consider these 10 tips on how to deal with it.
#6: Be Flexible
If no resolution is available to make your customer happy or at the very least, content, then consider how else you can help them. Possibly you make it a company policy to have $10 gift cards to a local coffee shop on hand to give to upset customers (or even customers who you may see are having a bad day, did something nice for another customer, etc.). Bonus tip? Ask your local coffee shop to give these to you for free or at a reduced price as a gesture to get more people in their door. B2B marketing in local economies is always a great way to help each other out. And in a case like this, getting creative and being flexible is key.
#7: Make Sure Your Customers Hear What You Are Saying
After offering a resolution or identifying what you can – or cannot do – to accommodate any requests they may have or simply to respond to the complaint they stated, ask the customer if they have understood what you said. Make sure you do this in a non-demeaning way, but rather state your intent. Very simply, after all has been discussed, ask your customer if they have understood how you can help them or for that matter, how you are unable to do anything else to accommodate them.
#8: Offer an Apology – With Gratitude Attached
The thing about saying “I’m sorry” is that a lot of people won’t believe you – and even more importantly, you may not even mean it. Your goal is to genuinely want to end your conversation with a sincere apology and yet appreciation for your customer. Let them know you’re sorry they were inconvenienced or disappointed or upset, then also thank them for giving you the chance to work it out with them. For many customers, this sincere effort goes a long way. And for the customers who are still not satisfied, it still leaves an impression on them – but only if you really mean it.
#9: Follow Up
After you’ve said you’re sorry, showed your appreciation and overall gave them the support they were hopefully looking for, consider how else you can help support customers who complain. One way to do this is to have upper management follow up with these customers 24 to 48 hours after they have expressed their complaint. This is simply another way to show them you care, as well as it suggests you still have their complaint and concerns top of mind. You can do this in a handwritten note sent to their home address – if you have this information – or pick up the phone and call them personally. If this is part of your protocol, be sure to ask for these contact details from them so you can use them later.
#10: Move On
When all is said and done, you can’t dwell on customer complaints in order to move on and forward with your next tasks on hand. Most businesses are bound to get them every now and again since very simply, you can’t please everyone. This said, if customer complaints are a normal routine for your business, you need to dwell on them. All businesses, however, should have a plan of attack – no pun intended – to help navigate how to handle customer complaints as seamlessly, professionally and graciously as possible. In return? Customers who give you another chance and tell their friends, family, co-workers and more about the strong customer care they received from your team. This old-fashioned type of marketing never goes out of style, after all.
Customer complaints are unavoidable in service industries. Wait staff and restaurant owners do not want to deal with unhappy customers. However, it provides a chance for the service provider to fix an issue. This ensures that the customer has the best experience possible. Do not look to avoid a challenging situation as it is commonplace to hear a complaint in restaurant dialogue.
Treat a complaint as an opportunity and it will allow you to hear constructive feedback and earn a second chance to win the customer back. Despite those unavoidable situations, the key is how to react. Here are four suggestions on how to handle customer complaints.
1. A complaint in restaurant dialogue – Listen and pay attention
The first thing that is necessary to do when you receive a customer complaint is to listen. The customer is concerned about an aspect of the service, and you need to figure out what happened. Something was missing in the order, the food wasn’t cooked properly or it took an extremely long time to receive the meal… Listening carefully and understanding the issue is the first step to handling customer complaints. This is pertinent to determining how to solve it.
There may be a situation where a customer is physically upset or speaks in an angry tone. It can be difficult for the server or customer service representative to remain calm. This is more than a simple complaint in restaurant dialogue. Despite the situation, don’t succumb to the temptation to raise your voice or speak to the customer in a negative fashion. Ask questions and make eye contact. Your number one priority is to listen to the complaint and determine what is driving their concern.
2. Empathize and apologize for the situation.
Once you understand the issue, empathize with the customer to validate their concerns. This creates a bond between you and the customer knowing that you will do everything in your power to correct the situation. Apologize for the issue even if it is not your fault. Because you are serving or working with the customer, you are representing the restaurant and the brand. It is your face that they see.
Be genuine and sincere. This will come across to the customer as if you are in this together and want to make it right. The guest’s perception doesn’t need to be right or wrong. All that matters is that you are understanding towards their needs and work to resolve the situation.
3. Offer and execute a solution to the complaint in restaurant dialogue
Next, offer a solution to the customer. If you need time to talk to your manager, let the customer know that you will discuss it with your team. Always offer solutions that can be done as opposed to resolutions that are impossible. Keep in mind that there is always room for handling complaints. If the customer asks for a resolution that cannot be done, focus on finding something that will meet the same need. Do not instantly deny the request.
