What is Service Recovery -- And Why Do You Need It?

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Servcie recovery is how do you pull a customer from hell to heaven in 60 seconds or less. You need to apologize, solve the problem, compensate with something of value, create a service recovery process and train employees. This article will define service recovery, detail the importance to the bottom line, identify role models and describe the elements of service recovery.

Service recovery is a critical -- yet all too often missing—element in providing customer service that will attract and retain customers and have a positive impact on the bottom line of any business -- no matter where it is located or what product or service it provides. In his latest book -- Loyal for Life: How to Take Unhappy Customers from Hell to Heaven in 60 Seconds or Less -- John Tschohl defines service recovery, details its importance to the bottom line, identifies role models, and describes the elements of service recovery.

“Service recovery builds customer loyalty that brings a customer back from the brink of defection,” says Tschohl, founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “Simply put, it is putting a smile on a customer’s face after you’ve screwed up. It’s solving a customer’s problem or complaint and sending him out the door feeling as if he’s just done business with the greatest company on earth -- and it’s doing so in 60 seconds or less.”

Service recovery involves a series of steps that must be taken in order to attract -- and retain— -- customers. In his 128-page book, Loyal for Life, Tschohl identifies and describes those steps. They include:

Apologize. “You must apologize and take responsibility for the error,” Tschohl says. “For service recovery to work, it has to happen with the first person the customer tells about the problem. Unfortunately, many employees don’t want to admit that they or their company screwed up, so they lie or make excuses, which irritates the customer even more. You must apologize sincerely on behalf of the company.”

Solve the problem. Once made aware of the situation, the employee must do whatever is necessary -- as quickly as possible -- to solve the problem. That means, Tschohl says, that employees must be empowered. They must be given the authority to bend and break the rules in order to satisfy the customer.

“Empowerment is the backbone of service recovery,” Tschohl says. “It’s impossible to be a service leader, to be customer centric and focus on a service strategy without empowering employees. My definition of empowerment is giving employees the authority to do whatever it takes, on the spot, to take care of a customer to that customer’s satisfaction—not to the organization’s satisfaction.”

Give the customer something of value as compensation. “To simply say you’re sorry is nice, but it’s not very powerful,” Tschohl says. “You must give the customer something that has value in his eyes, something so powerful that he not only will continue to patronize your business but will tell everyone he knows about the wonderful service you provided to him. Every company has something of value it can give to a customer who has experienced a problem. It can cost the company from nothing to a few dollars but, as long as it has value in the customer’s eyes, it will be effective.”

Tschohl was on the receiving end of exceptional service recovery while skiing in Vail. The chair lift stopped, stranding dozens of skiers for an hour. Three times members of the ski patrol came by to provide updates on the situation. When the skiers finally reached the top of the mountain, three Vail employees greeted them, apologized for the inconvenience, and gave them each two free lift tickets -- worth $70 each -- and a ticket for a free drink.

“That was great service recovery,” Tschohl says. “It cost the resort next to nothing but it resulted in unbelievable word-of-mouth advertising. For the rest of that day and the next, we told everyone who would listen about the wonderful treatment we had received. If they had merely given us a free drink ticket, that would have been nice, but we certainly wouldn’t have raved about it to others.”

Create a service recovery process. It is important to develop a process that allows employees some latitude in serving the customer but that also includes specifically defined steps that must be followed in providing service recovery. “Put in place at least five examples of service recovery with strict instructions to employees to meet or exceed them,” Tschohl says. “That might include pre-printed coupons for free services for customers who experience service issues, a free dessert or round of drinks for members of a party that waited until 7:45 p.m. to be seated for their 7 p.m. dinner reservations, or a first-class upgrade for an airline passenger whose luggage was delayed two days.”

Train employees. “Too many executives think employees are born with good customer service skills,” Tschohl says. “If you want your employees to provide service so awesome that it wows your customers, they must combine the fundamentals of customer service with flawless execution. Employees must be knowledgeable about your products and services, but they also must be trained to provide the best service possible in order to keep your customers coming back to you.”

Service recovery not only builds customer loyalty, it draws more customers to a business and can drastically reduce a company’s advertising budget. “Advertising will bring a customer to you—once,” Tschohl says. “The customer experience is what will bring him back to you time and time again.”

If you would like to receive a free download of Loyal for Life, log onto http://www.customer-service.com and sign up for Tschohl’s free online service strategy newsletter.

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