Lessons on Service Recovery From an Irate Customer

Posted by Kristin Baird

We all have those experiences as consumers when things don’t go as expected. We might be disappointed in a meal at a restaurant, or wait longer than expected in line or in the waiting room. But then there are times when disappointment becomes a full blown service failure. In both the small disappointments as well as the service failures, service recovery efforts matter.

I recently had two incidents that were handled at opposite ends of the service recovery spectrum. One was excellent service recovery while the other was the worst.

My husband and I were staying in a hotel in Colorado Springs. We had a room that, when we arrived had no light bulbs or TV remote. They quickly fixed the bulb problem but the remote wasn’t the correct one for the TV. My husband needed to unplug the device just to turn it off. Then, in the middle of the night, the toilet wouldn’t flush and was threatening to over flow. We were both too exhausted from our travels to deal with it at 2 AM so waiting until morning to talk with the front desk. The clerk at the front desk was apologetic and promised to get right on it. By the time we returned from breakfast, she had a new room for us just across the hall. She then went on to talk to us about their fair trade policy that promises guests that if they are not fully satisfied, they will be expected to pay only what they feel the stay was worth. She encouraged us to exercise that policy at the time of check out and gave us a $15 credit to their in-house store.

This was an example of service recovery at its best. She took ownership, acted on behalf of the organization and corrected the situation.

My second example didn’t turn out quite that well. I was recently doing a webinar when the audio dropped out. No one on the webinar could hear me. Fortunately, attendees began posting alerts to me in the chat box so I could try to fix it. When I dialed back into the webinar nothing happened. It took several tries and 8 minutes of dead air time to regain connection. It was embarrassing and frustrating for me and a major inconvenience for my attendees. When I began exploring the root cause, I was met with serial finger-pointing. Zoom, the webinar platform, blamed AT&T our internet provider.  AT&T blamed Zoom and the phone software company and so on. No one took ownership or tried to help resolve the issue. Through all my calls and emails, I never once heard the words, “I’m sorry.” Nor did any one of the vendors take accountability. This is after investing thousands of dollars in my phone system and having 2 internet accounts so that if one signal weakens, the other will take over.

For those of you old enough to remember the Lily Tomlin skit where she plays Ernestine the telephone operator, you may recall one of her famous lines, “So, the next time you complain about your phone service, why don’t you try using two Dixie cups with a string? We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the Phone Company.” That was 1976 and it appears we are still getting the same level of service in 2019. Apparently Ernestine must do the customer service training for all these vendors.

There are some important lessons in service recovery here. Take ownership, apologize on behalf of your organization and strive to make things right. When you do, you create raving fans.

  1. Service Recovery Takes Legitimate Empowerment
  2. Service Recovery Is More Than a Coupon
  3. Do You Run from Service Recovery Opportunities?
  4. Why Service Recovery Training isn’t Enough
  5. What Do Pronouns Have To Do With Service Recovery?
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