If the customer is unhappy with the solution that has been provided, think about other options that could be done to remedy the situation. It’s important that the customer sees that you are working with them to satisfy their needs. Once you agree on the solution, put the plan into action. Addressing the concerns right away will allow both you and the customer to put the situation to rest and enjoy the remainder of the experience at your restaurant with their family or friends.
4. Follow-up and thank your customer for their business.
Once you have gone through all of the steps above, make sure to follow-up with your customer to ensure that they are satisfied with the solution. You’ve done everything in your power to make it right and address the concerns. Thank the customer for bringing the situation to your attention and for the opportunity to resolve it. Let the customer know that you appreciate their business and that you look forward to seeing them again. Even if you had to offer an alternate solution to what the customer proposed, the customer will leave the experience knowing that their concern was addressed in the best possible way.
Complaints handling will give the wait staff opportunities to problem solve quickly and learn how to handle similar situations in the future. If there is a specific area that customers complain about regularly, it is an opportunity for the restaurant to make a bigger change. Following the four steps will give you an edge over your competitors and ensure your customers want to keep coming back.
When you respect your customers, listen to them, empathize, and work with them to meet their needs. Do not be afraid of a complaint in restaurant dialogue It only benefits you and your business in a positive way. There are many restaurants and food service options in today’s market. It’s extremely important to show your high-quality service and why it sets you apart. Customer complaints handling ends up being an excellent marketing tactic. The adage rings true – treat others how you want to be treated and you will reap the rewards.
5 strategies that can help resolve a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner.
By Amanda Herder, Account Manager, Signature Worldwide
Complaints happen every day. When a customer complains, it is usually for a good reason or genuine concern. They usually have made a purchase that did not meet their expectation—a product, service, or maybe a combination of the two. In the customer service industry, we cannot avoid complaints. We must take care of the customer by listening to the complaint, and resolving it, to ensure a happy customer.
Fewer than half of unhappy customers will bring a complaint to your attention. Those who never say anything will tell an average of 11 other people about their bad experience. It is important that we recognize complaints as opportunities, so we can sway these averages, one resolved complaint at a time.
Customers want to know someone is listening and they are understood, and they are hoping you are willing to take care of the problem to their satisfaction. No matter what the situation is, when a customer brings a complaint to your attention—even if they do it in a less-than-desirable way—be thankful. As the old saying goes, “We can’t fix it, if we don’t know it’s broken.” Moreover, we must realize that improper handling of a customer complaint can be costly to the business.
Here are five strategies that will help you handle a customer complaint in a smooth and professional manner:
- Stay calm. When a customer presents you with a complaint, keep in mind that the issue is not personal; he or she is not attacking you directly but rather the situation at hand. “Winning” the confrontation accomplishes nothing. A person who remains in control of his or her emotions deals from a position of strength. While it is perfectly natural to get defensive when attacked, choose to be the “professional” and keep your cool.
- Listen well. Let the irate customer blow off steam. Respond with phrases such as, “Hmm,” “I see,” and “Tell me more.” Do not interrupt. As the customer vents and sees you are not reacting, he or she will begin to calm down. The customer needs to get into a calm frame of mind before he or she can hear your solution—or anything you say, for that matter.
- Acknowledge the problem. Let the customer know you hear what he or she is saying. If you or your company made a mistake, admit it. If you did not make a mistake and it is a misunderstanding, simply explain it to the customer: “I can see how that would be incredibly frustrating for you.” You are not necessarily agreeing with what the customer is saying, but respecting how he or she perceives and feels about the situation. An excellent phrase for opening up this particular conversation would be, “So, if I understand you correctly…” After the customer responds, follow up with, “So, if I understand you correctly, we were to resolve the problem by noon today. I can see how that must be frustrating for you.” Then be quiet. Usually, the customer will respond with “That’s right” or “Exactly.” By repeating to the customer what you think you heard, you lower his or her defenses, and win the right to be heard.
- Get the facts. After listening, take the initiative in the conversation. Now that the customer has calmed down and feels you have heard his or her side, begin asking questions. Be careful not to speak scripted replies, but use this as an opportunity to start a genuine conversation, building a trusting relationship with your customer. To help you understand the situation, get as many details as possible.
- Offer a solution. This happens only after you have sufficient details. One thing to keep in mind: Know what you can and cannot do within your company’s guidelines. Making a promise you cannot commit to will only set you back. Remember, when offering a solution, be courteous and respectful. Let the customer know you are willing to take ownership of the issue, even if it was out of your control. Take charge of the situation and let the customer know what you are going to do to solve the problem.
