For any business, from time to time, failures in customer service are unavoidable. If handled appropriately, they can provide a business with excellent opportunities to learn, grow and establish stronger relationships with the customer base. For instance, an airline may experience unexpected delays due to bad weather and this would be beyond their control. However, the way that the staff are trained to handle this situation will determine whether or not the passengers will leave with a sour taste in their mouth regarding the airline's customer care. Research indicates that clients who have had issues resolved promptly and efficiently, tend to be more loyal than those who have never encountered issues.
What business owners can train staff to do as customer service recovery:
1. Acknowledge the situation at hand. Take responsibility if necessary: For a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than a company that does not take responsibility for their wrongful actions. Not only does this exhibit arrogance and lack of humility on the part of the business, it shows that they do not value the importance of the customer relationships. More often than not, employees tend to either evade blame or place blame on someone else. This can prove to be extremely harmful to the brand as it will demonstrate a lack of unification of the team. A brand that shows discord between team members is a brand that is difficult to trust and be loyal to. Furthermore, showing empathy and walking the customer through all the steps that you are taking to remedy the issue will help reassure them.
2. Take action promptly: Often, the response time for the resolution of an issue is very high due to long chains of command or lack of prioritization. The longer a customer has to wait for an issue to be resolved, the more the strain on the customer-business relationship. The best example of this is when a customer gets shuffled around to different departments when calling in to a help line. Investing in training your customer service agents to actively troubleshoot issues and clearly designating the departments that are responsible for particular issues will go a long way to cut down the response time, leaving the customer less frustrated.
3. Offer apologies and compensation for damages: A sincere apology from a customer service agent can go a long way to calm an irritated consumer. The earnestness of the apology will also help demonstrate that the company respects and values the customer. This is the key first step to mending the damaged relationship.
4. Follow up with the customer to receive feedback: Firstly, this creates an opportunity for the business to mend the broken trust between them and the customer. This also provides them with an opportunity to investigate their shortcomings and improve their practices. Documenting and using examples of events that have taken place and using them as case studies during training sessions is an excellent way to provide realistic scenarios to employees.
Illustrated below are some scenarios that highlight the way a certain situation was handled in contrast to the way it should have been handled.
An overworked waitress, complaining about her long shift, spills a tray full of water cups all over the table and the laps of two diners.
What happened: The two diners were left with the mess for a good 10 minutes while the waitress shuffled about, trying to gather enough dishcloths to clean up the water. Although the two diners handled the situation with a lot of patience and grace, the frustration on their faces became more and more evident.
What should have happened: Instead of letting the waitress dwell in her misery and handle the situation on her own, the manager should have gotten involved. Offering an apology, getting the mess cleaned up as soon as possible and relocating the diners to a new table should have been the way to handle the situation. Lastly, the meal should have been on the house so that the customers felt taken care of during this inconvenient situation.
Flight delay due to turbulent weather
What happened: The passengers were left with no information or updates regarding the status of the flight. There were no agents on hand to provide updates or reassure passengers that the situation will be resolved.
What should have happened: Extra effort and care should have been taken when updating the passengers. Frequent updates would have reassured the passengers that the airline was actively seeking weather updates and looking for a window to be airborne at the earliest and safest opportunity.
Contrastingly, here is an example of a situation that was handled with customer service recovery in mind:
During our enrollment in the phone plan, the customer service representative made a mistake and gave us inaccurate information regarding the reimbursement of switching costs of changing from one provider to another. What resulted was countless hours on the phone, trying to remedy the confusion from conflicting information we received.
What happened: When the issue was pointed out, we were offered compensation in the form of our activation fees being waived. Furthermore, we were offered a $100 credit towards our phone bill. This helped us restore some faith in the company and their service.
In the restaurant industry, spending a few extra dollars on complimentary drinks or appetizers may be a drop in the bucket compared to the business that one might lose if the customer relationship goes bad. In most industries, a loyal customer is worth a significant amount in the long run. Moreover, each customer has a 'network value' attached to them; meaning, there is value in the business brought in by the customer's recommendations. Service recovery may cost a business anywhere between a few thousand dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. It is important for businesses to be aware of this figure in order to assess the importance of customer relationships and how they can implement effective customer service recovery techniques.
Leading organizations in many industries have sharpened service recovery into a potent competitive edge. They understand the power of effective recovery as a customer retaining and employee engaging technique.
To build a powerful cultureofservice recovery in your organization, focus on these key areas:
1. Senior management support. You need vigorous endorsement of service recovery as a vital element in your overall service strategy. The top team must realize that time and money invested in recovery comes back multiplied.
2. A comprehensive recovery plan. This must be carefully crafted, widely communicated and well-understood. Build training and systems to support consistent implementation.
3. Strong service guarantees, backed with immediate action. Strong guarantees give customers a sense of security, and staff members a target to achieve.
4. Discovery systems that seek out and identify service breakdowns. These may be internally driven with flags, filters and alarms, or may depend on external notification from your customers, allies and business partners.
5. Rapid disclosure of breakdowns. When problems are discovered, you need fast communication to all appropriate parties. Don’t shoot the messenger. And don’t try hiding the evidence, covering up the problem or sweeping the affair under the rug. It will come out one day to haunt you.
6. A ‘SWAT team’ response to problems. Once a problem is identified, you want tightly coordinated action with sufficient authority to get the job done.
7. Solutions are evaluated by your customer’s perception and results, not by the time, cost or effort required. You may think you have done a wonderful job setting things right, but if your customer is not happy and loyal, there is still work to be done.
8. Meaningful customer compensation means giving generously to those inconvenienced by service problems. Give enough to show your sincerity and generosity.
9. System improvements make sure the problems won’t be repeated. Lock in gains for your organization with improved systems, training and procedures.
10. Reward and recognition for the team. When a tough problem arises, the recovery team needs a pat on the back when the actions and efforts are done.
11. Organizational learning to capture what happened and what was done about it. Breakdowns and recoveries should be widely communicated. Turn lessons learned into guideposts for the organization. Use these as examples in your service education programs.
How do you score in each of these areas? Where can you build a stronger culture for Effective Service Recovery?