Business Management
4 min read

Service failures: 5 basic steps to customer service recovery

EHL Insights
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Why is customer service recovery important?

Failures in customer service are inevitable. Whether you’re just starting out as a business or a well-oiled machine, you’re bound to slip up and disappoint a customer at some point; your reservations desk forgets to accommodate a special request, your airline has to cancel a flight to a popular holiday destination, or a waiter in your restaurant is having a bad day and is impatient with an elderly couple.

It happens.

The good news is that this is where you have the opportunity to make a real difference. Left unresolved, service failures produce disgruntled customers – who will be quick to tell their friends, family and just about anyone who will listen about their poor service experience. In fact, research shows that on average, a dissatisfied customer will share their negative experience with 16 people. That will not bode well for your business.

Handled tactfully, however, breakdowns can be resolved, and even turned into opportunities to enhance customer loyalty and improve overall customer satisfaction.

The key lies in mastering service recovery. With the right skills, and a little training, companies can not only recover from their service failures and win back customers – but learn from their mistakes and come out stronger on the other end.  

So what does it take to excel at service recovery?

Here’s our 5-step solution:

1. Offer a sincere apology

Customers want to be heard, respected and understood. Make sure that you stay calm, listen, show empathy and are respectful towards their feelings and frustrations. Don’t offer them a scripted apology or try to sweep the mistake under the rug. Let them talk and express their frustrations, and respond with a genuine apology that shows you recognize the issue and that you’re sorry that their expectations were not met. Even if the problem seems trivial, or it wasn’t your mistake, don’t defend your position or minimize the problem; accept responsibility, own the problem and express a genuine regret for the inconvenience.

After all, the customer is always king. Simply acknowledging their frustration and apologizing will already go a long way in diffusing the situation, so that you can work together to settle on an acceptable solution.

2. Analyze the situation

Ask the customer to describe the problem in detail and take time to review and analyze how the issue came about. This will help you better understand what happened, and how to prevent it from happening again. It will also show that you’re listening, care and are committed to fixing the problem.

Keep a detailed log of the complaint, including the time, date and nature of the problem, and whether it’s a standalone or recurring issue. Try to record every possible detail so that you can provide feedback to the department or responsible and put immediate actions into place to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. And make sure to record the customer’s contact details, so that you can follow-up with them after-the-fact.

3. Offer a solution

This is where you can spring into action! Resolve the situation by offering the customer an effective solution that’s proportionate to the severity of the problem. For example, if your customer had a bad experience in one of your restaurants, offer them a discount on their meal, or a voucher for free drinks for their next visit. Or if a customer’s requests for a specific room were not accommodated, see if you can still find a way to cater to their wishes, and if not, offer them a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates as an apologetic gesture. Whenever possible, try to offer alternatives to give the customer a sense of control and put them back in the driver’s seat.

4.Follow-up

Even though you may have settled on an acceptable solution, it’s not the end of the road. Every complaint, big or small, calls for a follow-up to check if the customer’s issue was resolved and if they’re happy with how it was handled. Give them a call, or send a card or email to let them know you’re still concerned about their satisfaction. If possible, give them feedback on what measures you took internally as a result. For example, did you share the feedback with the staff, or implement changes to your reservations process to make sure that special requests are tracked more effectively? Make sure the follow-up is prompt and to not let too much time pass before checking in on the customer.

5. Document

Carefully document every complaint – including the dates, causes, the concerned staff members or departments and when and how it was resolved. This will help you keep track of your progress and help you determine if there are any recurring themes or underlying causes that need to be addressed. Check if there are any patterns (in dates, seasons, time of day, employees or customer segments). By reviewing the data periodically and providing feedback to the relevant teams, you can continue to learn and grow from your mistakes – so that you can avoid future slip-ups before they happen.

 

Customer service recovery: things to remember

There are a few additional things you might want to consider that will make your customer service team more effective and efficient at service recovery:

  • Anticipate your customers’ expectations

Most problems result from a misalignment between customer expectations and the products or services actually provided. Do some research to deeply understand your customers and what services they expect along the experience pathway, so you can anticipate their demands before you make a mistake. Be realistic about what you’re offering and don’t oversell yourself; it will only set you up for failure if (or rather when) you can’t deliver on your promise.

 

  • Train your staff and set clear guidelines

Investing in adequate training on how to handle customer complaints will go a long way in improving your overall customer satisfaction. Arm your customer-facing staff (and especially your customer service team) with the right communications skills, and set clear guidelines on what solutions and gestures they can offer for different types of complaints.

 

  • Respond in a timely manner

When it comes to service recovery, timing is key. Be prompt and efficient in responding and resolving issues, to make sure that frustrations don’t fester for too long. The quicker you respond, the more likely you’ll be to resolve the issue before it turns sour, and turn a disgruntled customer into an loyal brand ambassador.

 

  • Keep an open line of communication

Encourage your customers to provide feedback by sending questionnaires and providing an direct line of communication for where they can share their feedback, experiences and concerns. Research shows that for every customer complaint, there are 26 other unhappy customers who have remained silent. So go in search of those customers who might be too reserved to share their experiences, as you’ll find it’s often the silent ones who can do the most damage.

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from Service Design to Service Recovery

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