A quick follow-up phone call a few days later to make sure everything is OK is icing on the cake. Even a small gesture of apology can turn this interaction from disaster to legendary. The cost could be minimal—maybe a simple upgrade on the customer’s next purchase or a small gift certificate. A simple gesture like this could result in a future referral or a positive word-of-mouth marketing recommendation.
When you resolve customer complaints successfully, you will better understand their needs, retain them as loyal customers, and enhance your business.
Find out what steps to take and who you should contact if you need to file a complaint against a company about a purchase.
On This Page
- Steps to File a Complaint Against a Company
- File a Complaint About Online Purchases
Steps to File a Complaint Against a Company
If you have problems with an item or service you purchased, you have the right to complain. Start your complaint with the seller or manufacturer. If they don't help, seek help from your local government or a consumer organization. Use these steps to get started.
1. Collect Your Documents
Gather your records: sales receipts, warranties, contracts, or work orders.
Print email messages or records of any contact you've had with the seller about the purchase.
2. Contact the Seller
Use USA.gov's sample complaint letter to explain your problem.
Send your complaint to a salesperson or customer service representative. Search for a company’s customer service contact information on their website. Look for links that say "contact us," "customer service," "about us," or "privacy statement."
Take your complaint to the management team if a salesperson didn't help,
3. Contact Third Parties If the Seller Doesn't Fix Your Problem
If the seller doesn't resolve the issue, a government office or a consumer organization may be able to help:
File a complaint with your local consumer protection office or the state agency that regulates the company.
Notify the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in your area about your problem. The BBB tries to resolve your complaints against companies.
Some federal agencies accept complaints about companies, but may not resolve your problem. They use complaints to help them investigate fraud.
Contact econsumer.gov. if you are complaining about items you bought online, from a seller outside the U.S.
Some problems with sellers are the result of frauds and scams. If you believe that you have been the victim of fraud, file a complaint with the correct government agency. File telemarketing complaints with the Do Not Call Registry.
4. Seek Legal Help
If other options don't work:
Resolve your problem through the legal system. Find free or low-cost legal help.
File a Complaint About Online Purchases
If you have a problem during an online transaction, try to solve it with the seller or website. If that does not work, file a complaint with:
- Your consumer protection agency.
- The Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Your state attorney general. , if your purchase was with a foreign retailer.
If you made the purchase using your credit card, dispute the charge with your credit card company.
Do you have a question?
Ask a real person any government-related question for free. They’ll get you the answer or let you know where to find it.
Do you remember when the customer was king–when businesses lived by one simple credo: the customer is always right? These days customer service is suffering as less qualified individuals fill jobs out of necessity.
Don’t believe me? Listen to this gem that happened this week. My wife was shopping in a local national discount retailer. She purchased several items but when she got to the car realized that the clerk had not given her the discounted price of 25% off as was indicated on the yellow stickers on some of her items.
My wife returned to the store, patiently waited in line again, and when it was her turn politely explained to the clerk what had happened and simply asked that her card be credited for the discount that should have been included. To my wife’s surprise the clerk looked at her and said the following:
“No. How do I know you did not just stick these yellow sales stickers on the items yourself?”
Without missing a beat my wife simply smiled and said “You’re right, I’ll return everything. Thank you.”
Upon seeing this exchange at least one other customer waiting in line put down her items, and said audibly so that other customers could hear her “I don’t need to be treated like that ” and walked out of the store.
So aside from learning never mess with my wife, she always wins, what can we take away from this on a customer service level?
How you handle a customer complaint is a critical component in the longevity of your business. If you think about it, in one accusatory sentence the employee 1) failed to listen to a customer’s concern, 2) insulted the customer by effectively calling her a thief, 3) lost the entire sale to that customer and at least one other customer, and 4) lost the entire future revenue stream from that customer as the Mrs. will never shop there again. Wow. All that in one misguided response.
So don’t make a mistake that costs your business its business. Teach all your employees how to handle complaints like a pro:
1. Listen and Understand
First, always listen to the customer. They are concerned about an aspect of your services. Let go of the temptation to respond in any quick fashion. Take the time to listen and truly understand what is driving their concern.
Once you have listened to their concern immediately empathize with their position to create a bond between you and the customer so that they know you have heard their concern and are going to work with them to resolve the issue.
3. Offer a Solution
Offer a solution to their problem. In this regard, always focus on what you can do as opposed to what you cannot. There is always a solution. It may not be exactly what they are asking for, but if you focus on what you can do versus denying them their requested remedy you have still offered a solution and often merely having another option is sufficient to remedy the situation.
4. Execute the Solution
Solve their problem be it with their originally requested resolution or an alternative you have proposed.
Once you have gone through the first four steps, make sure to follow-up with them to make sure that they are satisfied with the solution and that you have taken care of their concern.