Service recovery – What customers want when things go wrong

18 Jan 2024
  • Consumer Psychology Lab
  • Customer Experience
  • Customer loyalty
  • CX
  • Service recovery

By Liezel Jonkheid, Director and Founder of the Consumer Psychology Lab

Even when your customers love you, your products, the services you offer or your staff, at some point you may be faced with an unhappy, disappointed or dissatisfied customer. It could be a brand-new customer or a long-standing one; it could be something that you did or missed; or it could be something that was totally out of your control. When things do go wrong, it’s not always easy to manage these situations.

Most importantly when it comes to service recovery, it all comes down to how you handle it, because even the angriest customer can turn into your best advocate and a raving ambassador in the future. When something does go wrong, customers want to feel heard, valued and understood. They want to know that their concerns are taken seriously and that you are committed to finding a solution that works for them.

What do customers really want when something goes wrong?

1. Empathy: “Hear me out”

Customers want you to understand their problem, their frustration, the inconvenience it caused or the effort and courage it took to bring it to your attention. They want you to look at it from their perspective. They want to feel that their issues are real to you. They want you to hear them and acknowledge their value to you.

2.Communication: “Talk to me”

Customers want you to tell them how you are addressing their problem, what you are doing about it and what they can expect going forward.

3. Action: “Fix it or help me”

Customers want to know how you will fix the problem and see that you take action to resolve their problem.

4. Fairness: “Be fair to me”

Customers want you to treat them fairly, with respect and that their best interest is considered – not what works best for you only.

5. Follow-up: “Check in again”

Customers want you to care enough to follow up after the issue has been resolved to ensure that they are satisfied with the outcome.

To win back your customer’s trust and continued loyalty, you must design for service failures and empower your staff to navigate these situations. Consider the best way to manage the service failure by crafting a plan that outlines the process to follow. Empathy, clear and timely communication, action, fairness and closing the loop, are crucial elements to include in your plan for the best outcomes in service recovery. The second element is to ensure that your employees are empowered to manage the situations.

Do your employees know how to handle difficult service recovery conversations?

The employees who deal with customers are central to the service recovery process, so make sure they know how to handle this sensitive stage of the customer experience and relationship – from what to do and what they can offer as a solution, to how it’s delivered, right down to language and tonality.

1. Provide training:

Give them the necessary skills to handle difficult conversations. This could include roleplaying exercises, communication skills training and conflict resolution training, as well as to provide a customer service manual and a list of frequently asked questions (and appropriate responses).

2. Set expectations:

For how employees should handle difficult conversations such as guidelines for how to listen actively, how to acknowledge the customer’s concerns and that includes use of language and tone, as well as how to offer solutions.

3. Encourage empathy:

Encourage employees to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and to approach the conversation from the customer’s perspective. Empathy goes a long way to defuse tensions and build rapport with the customer.

4. Offer support:

Offer employees support during difficult conversations by having a manager or supervisor available to step in if needed.

5. Provide feedback:

Provide employees with feedback on their performance during difficult conversations. This can help them to improve their communication skills and build their confidence. Recognise employees who go the extra mile to solve a customer’s problem or to keep a customer.

By empowering employees to handle difficult conversations during service recovery, you can ensure that your customers are taken care of and that their concerns are addressed speedily and professionally. Much of this is dependent on proper training and guidelines so that staff know what to do BEFORE things go wrong and are not left floundering in the heat of the moment.

Here are some tips for how those recovery conversations with customers should sound like:

1. Listen actively:

Begin the conversation by actively listening to the customer’s concerns and allow them to express their frustration, acknowledge their feelings and only then respond.

Example: ‘I’m sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with our product. Can you tell me more about what’s been going on?’

2. Empathise:

Show empathy towards the customer by putting yourself in their shoes and acknowledging their inconvenience.

Example: ‘I can understand how annoying it is when you buy something and it does not work as you expected. I can see you are very frustrated with it.’

3. Offer solutions:

Offer alternative solutions to address the customer’s concerns – it may mean providing a complimentary service, another product, a replacement or a repair at your cost.

Example:  ‘I understand that you’re not satisfied with the performance of our product. We can offer you a replacement or another product, a refund or we can send this one in for a review and repair at our cost. Which would you prefer?’

4. Take responsibility and be accountable:

Take responsibility for the situation and show the customer that you are committed to finding a solution that works for them.

Example: ‘I am sorry for the inconvenience this has caused. We are committed to finding a solution and I will see to it that we resolve this for you.’

5. Follow up:

Personally follow up with the customer afterwards to ensure that the customer was satisfied with the service recovery measures.  It demonstrates that the outcome of the service recovery matters to you and leads to a more positive customer experience overall.

Example:  ‘Thank you for your patience while we tried to resolve the problem. Are you completely satisfied with the outcome? Is there anything that you would like to bring to my attention to improve our service to you?

Remember to listen actively, empathise, offer solutions, take responsibility and follow up. These best practices can help turn a negative situation into a positive customer experience.

By “designing for failure” and having a plan in place for service recovery measures on all the potential things that can go wrong, you can ensure that customers and their service delivery issues are taken care of speedily and efficiently; and that the relationship remains intact, if not stronger.

These best practices can help turn a negative situation into a positive customer experience and turn an angry or disappointed customer into a raving ambassador, simply because your customer felt heard and appreciated, and that you took genuine steps to resolve their troubles.

By acknowledging the customer’s issue, taking ownership of the problem and offering a solution, service teams can turn moments of misery into moments of magic and opportunities, to build advocacy and loyalty.