Service Recovery…Making Things Right

Even for the most customer-centric companies, issues occur. How a company deals with problems is what matters. Service Recovery represents the willingness and ability of a company to prove its commitment to customers.

The other day, I was in line at the local tea store when their computer system went down, forcing personnel to process orders on paper, by hand. It slowed the process. The sales people immediately started offering everyone a free cup of tea of their choice to make waiting more bearable. As a result, no one made complained about the wait. In fact, people were very supportive of the employees and offered them words of encouragement.  I liked the taste of the tea they offered and added it to my purchase. So the free cup of tea increased their sales too.

Service Recovery isn’t an easy thing to do. Many companies have established Issue Management processes but choke at the Service Recovery stage. What’s the difference? On one hand, both have similar goals and address customers’ negative experiences. On the other – there’s an important differentiation.

The Issue Management process addresses systematic issues affecting large groups of customers that typically do not require immediate or individual response. Examples of such issues might be systems failure, incorrect calculations of rewards points, misleading marketing communications, etc. The goal is to resolve the issue as quickly as possible in a systematic and timely manner. Think of it as remediation on a mass scale. A well-run Issue Management process has established procedures, timelines, reporting and accountability. It’s critical for not only fixing the issue but also for preventing its re-occurence.

Service Recovery covers customer complaints and escalations that typically impact a small number of customers and require immediate resolution. When a moment of truth happens, companies can’t rely on policies and procedures – there is no way they can predict all the unique circumstances facing the customers.  How do you write a procedure dealing with a customer whose house just burned down and who can’t pay her bills?

Service Recovery is a much more personalized process. It’s about authenticity, speaking with human voice, listening and understanding the problem. In the absence of a rulebook, it’s about making an immediate on the right course of action. In a big company, all of this makes Service Recovery difficult to institute and operationalize.

The key to Service Recovery Success is company culture. Leadership’s commitment to its customers sets the tone for the rest of the organization. Ask yourself:

  • What are your company values?
  • Do they support Service Recovery?
  • Are you customer-centric: promoting and rewarding people for going above and beyond?

When the culture is in place, it enables the other critical elements for a Service Recovery program:

  1. Empower | Enable service representatives to make decisions on behalf of customers. Allow them to make decisions (within established guidelines if needed). In my example, the tea store employees made a decision on the spot, not feeling the need for complex financial estimates and high level approvals.
  2. Measure and Incentivize | Does your company have the right metrics in place to support Service Recovery? For example, if the only metric of success is time spent on the phone, an employee will be discouraged from truly learning about an issue and will try to end a conversation too soon. They won’t have an opportunity to do the right thing for a customer and increase loyalty.
  3. Hire the Right people | Compassion matters. Be sure your employees can listen and empathize. It’s easy to teach people to say the right words – but they need to be – and sound – authentic when saying them.

To guarantee success, all of the elements should come together and become the mindset of the organization rather than be part of the “flavor of the month” mentality.

Issues happen, but if a company handles them well, customer loyalty doesn’t suffer. Often, it can grow even stronger.