Service&Experience with J. N. Halm: Recovering more…Beyond customer recovery

J. N. Halm

It is widely accepted that for as long we remain in this human state, perfection will continue to remain only an aspiration. Things rarely get to, and remain at, a perfect state. The best one can always hope for is to get to as close to perfect as possible. There are always bound to be those times when things are as far from perfect as possible. It is all part of the human experience.

In doing business, things are even less perfect. When different people—from different backgrounds, with different mind-sets and different motivations—congregate to undertake a transaction, there is always the potential for things to be far from perfect. Occasionally, issues will arise that no one could have really anticipated. These occurrences may lead to poor service delivery which, by extension, will lead to customer dissatisfaction.

Thankfully, there are always ways of redeeming the situation, even if not to its original state. Service recovery is therefore a key component of the arsenal of any business that intends to stay in business for long. Serious businesses know exactly what to do when things go bad. In these organisations, there are manuals written, steps provided and procedures laid out on how to handle every problem imaginable.

Customer Recovery

For many businesses, whenever there happens to be a service failure, the main consideration is to ensure that the customer is made happy. That is customer recovery, with the word “recovery” being used in this context as a synonym of “satisfaction”. In other words, a “recovered” customer is a “satisfied” customer. In short, a service recovery that fails to bring the customer back will be deemed a total failure.

Experts propound a number of ways by which a business can go about “recovering” an otherwise dissatisfied customer. However, there seems to be some sort of agreement that to satisfy a customer following a failure, the following steps must be followed:

  • Accept: When a customer is not satisfied with something, it is important not to downplay the customer’s feelings. The proper thing to do is, first and foremost, to acknowledge the customer’s dissatisfied state. The customer-handling professional must believe that there is an issue. It is wrong to start a service recovery process with doubts about the genuineness of the customer’s feelings concerning what has happened.
  • Empathise: Beyond acknowledging the situation, it is also critical that the employee empathises with the customer. The customer must feel like the employee is in the situation together with the customer, not merely sympathising with the customer. The employee and customer must be on the same team, on the same side of the aisle, if the recovery is to be successful. When customers feel like a solution is being pushed on them, they will resent the solution—and in all likelihood, the service recovery process might backfire.
  • Apologise: The road to service recovery must necessarily include a genuine apology. This is always a contentious step because there are those who are of the view that an apology amounts to an admission of guilt. Those of this view believe that customers can use an apology against the organisation, if things were ever to go to court. A genuine apology, however, does not have to amount to an admission of guilt. The apology must be made to the customer for the unfortunate situation and also for any inconvenience caused to the customer.
  • Own: To own is to take ownership of the service recovery process. The easier, but least effective, option is to pass the blame to either a colleague or even to the customer. Both of which are not the better options. Customer experience is marred if customers are made to feel that it was their fault that things have not gone as expected.
  • Solve: When it is all said and done, it comes down to finding a solution to the problem that brought about the need for a recovery in the first place. It helps if the solution is proffered with input from the customer. When the customer is part of the solution-finding process, it becomes easier for the customer to accept the solution.

Sometimes, all that the customer needs to see is the customer service professional putting in effort to solve the problem. Customers understand that not all problems will be solved. Therefore, when they see effort being expended genuinely, they appreciate the effort.

Compensate: When there is a service failure, it is important for the organisation to understand that the customer has lost something. It could be money; time lost or even trust in the organisation. This is why there is always the need for some kind of compensation—something to let the customer know that the organisation is truly interested in restoring the relationship. It is however important to note that compensation should be offered only when the problem has been fixed. Customers do not think it is important to be given a token or a freebie, when the real problem has still not been solved.

  • Assure: There is always some sort of apprehension when customers go through difficulties with a particular service. The customer’s fear is whether the mishap will reoccur and when it will rear its ugly head. It is therefore the job of the customer-handling professional to calm the customer’s fears down and to assure the customer of continuous quality.
  • Follow-up: The service recovery process does not end when the problem is solved. As a matter of fact, it is the beginning of a great relationship. There is always that need to follow-up with the customer to check on whether the solution is meeting the customer’s expectation.

The expectation is that when businesses go through all the following steps, the customer will be truly satisfied. It is even the expectation of businesses that the famed Service Recovery Paradox will kick in right after the process. The Service Recovery Paradox asserts that customers, who have had problems that have been amicably resolved, tend to be more loyal to a brand than customers who have not had any problems at all. If the Paradox were to hold true, then at the end of the Service Recovery process, the customer should become more loyal to the organisation.

Loyalty means repeat business and every serious business person knows that the future of every business is dependent on loyal customers. One-off purchases can be quite exciting. However, money is made when the customer keeps coming back for more. The impact of service recovery on loyalty and on the customer re-purchase intentions means that service recovery also has an effect on the bottom line of the business. Without a proper and effective service recovery, the organisation will end up haemorrhaging customers and this will definitely hit hard at the organisation’s profitability. There are enough studies to prove that when customers are not happy with the way an issue is handled, they tend to defect to the competition.

From the above, it is easy to see why service recovery might seem to revolve around the customer. There is actually nothing wrong with a recovered customer being the cornerstone for any business’ customer strategy. Rightly so, the customer’s happiness should be the focus of every service recovery attempts by the organisation. Without the customer, there will not be any business in the first place. We know of the many benefits that happy, emotionally-satisfied customers can bring to a business.

However, it is important to note that when things do not go well in the service experience, there is a lot more at stake than just customer recovery.  There are two other important factors at play before, during and after the service has been recovered. According to a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Operations & Production Management, the implications of service recovery on these two other outcomes might even be more far-reaching than the effects on the customer.  Titled “Three Outcomes of Service Recovery”, the researchers affirmed that service recovery procedures had greater impact on these two other outcomes.

Process Recovery

Aside the customer, another outcome that must be taken into serious consideration is the service process itself. Process Recovery is very important if any organisation is to truly benefit from any bad service situation. Process Recovery is a sure way of helping drive improvement throughout the organisation. It has been argued, quite forcefully, by some experts that improving the quality of service provided by the organisation should be the main purpose of service recovery. After all, if we do not learn from the mistakes of the past, we will keep repeating same.

Unfortunately, this truth is lost on many organisations and so they recover the customer and forget about the process by which that recovery was achieved. Therefore, in no time, the organisation makes the same mistake again, if not to the original customer, then to another customer. Future customers will end up going through the same problems as earlier customers if the service recovery process does not lead to quality improvement.

To be continued

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