customer complaintsTry as hard as you might (and trust me, I’ve tried), it is impossible to be perfect. We all make mistakes. And the same applies to customer service. You and your team will occasionally make mistakes as you strive to serve your customers and will have to perform “service recovery.” This is inevitable given that service is provided in real time. But, unlike products that are made by machines, service is provided by human beings who can vary in their effectiveness over time. Further, different team members may provide the service on different days of the week or times of day increasing variability in performance.

Performing service recovery properly is crucial. Otherwise, you can hurt the trust you have developed with your customers and much of your effort to develop customer loyalty to your business can be wasted.

While you likely already realise the importance of proper service recovery, you may not have considered that there are three kinds of service recovery situations that you have to work with in your business: immediate-complaint recovery, delayed-complaint recovery and real-time error recovery. The differences among them are important to understand.

Immediate-complaint recovery

This is a service problem happening when an employee is not present, and the problem is so clear that it results in a quick complaint. For example, if the hotel room TV is not working or the toilet is constantly running, it will likely generate a quick call to the front desk.

Delayed-complaint recovery

This concerns something that has occurred sometime previous to the complaint.  Itmay have been a service failure that your customer did not notice until later or maybe choose not to talk about at the time it occurred. Or it may concern something that happened with no employee present and the customer was unsure at the time about complaining. The customer trips on something on the business floor with no one in sight, for example. Or maybe an employee’s response to a question is bothersome, but the customer doesn’t say anything at the time. Maybe the hotel room bed is uncomfortable, but the customer suffers through it for the night. The complaint may come hours or even days after the incident occurred.

Real-time-error recovery

This concerns a service failure that happens in real time in the presence of an employee. The employee may be directly involved or simply a bystander. Maybe the waiter at the restaurant gives the customer the wrong order.  Maybe the customer can’t find something he/she is looking for and this customer’s confusion is apparent to a nearby employee. Maybe a registration line is unusually long leading to customer frustration. In other words, there has been a failure in service that is being experienced by the customer at that moment with an employee present at the time of the error or problem.

Not all recoveries are equally easy to accomplish

Immediate-complaint recovery is generally the easiest to handle since the problem and solution are usually clear.

Delayed-complaint recovery, on the other hand, is generally the most difficult to handle. First, when customers complain later about something that happened to them, it is often means they have continued to think about it and have gotten angrier. To get up the nerve to complain, they may have mentally prepared for what they fear will be an argument. While an employee may have been involved in the original incident, the person they finally complain to may be someone else. The complaint receiver, therefore, may not know the circumstances and may not be able to verify the nature of the problem because of their lack of involvement in the original incident.

Real-time-error recovery is, again, easier to deal with since an employee is present and is aware of the situation, so he/she can quickly respond.

It is commonly noted that customers are more likely to return if recovery happens quickly. Obviously, it is easier to do this in a real-time-error recovery or immediate-complaint recovery situations than one involving delayed-complaint recovery.

Service recovery strategies

So how can we improve the recovery process?

A service error should never be allowed to transfer into delayed-complaint recovery.

If there is a failure in real time caused or observed by an employee or a complaint that is clear cut, it should be handled immediately. This requires several things: First, employees must be empowered to handle real-time errors and immediate complaints as they happen. Many potential errors can be anticipated and guidelines for handling them can be established along with a certain amount of leeway allowed based upon employee judgment and experience.

Second, the team should be trained to view recovery as part of their job and an important opportunity to build the customer relationship. Employees who instead view recovery as a disruption to their work may tend to avoid real-time recovery.

Finally, when faced with any form of service recovery, the team must be trained to consider the long-term value of a customer. Many may think only in the short term and believe they are helping the business when they save it a few dollars by not giving into a request during service recovery. The result can be lost customers and a significant loss of long-term revenue.

Is the service error systematic?

While service recovery is an opportunity to build the relationship, repeated recovery for the same error is not. In such circumstances, customers will soon come to realize that the error is not random but rather is built into the system, and they won’t come back. Getting feedback from customers and tracking recovery issues can help uncover such systematic problems.

Proper service recovery is essential. It takes planning, training and trust in your team, but the rewards will be well worth your efforts.

About the author

Dennis RosenDr. Dennis Rosen is The WinFluence® Expert on customer service and sales improvement. He helps retailers, service providers and professionals provide a Transformational Customer Experience to create customer devotion that leads to customer promotion. Dennis shows sales forces how to lower customer barriers to information and change attitude to increase sales effectiveness. He is author of the book, Create Devoted Customers and the instructional audio, The Mental-Rental Sales Process. Dennis delivers value-filled presentations with an entertaining style; keynotes, training and educational materials are available – 800-804-4034 or visit www.Face2FaceService.Com.