Service Recovery Skills. Successfully customer service starts and ends with your support team. Your customer service staff need to do so many things. They need to meet customer expectations, wow customers, fix issues promptly, and even fix problems before they happen. A vital part of this process is knowing how to handle situations where your company failed to meet customer expectations. Today we’re going to be looking at service recovery, what it is, what service recovery skills are, and the best practices in the field. Let’s take a look.
What is Service Recovery?
Put simply, service recovery is the actions taken by a company in response to a service failure. This failure can happen for any number of reasons. For example, if the service was unavailable when promised (it goes offline unexpectedly), the service is delivered late, customer expectations are not met, or employees are rude to customers. These failures cause customers to become frustrated, annoyed, or otherwise dissatisfied with the service. These feelings will naturally impact the customer’s future buying habits. They might vow never to purchase your service again and may even share their negative experience with their friends and family.
Here’s a quick recap of the terms associated with service recovery that you should familiarize yourself with:
Service failure – The service performance fails to meet customer expectations.
Service recovery – The efforts made by the organization to rectify the failure and retain the customer.
Why? – Service recovery plays a crucial role in restoring customer satisfaction and improving customer loyalty.
The Service Recovery System
Before we can get into the skills needed to be excellent at service recovery, we first have to understand how the service recovery system works.
Doing the Job Right the First Time
While failures might be inevitable, doing the job right the first time is your ultimate goal, and a robust service recovery plan is designed to get you there in the future. But how? It all starts with effective complaint handling.
Effective Complaint Handling
This process has several ingredients for success:
- Identify complaints – This can be done in many ways. For example, monitoring incoming complaints or conducting research.
- Resolve Complaints Effectively – Developing a system where complaints are resolved quickly, and customers are satisfied with the handling. For example, rushing customers through the complaints process might close tickets rapidly, but it might leave customers feeling anxious and dissatisfied, so it’s not effective.
- Learn from the experience – When you reflect on the lessons you learn from points 1 and 2, you can make improvements that allow you to do the job right the first time. A key part of this is conducting root cause analysis for all complaints.
Best Practices of an Effective Service Recovery System
Make it Easy for Customers to Give Feedback
If customers don’t feel comfortable giving feedback for whatever reason, you will quietly lose them without knowing what caused them to leave. Many companies mistakenly think that if they’re not receiving complaints, they must be doing a great job meeting customer expectations. This isn’t always the case. When there are significant barriers for customers, many will opt to move on with their lives but will never buy from you in the future. The way to combat this is to remove complaint barriers.
For example, do you have a difficult to understand or complicated complaint procedure? If so, it could mean that customers think it requires too much of their time and energy to complain. Do you have any examples of successful complaint handling on your website, or do you display complaint handling statistics for your customers to see? If you don’t, then customers might be doubtful of the payoff for complaining. They might assume that they have to put in a lot of energy to complain, and they might not see anything in return. Customers might also be anxious about talking to your staff, fearing that they are rude or unfriendly.
Tips for removing complaint barriers:
- Make feedback convenient and easy – Use a simple form, chatbot, or one customer service number.
- Reassure your customers that all feedback is taken seriously and is acted on promptly.
- Thank customers for feedback.
- Train employees on how to stay calm and always be welcoming and friendly.
- Always allow anonymous feedback so customers can share their opinions openly without fear of embarrassment.
Developing a Culture Where Complaints Present Opportunities
Complaints offer you a unique opportunity to show off what’s great about your company. If you pride yourselves on fast service and exceeding customer expectations, then a complaint can be your time to shine.
Tips For Enabling Effective Service Recovery
- Be proactive – Don’t allow customers to chase you for updates. If you notice a failure, you should inform customers before they come to you.
- Design recovery procedures – Don’t leave your customer service staff in the lurch about how to respond to failures. They should understand the process and be able to execute it immediately.
- Empower employees – Employees must have agency and flexibility in failure situations (more on this later!)
- Teach support staff recovery skills.
What Should Compensation Look Like?
This is something you need to decide on before a failure situation occurs. Compensation should depend on many factors, including how severe the failure was and who the affected customer is (for example, do they have a high lifetime value?).
