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When Things Go South

July 18, 2023
To handle the occasional screw up with aplomb, you must have a service recovery procedure.

Sometimes despite your best efforts, something screws up. You screw up. Your plumber screws up. The result is your customer is screwed up. To handle the occasional screw up with aplomb, you must have a service recovery procedure. Here are nine vital steps to build one.

1. Listen

When the customer is explaining how something went wrong, listen intently. It is easy to race along, thinking you have heard all of this before so that you seek out a solution before the customer has finished describing the problem. Force yourself to listen. You might discover new information. Plus, part of the service recovery process is showing respect to the customer by actively listening.

You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.

2. Clarify

After the customer pauses, clarify to ensure you understand what was said. Repeat back to the customer what was just told to you in your own words. “So, Mr. Customer, if I understand correctly, what you are saying is…”

Sometimes people explain things poorly. It reminds me of a quote by Robert McCloskey that hung in my father’s office. It read, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not actually what I meant.” Confused? Probably. So, clarify.

3. Whoever Receives the Complaint Owns the Complaint

Do you find it frustrating when you have a customer service problem, and you have to explain it over and over again to the different employees of the offending company? Your customers are no different. So don’t make them repeat the problem. Direct whoever receives the complaint to own it until it is successfully resolved.

Resolution becomes the obligation of the first person the customer reaches. If he or she cannot solve the problem, he remains the point person with the customer while working internally to get it the issue satisfactorily addressed.

4. Own Up to Mistakes

If the company erred, admit it and apologize. When you try to avoid admitting a mistake, you merely make the customer madder. It is better to admit an error, then do something about it.

Of course, the customer is not always right. There are times when the customer is wrong, not the company. If the company did not err, but the customer believes the customer did, apologize for the circumstances the customer is in.

5. Act Fast

Whatever you do, do it as fast as possible. Every second you delay resolution is a second where the customer anger builds. Fast resolution helps turn a bad experience into a positive one. Fast resolution also saves money. The longer a problem drags out the more expensive it becomes.

6. Make It Right

You should have a warranty reserve fund where a percent or so from every invoice is contributed. This is tapped into to cover problems. Since the money is already budgeted, there should be no hesitation to fix the problem or refund money if necessary and appropriate. While you may not be able to satisfy every customer, you can at least mollify them to help neutralize the worst reviews.

Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Look at the world as the customer sees it. Be fair from the customer’s perspective.

7. Empower Your People to Solve Problems

One of the best ways to handle problems fast is empowering your front line to make decisions even if they cost money. Maybe you do not want to give them carte blanche, but you can give them a limit, such as $500. Let the front line, most junior person act unilaterally for anything up to the budget without the need to seek management approval. If a problem requires you to get involved, it is costing a lot more than $500 in hidden costs and opportunity costs.

8. Prevent Your People from Saying No

Sometimes the toughest people on customers are your front-line personnel. To stress the need to “recover” the customer, do not allow them to tell any customer no. Instead of saying no, instruct them to say, “Well, here is what I can do…”

9. Give Away Something Extra

When there is a problem, it may be a hassle for you, but it is worse for the customer. Even if you do not feel you did anything wrong, find something extra to give the customer. Often, you can ask the customer what she thinks is fair. It is usually less than you would be prepared to do anyway, so do a little more. Give the customer something extra. Make the customer almost glad you screwed up.

The art of service recovery means keeping the big picture at the forefront. Do not get into fights you cannot win with customers over little things. Solve the problem. Make it go away. Move on to bigger issues. Revisit your processes if it comes up again.

Ultimately, a good service recovery procedure will turn disgruntled customers into some of your greatest advocates. Design it. Teach it. Review it. Post it around your company.

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