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 is 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 and 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 to 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: on how to handle difficult conversations. This could include role-playing exercises, communication skills training, and conflict resolution training, providing 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, and 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.
What should those service recovery conversations with customers sound like?
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 allowing them to express their frustration and acknowledge their feelings, and only then respond. Example: “I’m sorry to hear that you’re disappointed with the performance of your car after the service. 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 only imagine how frustrating it is to keep coming back with the same issue. I’m sorry for the inconvenience this has caused.”
3. Offer solutions: Offer alternative solutions to address the customer’s concerns – it may mean providing a complimentary transport service while a car service issue is reviewed, calling in an expert, or offering a discount or complimentary service.
Example: “I understand that you’re not satisfied with the repair that was done on your vehicle. We can offer you a loan car while we have another look at the problem, or I can call on our technical expert to see if we missed anything. Which option would work for you?
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 the issue for you.”
5. Follow up: Personally follow up with the customer after the service or repair 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 under my attention to improve our service to you?“
Remember to listen actively, empathize, 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 and disappointed customer into a raving ambassador simply because your customer felt heard, 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.
Case Study: Best practice for service recovery measures in the automotive industry
In the automotive industry, service recovery is a crucial aspect of customer experience management. Long delays, recurring issues, unavailability of parts, and long lead times for service can all lead to negative experiences for customers. However, with the right approach, these negative moments can be turned around into opportunities to build advocacy and loyalty.
1. Acknowledge the issue: When an unexpected problem impacts the customer, it’s important to acknowledge the issue immediately, apologise for the inconvenience caused and confirm the action that will be taken to address the problem. This shows that the business values the customer’s time and effort.
Example: A customer brings their car in for service, and the service team realises that they don’t have the necessary parts to complete the repair. The service advisor reaches out to the customer immediately, apologises for any inconvenience it may cause, confirms the action taken to order the parts from another location and provides an estimated time for completing the repair.
2. Take ownership of the problem: Once the issue is acknowledged, it’s important to take ownership of the problem and find a solution. This shows that the business is committed to resolving the issue and values the customer’s satisfaction.
Example: A customer brings their car in for service multiple times for the same issue. The service team acknowledges the issue, the inconvenience it creates to return to the dealership and takes ownership of finding a solution. They communicate with the customer about what steps are being taken to resolve the issue and keep them updated throughout the process. Transparency about the challenges and actions taken is vital to build confidence and trust in the team’s commitment to resolve issues.
3. Offer a solution: In addition to taking ownership of the problem, it’s important to offer a solution that meets the customer’s needs. This shows that the dealership appreciates the inconvenience for the customer, is committed to providing excellent customer service, values the customer’s satisfaction, and the relationship they have with the customer.
Example: A customer brings their car in for service, and the service or repair takes longer than expected to complete. The service advisor reaches out immediately, apologises for the delay and offers to assist the customer while waiting. It is important to consider the customer’s context when offering options to assist them, such as providing a loan car, shuttle service, footing the bill for e-haling back to the dealership, collecting the customer or offering to drop the car off once the service is completed. Knowing your customer is key to matching the best solution, but providing options so that the customer can choose what suits them best, remains the key to reducing the inconvenience.
4. Follow up: After the issue has been resolved, it’s important to follow up with the customer to ensure that they are satisfied with the solution. This shows that the business values the customer’s feedback and is committed to continuous improvement.
Example: Despite knowing that the issue was resolved, the service advisor reaches out to the customer to ensure that they are satisfied with the actions taken and the current condition of the car and asks for feedback about the service recovery process. When complex repairs were completed, the service manager or mechanic who did the repairs, reaches out to ensure that the issues have been resolved.