Service&Experience with J. N. Halm: Recovering More (cont’d)—beyond customer recovery

J. N. Halm

If all a business regains from the bad service experience is a satisfied customer, then the business has actually lost out. A great opportunity has been missed. All the resources that will be dedicated to service recovery should result in a better system. Service recovery is a learning process that must result in the things becoming better. Service recovery must lead to newer ways of doing things. Service recovery must not leave the system where it found it.

It is true that customers would want to see things improve for the better. Therefore a service recovery process should see the quality of the organisation’s service improved. The last thing a customer wants to see is to come back to see the same old problem repeating itself. That will be a clear message to the customer that the business does not really care about its customers. And when customers do not feel appreciated, they will, in all likelihood walk away.

If at the end of the service recovery, the process of service delivery is made better, then there will not be any issues in the future that would call for service recovery in the first place. It has been said that a complaining customer is a valuable resource for any business. It has also been said that the unhappy customer is a business’ greatest source of learning.

If this holds true, then process recovery is an outcome that businesses should seek whenever there is an issue with a customer. The organisation’s procedures manual or standard operating procedure should be updated after a service recovery process.

In creating a service recovery database, some serious work must be done by the organisation. Every service failure and its impact must be documented and then properly analysed and interpreted.  It helps if all service failures are profiled, with similar failures categorised for easy recall.

For instance, system failures can be grouped together while human failures can also be grouped together. In putting together a service recovery handbook of sorts, it is also helpful if the document is organised into pre-, during and post-recovery activities. This will serve as a valuable resource for the future training of employees. New service failures can be added as and when they occur.

Finally, it is common to see organisations where front line units and departments who deal directly with customers are not strategically aligned with the rest of the organisation. In such a setting, service recovery information that would be of use in one part of the organisation would be siloed in another department. Information that would improve the process should be readily shared throughout the organisation and put to good use by those who really need it.

Employee Recovery

In addition to Customer Recovery and Process Recovery, the other outcome of service recovery that is often neglected by many organisations is Employee Recovery.  When the service experience does not go well, many businesses do not realise that the employee handling that customer also suffers.

Having spent a chunk of my working life dealing with customers, first as a young banking officer and then as a Head of Corporate Affairs and Marketing of a bank, I know, at first-hand, how much the displeasure of a customer can cause pain to an employee. Truly professional customer-handling employees feel the pain of their customers. Nothing can be more frustrating than understanding a customer’s position and still not being able to do something about the situation because of a number of reasons, including company policies.

There is a reason why empathy ranks high among the things customers look out for in a service. Customers appreciate it when employees see things from the customer’s point of view. Customers know that when employees walk in the shoes of customers, the solutions that are proffered are agreeable to both the organisation and the customer.  Therefore, it is a fact that employees who excel in dealing with customers are those who know what it is like to be a customer.

The recovery of the employee is one area that many businesses fail woefully at. For many organisations, when the customer is recovered and the system is improved, that should be the end of the matter. The feelings, emotions and post-recovery attitude of the employee do not really come to play. This is most unfortunate because studies after studies have shown that the human factor cannot be discounted in the service delivery process.

This lack of appreciation of the employee factor when it comes to service recovery, I believe, stems from the fact that these organisations do not understand the true role of the customer-facing employee. For these businesses, the understanding is that it is the employee’s job to serve customers. Therefore, if things do not go well, it is that employee’s job to right the wrong—no questions asked.

Some will even argue that if it is that particular employee’s fault that things did not go well, then there is nothing wrong if that employee suffers. Some businesses will even leave the customer-facing employee to face the wrath of the disappointed customer all alone. The employee might end up satisfying the customer. However, that employee will be so drained by the experience, that the entire episode will leave a bad taste in the employee’s mouth. In this instance, the customer is recovered but the employee is far from recovered.

The issue of employee recovery cannot be treated lightly because unrecovered employees are a danger to any organisation. There is enough evidence of the poor behaviours that are put up by employees when things do not go well for them. Unrecovered employees shun all kinds of organisational citizenship behaviours. They begin to adopt unhelpful and even destructive attitudes.

Unrecovered employees will begin by withdrawing any voluntary help that might be required of them. They will come to work and do just the barest minimum expected of them. They will not go the extra mile to please customers. When the aggrieved employee becomes convinced that management does not care, he or she might even get into “a cold war” with the organisation. In that case, the unrecovered employee becomes a saboteur of the organisation.

In a Conference Paper titled “Perceived Justice in Service Failure and Recovery Incidents. A Multiple Correspondence Approach”, delivered at the 2003 Winter AMA Educators’ Proceedings, researcher Stefan Michel of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) listed some behaviours exhibited by employees who feel alienated after a service recovery incident. Some of the behaviours captured in the paper include impoliteness, lack of empathy, lack of effort, missing explanations, dishonesty, and an unfavourable attitude. All these are unfortunate and preventable outcomes.

All that a manager, supervisor or immediate superior could have done to prevent all these would have been to show a little concern for an employee who is recovering a customer. It is interesting that there have been reported cases where customers saw the stress the employee was going through and this led to the customer rather empathising with the employee.

What most businesses do not know or seem to realise is that the employee is as much a customer of the organisation as any external customer. As such employees must be given the same consideration when it comes to dealing with a poor service situation. The employee who uses the process to bring the customer to a state of satisfaction must also be satisfied at the end of the process. Happy employees easily make for happy customers. Leaving employees to face the fire all on their own without the slightest show of concern from immediate superiors and top management members is a recipe for disaster.

The discussions above should make it clear that the importance of service recovery cannot be overstated. Smart business managers are those that are, first of all, able to factor all the three outcomes discussed above in any service recovery strategy. Management should not only be concerned about how the customer reacts to the recovery attempts. Management should also be concerned about both the process and the employee.

Additionally, it is clear that service recovery should move beyond the one-time, ad hoc approach that many organisations adhere to. An organisation that intends to get to the top must necessarily see service recovery as a key management function. The right resources and management clout must be placed behind service recovery to ensure that it is treated as a business strategy.


Also, service recovery should be proactive. An organisation should not wait for customers to complain about a service failure before the recovery kicks in. This is because there is enough evidence that most aggrieved customers would prefer to walk away rather than to lodge a complaint.  Businesses that are interested in growing must go out of their way to collect service failure data. Mystery shopping techniques as well as other research methods can be adopted to get the necessary information about the organisation’s performance.

From the on-going discussion, it is clear that when organisations put greater effort into their service recovery strategies, there is a set of triple benefits. Recovered customers are most satisfied. Service processes become more robust. Front line employees become better motivated. However, these three outcomes will only be attained when businesses realise that when work is put into service recovery, the business recover more than just customers.

Leave a Reply