5 steps to remedy a customer service failure

June 18, 2020 •

7 min reading

The 5 steps of a customer service recovery program

Written by

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. We are a part of an industry which is high touch and driven by human interaction, 100% error free service is almost impossible, which is why how an organization recovers from those service breakdowns is what sets them apart from the rest.

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. A helpscout report quoting newvoicemedia.com says that feeling unappreciated is the #1 reason customers switch away from products and services.

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. In fact, the Service Recovery Paradox states that a customer thinks more highly of a company after the company has corrected a problem with their service, compared to how he or she would regard the company if non-faulty service had been provided. The thought is that the successful recovery of a faulty service leads to increased assurance and confidence among customers.

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.  

Discover THE Service Excellence Guide: from Service Design to Service Recovery

Defining Service Recovery

It is essentially the action a service provider takes in response to service failure. A thought out, planned process of returning an aggrieved customer to a state of satisfaction with a company/service.”

How to build a successful customer service recovery program? 

Here are some key pointers:

1. Anticipate & Understand the needs of the customer

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.

Use the SERVQUAL Instrument – an empiric model designed by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry to compare service quality performance with customer service quality needs. It essentially measures an organization's service quality performance against the needs of its customers on five broad parameters – Responsiveness, Reliability, Empathy, Assurance and Tangibles. This model allows you to find and plug the gaps between actual and perceived service.

Examine the customer experience pathway and identify what was/ were the point/s of failure along the pathway. Once you are able to understand where along the customer experience pathway the failure actually took place, not only are you better positioned to solve the problem for the customer, but you can also keep track, record these incidents and train your team to avoid service breakdowns in similar situations.

With this 7-step process, you will have all the tools you need
to master your company Customer Experience.

2. Making amends

Making amends is a means for righting a wrong. It can be as simple as a sincere apology, sending a follow-up letter, or may include a small gift or token of appreciation. The knee-jerk reaction to a service breakdown is more often than not either waiving off a bill or giving something complimentary to the customer. Whilst, these strategies do work – but only to an extent. The customer is, more often than not, looking to be treated fairly.

In case of a service breakdown, they feel that they have not been treated fairly, so when we do end up making amends we must take the situation and the customer into account and make amends in a manner that makes them feel that they have been treated fairly. Try to offer alternatives to give the customer a sense of control and put them back in the driver’s seat. Define frameworks with your team and empower frontline staff to take certain decisions that allow for swift action and recovery.

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.

3. Empowerment & Ownership

The Ritz-Carlton allows, better yet encourages employees, to spend up to $2000 to solve guest issues. More than the money it’s about giving control to the employees to use their time, effort and when needed – the company’s money to enhance the experience of any guest or recover from service breakdowns. Till the time, your employee does not own the interaction and feel like they are in control to make decisions, they will not be able to execute high quality service recovery.

Build mechanisms in place that encourage frontline staff and management to take ownership of the situation. “I will solve this problem for you”. When things do go wrong, a customer wants someone who will take charge of the situation, rather than pass the responsibility around or blame others for the service breakdown. The breakdown in itself could have happened owing to a host of reasons, or people for that matter. However, when it comes to recovering the situation, the buck stops at the person carrying out the recovery, so owning the situation and inspiring trust and confidence in the customer that you will solve the problem for them becomes a critical component.

Professional Advice  Service Excellence  Are you looking for professional advice on implementing a service culture  throughout your company? Our experts are here to help!  Learn more

4. Respond in a timely manner & Follow-up

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 a loyal brand ambassador.

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 do not let too much time pass before checking in on the customer.

5. Keep an open line of communication

Encourage your customers to provide feedback by sending questionnaires and providing a 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.

EHL Advisory Services using its deep-rooted expertise, history, credibility and knowledge in this field can not only help you define an effective Service Recovery Model but go a step further by assisting your organization in the activation of a Service mind-set and driving Service Excellence. Our end-to-end solutions are tailor-made, keeping your customer at the focal point and bringing Service Excellence at the forefront of your differentiating strategy to foster your brand.


SERVICE EXCELLENCE: A 7-step process to master your company Customer Experience.

1. Customer Behavior
2. Customer Culture
3. Service Design Roadmap
4. Customer-Focus Governance
5. Customer Service Goals
6. Employees Service Excellence Training
7. Service Performance & Continuously Improve