Service Recovery from the Top Down

No one enjoys confrontation with angry customers, especially if you don’t feel prepared to address their needs.

Many healthcare organizations we work with have a desire to do service recovery but have a glaring lack of skills and direction at the front line.  The front line is where service recovery skills are needed most. After all, it’s the front line that spends the most time with the customer. But training is not the first step in creating a successful service recovery system.

Service Recovery Starts at the Top

Service Recovery is essential for all frontline employees, but it begins with top leadership. After all, they are responsible for the first, and most foundational steps. These steps include:

  • Clearly defining what is expected of each person in the organization
  • Setting clear parameters of what employees can do to make amends (It may cost time and money. Be ready to tell them what is within their purview.)
  • Committing to being proactive by providing meaningful training for both leaders and staff. While both need service recovery skills, the leaders need to be prepared to coach for the skills.
  • Committing to learning – Have systems in place to tabulate service recovery data and analyze for trends and opportunities

It’s not unusual for people to contact us and ask for service recovery training. While we have a comprehensive training for frontline workers as part of our A+ Service Recovery System©, we don’t recommend jumping into training until you are ready to help each person to be successful. That means completing the top-level steps described above.

We teach 5 steps in service recovery, including:

  • Anticipate
  • Acknowledge
  • Apologize
  • Alternatives
  • Amend (act)

With training and practice, attendees are able to demonstrate key behaviors and phrases needed to manage service missteps, once a customer speaks up. But we have discovered that many employees miss the visual cues, indicating that a customer is becoming dissatisfied. Often, nonverbal cues indicate an ideal time to intervene… before the person escalates. In some cases, employees see the cues, but ignore them to avoid conflict.

During one exercise in our service recovery class, I show a slide of a woman whose arms are crossed with a stern-looking expression. I ask the class, “If this woman was sitting in your waiting room, would you approach her, or avoid her?” The overwhelming response is that they would steer clear of her. Many express their fears and reluctance to approach someone who looks irritated, because they fear the wrath of an angry customer. When I advised that they should approach the customer, one class attendee said, “Why invite trouble when they might never say anything?” Ahhh. That is the opening I wait for.  The answer is, because they may not say anything to you, but they are very likely telling others AND it is affecting their overall experience. Plus, early intervention will prevent a bigger problem.

Service recovery is like tending to an injury. Ignore even a minor flesh wound and it could become a nasty infection with long-term effects. The same applies to service issues. Address them promptly to prevent a bigger issue.

For more information about Baird Group’s A+ Service Recovery System, call 920 563 4684 or e-mail Our train-the-trainer model gives you all the tools to build a self-sustaining training program.

Subscribe to our Articles and stay up to date on leadership practices, employee engagement, retention, and service excellence.

Submit your information below to start receiving our Baird Group articles.