Service recovery is often an element that is not given enough attention by most organisations.

A well-delivered service recovery programme is key to building customer loyalty despite the negative experience of the customer. 

Customers expect service providers to understand their predicament and also the critical component that “missed the mark”.

They expect the people involved in service recovery to be empathetic and, if possible, to include a positive surprise or two.

I am confident we have all, at one time or another, come across examples of organisations or service providers who have had successful service recovery moments.

These include hotels that empower their staff to provide the appropriate service recovery, to staff who have seemingly gone out of their way to impress their customers after a bad experience.

Can these successful models be emulated for your organisation?

Can staff be prepared for such situations and be expected to make the right calls?

The answer to both is, of course, yes — once organisations recognise the importance of effective service recovery.

Be human, not robot

It is vital to instil the importance of providing effective service recovery at operational and managerial levels of the organisation.

Each employee must understand the importance of retaining customers and drive the culture as a team.

But what must be included is the buy-in of each employee at the individual level — the “I” mindset, as a champion of customer-retention.

A large number of local organisations rely on processes, which greatly diminishes the ability of customer service staff to show concern and empathy to customers.

They follow standard operating procedures rigidly and demonstrate robotic responses when service breaks down.

They assume every probable customer complaint can be anticipated — and is therefore the same — and adopt a standardised service recovery technique for every customer.

Every case is unique

Customer service staff have to treat each complaint case as a unique situation.

To achieve this, they must have good listening skills to fully understand the exact nature of the customer’s issues.

The world’s best airlines, hotels and retailers, for example, realise that if they fail to understand the issues in the first place, it is simply not possible to provide an acceptable reply to the customer who has faced a negative experience.

What then, is an acceptable timeline for a reply?

First, recognise that a reply need not equate to a solution. A reply can be an acknowledgement and a plan on how you, as a service provider, plan to manage the situation.

Conveying this in the shortest possible time will help ease the concerns of your customer.

The most effective guideline to this is to ensure that the customer need not make a second visit or a follow-up call just to obtain an acknowledgement.

The actual solution delivery to customers also needs to convey preventive measures (or planned preventive actions) to assure them that the situation will not recur.

It is crucial to enhance the customer’s experience in a service recovery situation.

Consider customer’s effort

Service providers need to self-reflect and consider the effort the customer has made to complain, the time the customer set aside to spend with their organisation to listen to the planned actions and solution(s), or even how he may have been emotionally affected by the experience.

Service providers have to provide an offering that is impressive and a show of gratitude to the customer for all the effort he has put into making the complaint. 

In essence, you have to remember that customers who complain only make up the tip of the iceberg of customers who are not wholly satisfied with your organisation’s service delivery.

Most customers simply choose to stay silent and do not return, switch to the competitor or even turn to other avenues of complaining (not to your organisation).

They voice their dissatisfaction to provide you with an opportunity to win them back — consciously or otherwise.

To give less than serious attention to this would be a costly mistake.

Alternatively, if you are able to impress them with an acknowledgement of your organisation’s shortcomings, a satisfactory reply and an action plan to prevent such incidents from recurring, you will win over a loyal customer or advocate.

All the time and effort you spend on branding and advertising to gain an edge over your competitors can be derailed by ignoring a few bad customer experiences.

That is why it is vital to implement an effective service recovery plan.