Growing Your Business with Service Recovery

No one has a perfect record when it comes to delivering service. You will have unhappy customers, and you will receive complaints. With social networking, viral videos, and bad news traveling fast, one angry customer can leave a lasting stain on your reputation. Your recovery policy and practices should be ready.

1. Get senior management support. Unlike routine aspects of business, service recovery requires acknowledging mistakes and doing whatever it takes to recover. This often means going outside normal procedures, deliberately bending the rules, and possibly spending money in the process. Therefore, this building block needs understanding and encouragement from the top.

2. Practice your recovery plan. When things go wrong is not the time to think about how to recover. The clock starts ticking the moment a problem occurs. SWAT teams are successful because they anticipate scenarios and run practice drills long before something dangerous happens. Run your own scenarios to imagine what could go wrong. Then communicate your plans, test your tactics, and rehearse your responses in advance.

3. Go hunting for service problems. Be aggressive and proactive. Create discovery systems that seek out breakdowns and complaints. It may not feel good to spotlight your flaws, but view service recovery as a disease-prevention formula and you’ll catch problems long before they make you sick.

4. Empower frontline staff. Give those closest to the issue the power to make things right. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel famously empowers every employee with a substantial recovery fund to delight guests when something is wrong, without a moment’s delay. The analysis and insights can come later. The actions to recover are needed right away. Nothing frustrates an upset customer more than hearing this: “I’d really like to do that for you, but I have to check with my manager first. It should only take a few days.”

5. Go for the big win–win! We love great comeback movies because the underdog comes from behind to surpass everyone’s expectations. Your recovery strategy should strive to do the same. The goal is not just fixing problems; it’s creating experiences that unexpectedly delight. And great comeback stories are the ones people love to share. When your customers win, your company wins, too.

6. Lock in the gains. You can get much better at anticipating new problems, faster at detecting current problems, and create better tools and training to bounce back whenever a ball is dropped. Create a program in your organization where stories of recovery are collected, and service providers are recognized and rewarded. Analyze each story carefully, because some will reveal how to prevent mistakes in the future or delight customers with uplifting service before a mishap ever happens.

Customers who struggle with a service problem have been to a low point with you. And when you recover, they experience bouncing back. This experience of disappointment followed by relief can actually increase customers’ confidence in your service. Why is that? Because everyone knows that problems will occur from time to time. Things break down in life, difficulties arise, and unpleasant things do happen. What we don’t know is how any service provider will respond in these situations until they happen.

When a problem does occur and successful recovery follows, you learn something important about a service provider that you couldn’t know before. Now you know, from personal experience, this service provider can be trusted to do the right thing when you really need it. This added confidence leads to customers coming back, thereby increasing their value to the service provider. Repeat customers tend to buy more, and often are the first to try your premium offers. These people also recommend you with a real-world legitimacy that cannot be purchased with advertising. Every customer with a problem is your potential admirer and evangelist—when you successfully recover.

An additional upside of service recovery can be found inside your organization. When your organization has a track record of doing the right thing in problem situations, then every member of your team can serve with confidence and pride. Knowing your organization will always bounce back up is a powerful reason to feel good when you are serving, and when you are recovering.

What’s the alternative? What are the consequences if this building block remains weak and mired in the problematic procedures of rebates and returns? Team members get frustrated and embarrassed, or, even worse, cynical and resigned. Customers get stuck in negotiations, calculations, and other distractions from the goal.

These frustrations turn into unpleasant stories, the bad news that travels fast, the tales of woe that people always love to tell and often exaggerate along the way. Who listens to these stories? Their friends, your customers, prospects, competition, and anyone else with an interest and an Internet connection or a need to buy whatever it is you sell. That may not be an easily quantified impact, but it’s costly to even consider.