Strategies for Successful Service Recovery

“The true test of a business’ customer service effort is not when things are going right – but rather what is done when things go wrong” – Steve Ferrante

Despite some minor details that vary, the general opinion in business circles is that retaining a customer costs relatively lower than attracting and gaining a new one. This is a problematic area for most businesses since processes involve both employee and customer experiences and it is almost impossible to achieve zero defects. The fact that customer service involves the imperfections of human beings naturally translates to service failure and companies that employ strategies for successful service recovery would be in a better competitive position. These strategies serve to alleviate customer dissatisfaction and set things right before they become unmanageable and lead towards destruction.

Strategies for successful service recovery are vital for all businesses not just hospitality related services. Service failure in any industry elicits strong reactions from customers and they tend to immediately sink in to the folds of social media to vent their ire. This does not bode well for companies and it is often too late to implement an on the spot service recovery. Having strategies for successful service recovery encompasses standards for excellence in service, the recovery in the event of breakdown and relaying back to the customer the methods taken. The entire gamut of customer service must be part of the service recovery process. Companies that remember to closely monitor their practices to ensure that the failures do not get repeated are more likely to reduce the number of such service failures. Instead these companies use the past failures and turn them in to opportunities to provide even better service and a memorable experience to customers thereby improving their level of service. Customers tend to remember these service recoveries and willingly spread a good word about them.

It is a given and a universal truth that anything created by humans including technology is bound to have its share of failures and lapses. Customers understand this too but need to know that the company they are investing heavily in will take care of these lapses and turn the situation around to everyone’s favour. Organizations that work smart recognize these inevitable events as well and would have neatly woven and robust strategies for successful service recovery. Customers would find it difficult to fault such a company and in fact tend to trust such a company even more and will provide repeat business.

Strategies for successful service recovery differentiate between the initiatives that exist to maintain a certain standard of service i.e. before a problem occurs and initiatives that would be pressed in to use in case a problem does occur. So what do smart and pro-active companies do?

– They understand, anticipate and acknowledge the need for service recovery strategies. The problems or hiccups are inevitable and those companies that do not plan for such possibilities are headed towards disaster. These companies are limiting their ability to react and respond to the needs of their customers especially when things are not quite right. Acceptance of service lapses despite best efforts is one the best ways to put in place strategies for successful service recovery.

– A successful service recovery must be swift and agile. The company’s culture and especially the front end staff must be able to respond quickly and make smart and instant decisions in the face of a service failure. Empowering the front-end customer service staff to make decisions through constant training, coaching and updated knowledge will help service recovery be speedier and efficient.

– Front-end staff is the one that bear the brunt of service lapses and are most in tune with the customer’s needs and expectations. It would therefore be prudent for companies to empower them with spot decision making abilities. They must be equipped with knowledge, technology, resources and the leeway to take whatever steps necessary to put the customer at ease and resolve the issue. In addition, using this empowerment requires that the employees are capable of handling it and thus must receive constant pertinent training that also teaches them to improvise in stressful situations.

As essential as these long term strategies for successful service recovery are, there must also be ‘on the spot’ or ‘at the moment’ strategies that will release some of the tension brought about by a service failure. This strategy involves dealing with the actual moment the customer contacts the company and is already high on negative emotions due to the issue. It is tough for customer service agents who constantly deal with customers and a variety of other issues and hence putting in place some ready methods would save them a lot of energy and undue stress.

– The agents in customer service that will first be connected to the customer must immediately understand the importance of acknowledge the customer’s problem. The customer cannot understand and is not expected understand from the company’s viewpoint, how and why the problem occurred. They just know that they have a problem caused by the product or service of the company. The wisest and safest thing to do for the customer service staff is to acknowledge the issue being presented rather than reasoning with the customer. They must steer clear of ever laying blame on the customer.

– Display genuine empathy for the customer’s problem and the fact that the problem that has emanated from your company is causing undue stress to the customer. Recognizing that the customer’s anger and irritation is not personal and is simply due to an unwarranted disruption will help to calm the customer. Remain calm and positive to alleviate the situation.

– Ensure that an unfeigned and unscripted apology is expressed to the customer on behalf of the company. This is vital to keep the conversation in control. Address the customer by name to let them know that you are actually listening. Let the customer vent even after you have provided the apology – this helps to calm them and also lets the customer know that your company will ‘listen’

– The problem has come about due to an inadequacy on the part of your company. As the representative and the one dealing with the customer, it is binding by duty that the service staff takes ownership of the problem. It may not be a problem that you would need to solve personally but ensure that it gets to the right person or department and remain informed on the progress till it is sorted out. The customer must feel confident while letting you know the problem. The customer service agent must provide adequate assurance that the problem has been noted and provide a timeline for the resolution. They must ensure that the timeline is met and the problem resolved as per the customer’s satisfaction. Displaying ownership and professionalism will let the customer trust the company once again and most certainly will return to do business.

– If the problem being related is within the area of control of the service agent, they must fix the issue immediately if possible. This must be top priority even if the solution is not an immediate one. Understand the reasons that caused the problem and remember never to blame the customer even if the problem occurred due to improper usage or understanding of the product.

– In the event that the product is damaged or rendered unfit to meet its use, it must either be replaced or a refund provided to the customer. Alternatively some other monetary compensation could be offered. This is one of the most powerful strategies for successful service recovery when used judiciously. The customer must not feel that it is being deployed to get rid of them but rather as a genuine attempt to appease them and retain them as customers.

Obviously every company would love to think that they are doing everything they can to keep customers happy and that their customers are perfectly happy with the offerings of their company. This however is only a state of wishful thinking and is never a constant in reality. However, unfailing loyalty from customers is possible and probably the best incentive for companies to put in place strategies for successful service recovery.

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