When Service fails


Customers don’t expect you to be perfect.

They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.

–Donald Porter

It is not news that service sometimes fails. A client’s complaint is not responded to. A test result is delayed at the hospital. Your mechanic forgets to change the oil in your car. Service does fail. The crucial factor is what an organization or individual does about it. This is what proves that one is truly service oriented. According to Kristin Baird of the Baird Group, the real test of excellence is when a bad experience is honestly addressed and swiftly turned around. How then can a business go about recovering the goodwill and satisfaction of her customers after a service failure? The essential thing about service recovery is to have a plan before the failure occurs and ensure that the service representatives understand the process.

And such a plan would include the following:

  • Invite and encourage your customers to express their discontent. Provide channels like toll-free lines, complaint boxes, mail boxes, where customers can easily voice out their perceived problems with your business or service process. In addition, listen for off hand comments and remarks which could be pointers to defects in your system. A comment like, “I wish there were more tellers at this branch” could indicate that your bank customers are underserved.

  • Don’t wait for customers to complain; examine your existing process and look for possible areas of service failure. When you discover these points, act promptly to correct them.

  • When service actually goes bad, the first thing to do is apologize. I know many companies discourage their staff from apologizing too quickly. This is because, it is believed, apologizing would imply you admit you are wrong and could make you liable should the customer decide to sue you. However, let’s consider this for a minute. What happens if you do not apologize? You lose a customer, and probably lots more through negative publicity. Besides, if you were actually wrong, it’s simple courtesy (and respect) to apologize. And remember, Business IS about people (your customers) and not your ego. So apologize for the bad experience and move on to the next step.

  • Get the issue resolved promptly. Find out what went wrong and fix it. It makes no sense for a tailor, for instance, to damage my beautiful ankara outfit, and offer a hymn to me in apology, without thinking of how to correct the damage. Or imagine your bank wrongly debiting your account and sending you a nicely written ‘We are Sorry’ card, with no mention that the error has been reversed. It simply doesn’t count.

  • Close the loop and give feedback to the customer. When service fails, the customer wants to know it’s been corrected. So let her know. Don’t keep her wondering whether she should switch to someone else. Make her believe you know what you are doing and that she can give you another chance.

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