Service Recovery Training vs Empowerment – Why you need both

Written By: Kristin Baird, RN, BSN, MHA

Service missteps are inevitable, but disgruntled patients are not. No matter how hard you try, no matter how many processes you put into place, there will be times when you disappoint your customers, but you don’t need to leave them in that state. Therefore, service recovery training is an essential element of a well-rounded patient experience strategy and necessary to empower your team.

Front line team members must have the skills to manage disgruntled customers. But here’s the rub.

Service recovery training may elevate skills, but staff still need legitimate authority to take action.


This is where most healthcare leaders miss the mark. In truth, it’s pretty easy to hold classes that teach fundamental service recovery skills. You can practice and coach behaviors, but things fall apart in the culture led by ineffective senior leaders.


Why Empowerment is so important


I’ll never forget the pivotal moment when Baird Group’s approach changed from service recovery training to a comprehensive culture approach.

We were engaged to do service recovery training with front line staff using our 4-step approach in a 6-hospital system. The staff was receptive and eager to learn the skills that would help them feel competent and confident in addressing patient and family concerns. We were encouraged by what we observed in the classroom but had a rude awakening when we discovered that administration was merely giving  about employee empowerment.

During a leadership development session, I shared a story of a nurse who had gone above and beyond to help a family who had had a terrible experience in the hospital cafeteria. Tired and hungry, the family just wanted to take a break from their critically ill family member and didn’t want to return to the cafeteria. They were from out of town and didn’t know the area so the nurse, having heard about their bad experience, offered to walk them to a restaurant three blocks away. The family was thrilled and raved about the nurse’s attentive behavior.

After the session was over, I met with the executive team where the COO literally screamed at me, “How dare you encourage our staff to leave the campus. She was working and was not allowed to leave. You are filling our staff with ideas about how to break rules and take advantage of situations.” 


Service Recovery Training


From that point on, we approach service recovery training with a 3-step approach that addresses culture issues before implementing and developing service recovery training. (More about this in my next blog.)

In a Harvard Business Review article, The Profitable Art of Service Recovery, Authors Christopher W. Hart and James L. Heskett, and W. Earl Sasser Jr., assert the importance of empowering the front-line worker to act. “The surest way to recover from service mishaps is for workers on the front line to identify and solve the customer’s problem. Doing so requires decision making and rule breaking—exactly what employees have been conditioned against.”[1]

Therefore, I challenge all healthcare leaders to answer this question; Are you empowering employees to use their service recovery training to act or paying lip service?

If you cannot answer this question, then you should educate yourself. Learn more about Baird Group’s three fundamentals of a service-recovery culture and empowerment of your team.



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