WOWing Your Customers with Service Recovery – Top Service Recovery Skills
Agency and Flexibility
Many businesses make a critical mistake by not allowing their support staff more flexibility and control over the complaints process. Modern enterprises have focused so heavily on creating structures and guidelines for employees that many are afraid to go off-script. However, denying your support staff this freedom can be extremely costly in a failure scenario. Consider the example of John Barrier, who sparked headlines across the US after he withdrew $1 million from his bank over a parking validation dispute. Here’s what happened.
John parked his car in a lot owned by the bank while conducting business across the street. As a bank customer, he wanted to get his parking ticket validated, but the cashier told him that it wouldn’t be possible because he hadn’t made a deposit. He cashed a check, but this wasn’t sufficient for the receptionist, who insisted he still hadn’t met the requirements. John explained that he was a long-time customer and had millions of dollars with the bank, but the receptionist held firm. What did John do? He drove across town to his usual branch, withdrew $1 million, and explained he would close all of his accounts. Naturally, the bank executives were embarrassed when they heard what happened.
Employees should be encouraged to ask customers about their experiences and get to the bottom of any complaints. Many support staff shy away from these conversations because they want to avoid conflict, but in doing so can actually invite more conflict in the future.
Employees should be trained not to reactive with “well, it’s not our fault”. Sometimes it’s not your fault but taking ownership of the issue is what helps resolve conflict.
Before employees embark on service recovery, they first have to communicate two things to the customer:
- Our company genuinely cares about this customer as an individual.
- The customer’s problem is no longer theirs – it’s now your problem.
Here are some tips on how to do this effectively:
- Use “we” to communicate a shared problem. For example, you can say, “Let’s see how we can fix this”. This displays that you are now taking ownership of the issue.
- Validate their feelings. When customers complain, they typically have several negative emotions. They want to be reassured that their feelings are valid and have value. A simple “Oh wow, I can see how that would be frustrating” can do wonders for easing customer frustrations.
It’s unfair that this is necessary, but sadly, it is. Support staff must have a thick skin because, despite your best efforts, some customers will be unnecessarily hostile and rude.
Service Recovery Skills Will be Essential in A Few Years
With AI and automation on the rise, there’s a growing need for customer service agents with the right soft skills. Chatbots are now becoming so advanced that they can take care of the majority of simple (and even some complex) customer requests. So, where does this leave support staff? It leaves them handling the complex emotional needs of customers. Soft skills are becoming highly sought after in the job market as companies look to fill this gap. By being deliberate in your employee training today, you can develop a highly effective, skilled, and talented workforce far into the future.
Tips For Companies
Be Selective When Hiring
If you want to excel at service recovery, increase customer loyalty, and improve retention, you need to hire the right employees. This means hiring selectively. It would be best if you aimed to hire employees who demonstrate the following attributes:
- Decision making – Do they like to take control and make decisions? Or do they need constant management?
- Confidence – They must be confident in talking to employees and confident in their decisions.
- Warmth – They must be able to quickly disarm angry customers.
Focus on Employee Training
Even when you hire the right people, they will still need some direction and training. Training isn’t a one-time thing, either. Employees should be trained in the complaints process and get regular reminders on handling complaints and demanding customers.
Accept That Some Customers Will Never Be Happy
Even with the best service recovery process, some customers will never be satisfied. You can’t please everyone, and some people just have a “one strike, and you’re out” type mentality. A key element of success is knowing when to quit. Don’t put all of your energy and resources into trying to please customers who will never come around.
The Service Recovery Paradox
Some research into service recovery has found some surprising results. When a company exhibits excellent recovery after a service failure, some customers will experience higher satisfaction levels than before the failure. This sounds counterintuitive. After all, we assume that failure is always bad and that no matter how well the company handles the failure, the customer will still walk away with some negative feelings. It would be reasonable to assume that customers would always be hesitant to buy in the future because they are now conscious that a failure might happen again. However, this appears to be false – some customers leave more satisfied.
This isn’t to say that you should engineer failures just to boost customer satisfaction – that’s an unethical and risky strategy. Plus, you have no way of knowing which times it will work and which times it will fail. When it comes down to it, getting it right the first time is always the best strategy.