THE BAD INTO GOOD (cont’d): Developing a Sound Service Recovery Strategy

J. N. Halm

When explaining a failed service situation to customers, it is important to do so in a language the customer understands. It is critical to speak at the level of the customer. Speaking above the customer’s head, in jargons, is as unwelcome as speaking at a level beneath the customer’s understanding. The latter is an insult to the customer’s intelligence. And the last thing you want to do is to insult the intelligence of an already-frustrated customer.

When it comes to explaining, the one doing the explaining must understand that the customer in question is already frustrated. Therefore, the explanation must be done with tact. The explainer must choose words that will not infuriate the customer and further aggravate the situation. Apart from the words, the explanation must be done with the right tone of voice and with the right mannerisms.


If there is only one factor that can solely make or mar a disappointed customer’s recovery experience, it has to be Effort. Studies after studies have shown that customers just love to see a customer service employee putting in the effort to solve a problem. It is the clearest sign to the customer that the organisation cares enough to want to makes things right. When customers see the customer contact employee expending lots of energy or “really trying”, it makes the customer really appreciate the business in question.

It has even been shown that the use of effort as a service recovery measure can be so powerful that even if the final results do not go as expected, many customers can be very forgiving. Sometimes, all a customer wants is for someone to just exert a little effort.

It is however vital that the effort being exerted comes across as genuine, otherwise it will backfire. If the customer begins to believe that the employee is just putting up a show, the service recovery process will not end well. It will infuriate the customer and further aggravate the situation.

Response Speed

We live in an era of speed, where the twenty four hours seems like it is no more enough. What are we to expect from a world of fast food, microwave ovens, 3-D printers and super-fast cars? Customers of today are just not happy with being served. They want to be served with speed and on time. Largely due to the presence of the Internet, today’s customers want what they want when they want it. Any delay on the part of the organisation and the customer will not hesitate to take her business elsewhere.

Speed is directly related to effort in the service recovery process. When a customer sees the employee work with speed to find a solution to the problem, the customer sees the speedy act as a show of concern. It is instructive to note that promptness is one of the qualities that customers look out for in a service. Customer contact employees must therefore appreciate this need for speed so that when they are dealing with an aggrieved customer, they do not exhibit any signs of slowness in their movement. The customer will interpret any dragging of feet and slackness as a lack of concern for the situation.

It is however important to note that prompt response must be done with respect to the particular problem at hand. There are times when a prompt response might lead to more problems. There are times when the best course of action is for the issue to be investigated thoroughly before any solution is recommended. In such a case, prompt response might come across as reckless. If a customer brought in a very expensive piece of machinery for repairs, he would expect the mechanic to take time to assess the problem before attempting to solve the problem.


Without a doubt, this is the crux of the entire service recovery process. Without this very remedy, the entire process amounts to nothing. A thousand apologies will not suffice if they do not lead to a successful resolution of the matter. All the efforts of the customer-handling employee will fall short if those efforts do not lead to a solution. No amount of explanation will appease a customer if there is no solution at the end of the day. The speed of resolution is only impressive if it leads to a speedy resolution. In other words, everything within the service recovery ecosystem must revolve around solving the problem at hand.

Every effort must be directed at finding the right solution to the problem. If it is a customer’s luggage or order that is missing in the system, it must be found. If it is a wrong order that has been placed before the customer and the customer objects to it, the order has to be changed. If there is an over-withdrawal on a customer’s account and it has been proven as such, it must be reversed. It is that simple.

Problem solving, as a service recovery mechanism, also provides an organisation with an opportunity to wow the customer. Problem solving is a chance to show the customer that the organisation is truly sorry for what had transpired. For instance, if a customer whose luggage goes missing gets the luggage back and, in addition, gets a discount on her next flight, that customer would have been wowed. This is where the Service Recovery Paradox kicks in. That wowed customer will end up falling deeper in love with the business.

Experts advise that when it comes to problem solving, the organisation must endeavour to provide a solution that is more than the customer’s perceived loss. In the worst case scenario, the solution must equal the loss. In no way should a solution to a service recovery process leave the customer worse off. If a customer loses GH¢100 as a result of a service failure, a solution that recovers GH¢99.99 will not help. Even if the customer takes that GH¢99.99 solution, it will leave a bad taste in the customer’s mouth, and even spell doom for the relationship.

It is important to note that apart from these five factors, there are many other courses of actions that a business can take in recovering a failed service situation. The Vietnam study, referred to earlier on, divides service recovery actions into two categories—tangible and intangible actions.  The first four of the five factors we have dealt with thus far have all been in the latter category.

Tangible actions include financial compensation. Refunding is another. Replacement is another tangible act that helps organisations recover failed service situations. In some instances, compensation and refunding are combined to give the customer the best of post –recovery experiences.

As noted in the aforementioned study, tangible acts of service recovery are those that are determined by the organisation itself. These are things for which permission must be sought from top management before handed over to the customer. Without a manager’s permission, a customer-facing employee cannot just get up and give a complaining customer a refund. That employee will have a lot of explaining to do. It will be unthinkable that a customer-handling employee will decide on her own accord to give company money to a customer who is unhappy about an issue. That employee might end up losing her job.

The intangible actions, on the other hand, are things that customer contact and front line employees can do without necessarily seeking permission from their superiors. A cashier does not need permission from her manager before saying sorry to a customer who is not happy about a situation. A front desk employee does not need a superior’s permission to explain to a customer what went wrong, unless the employee in question does not have that information. In that case, she might need someone else to do the explaining. The front line does not need permission to act promptly when dealing with customers who are having issues.

From the above, one can clearly see the importance of employees in the whole service recovery process. The role of the internal customer in helping recover a poor service situation cannot be overemphasised. This is why organisations with sound service recovery strategies also ensure that internal customers are well taken care of. No matter the level of professionalism of an individual, if the one is not happy or not fully engaged on the job, it shows. Such an individual will not be able to give off his or her best.

The negative emotions within the person always have a way of coming to the fore and negatively affecting the service recovery process. A dissatisfied front line employee will not be enthused enough to act with promptness when handling a service recovery situation. An angry employee will not explain matters well. An employee who is unhappy will even find it difficult to apologise.

As in life, it is not what happens that really matters. It is how we respond to what happens that makes the difference. From the on-going discussion, it is clear that a business that is able to put in place the right service recovery strategy will walk tall in the marketplace.

While the competition cowers in fear, the business with a sound service recovery strategy will push forward in confidence. While the brand image of its competitors suffers from negative word of mouth reviews, the business with a sound service recovery strategy will not be affected. The confident business will not fret even when things go bad. It knows that it has what it takes to turn the bad into good.

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