6 Customer Service Recovery Strategies to Add to your Toolbox [+ Examples]

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Sarah Chambers


Let's face it. All businesses run into problems with their service at some point, which can result in angry or upset customers. It's up to you to turn every situation around and earn back these customers who are at risk of churning.

Customer service representative using service recovery strategies on the phone

In a perfect world, customer support reps would always know exactly what to say and do for customers – but that's not the reality. Issues are unavoidable in any business. The system goes down and eats the customer's data. A storm prevents you from delivering the customer's new TV on time. The waiter brings out the wrong order for the customer.

All of these situations require your business to right a wrong that has been done to the customer and turn a bad situation into a positive one.

In this post, we'll learn about customer service recovery strategies that you can add to your toolbox.

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You can think about service recovery as a positive approach to complaint handling. Complaint handling is negative, involves placating angry customers and minimizing a bad situation. Service recovery unlocks the value in a customer and is part of fostering an ongoing relationship with them.

Have you heard about the service recovery paradox?

The service recovery paradox is a common phenomenon in business that can result in increased customer loyalty to your brand.

Consider this graph. This shows that customers who have experienced service failure and a successful recovery are more loyal over time than those who haven't experienced a service failure.

Customer service recovery and loyalty graph

Image source

This is because your organization has the chance to demonstrate just how important the customer is to your brand. By solving their problem for them and going the extra mile to show how sorry you are, customers grow closer to your business.

That's not a reason to go looking for service failures to fix – but it is a reason to take the service failures that do occur and turn them into opportunities for earning customer loyalty.

1. Apologize to the customer.

The first step to service recovery is offering a sincere and heartfelt apology to the customer. It must not feel mechanical and you must ensure that the customer feels like you mean it.

Show that you appreciate and regret what the customer has gone through in the situation. Think about what the customer wants to hear from an apology and offer it to them. What is driving their frustration? How are they feeling at the moment? Take a moment to step into their shoes.

These phrases can help to show that you want to work with the customer:

  • "I completely understand how frustrating that would be."
  • "I get it. I would be upset too."
  • "I'm going to make this right for you."

Listen closely to the customer's problem and tailor your apology to their unique circumstances. This is no time for a boilerplate message that obviously feels copy and pasted.

The customer wants to feel like you are taking their side and listening closely to what they are saying. They want to feel like they are your top priority and that their problem is being taken seriously.

2. Take ownership of the problem.

You need to empower your employees to take ownership of the problem and take steps to correct it. No customer wants to feel passed around to different team members or feel like your service rep is blaming the situation on someone else.

Allow your employees to take control and use their time and effort to solve customer problems. Enable them to use the company's resources to help customers recover from service breakdowns instead of passing the buck to a senior manager.

Structure your support team so reps are empowered to solve problems quickly and efficiently, without having to ask permission from managers. Ensure the service they provide is speedy and efficient.

3. Get to the root of the issue.

You've apologized to the customer and taken ownership of the problem. Now is the time to ask follow-up questions and do some digging to get to the root of the issue and find out if you can fix the problem.

When working on service recovery, it's important to do as much of the investigative work as you can, rather than relying on the customer to tell you what happened or troubleshoot with you. Frustrated customers don't want to answer additional questions and they don't want to repeat themselves. Instead, read through past conversations, walk through the customer's experience and figure out as much as you can yourself.

Only when you feel like you have the full context of the issue should you return to the customer to ask any additional questions. Because you've already offered them an apology and aligned yourself as an advocate, they'll be much more amenable to working with you on a solution.

4. Solve the problem.

Once you've discovered the cause of the problem, it's time to go about fixing it. You might have to replace a substandard service or product, which is key to meeting customer expectations.

Don't let the conversation with the customer end until you've managed to fix the problem. This requires service reps with excellent problem-solving skills and you need to make sure you train them in service recovery.

Solving the problem means that the customer is satisfied with the resolution. Remember to ask follow-up questions to check that the customer feels the problem has been fixed and don't make assumptions.

5. Offer something extra.

A customer may have been thoroughly inconvenienced by your service lapse and it's not enough to offer exactly what they should have received in the first place. You may need to offer something extra, like free shipping or a free month's subscription, in order to make up for the customer's sense of injustice.

Come up with creative ways to restore customer happiness with your products and brand. Remember that your customer has been stressed out and inconvenienced by the service issue, and you need to go that extra mile to make up for the hassle.

6. Follow up with the customer.

Once you've closed the conversation with the customer, don't forget to follow up with them to check they are satisfied with the resolution. Show your concern for the customer by sending a follow-up email or making a follow-up phone call, which means you can also catch any further issues the customer may be experiencing.

Make sure you let your coworkers know that the customer was the victim of a service failure. Any further interactions with the customer should be made with this in mind so your staff can communicate appropriately without the customer having to explain their issue over again.

Consider sending a handwritten note to the customer to show how much you appreciate their business.

Service Recovery Examples

1. Zingerman's

A customer ordered a big basket of baked goods from Zingerman's Deli. Unfortunately, the delivery was damaged en route and the cookies were crumbled and the brownies squashed. The customer and their family still managed to eat the goods but when Zingerman's sent a follow-up customer satisfaction email, they expressed their disappointment with the shipment.

Zingerman's responded immediately to the less than satisfied response and offered to send a replacement basket, a gift card, or a refund.

Zingerman's service recovery email

2. Club Med-Cancun

Club Med-Cancun recovered from a service disaster and won the loyalty of a group of vacationers.

The vacationers had endless nightmares traveling from New York to their Mexican destination. The flight was six hours late in taking off, made two unscheduled stops, and circled for thirty minutes before it could land in Mexico.

Because of the unexpected delays, the flight was en route for ten hours more than expected and ran out of food and drinks. Eventually, it arrived at two in the morning, which was such a rough landing that oxygen masks were released. When the plane eventually arrived at the gate, the passengers were hungry and believed their vacation was ruined before it had even begun.

Luckily, the general manager of the Cancun resort heard about the terrible flight and quickly created a balm for the wound. He took his staff to the airport where they arranged a table of snacks and drinks and set up a stereo to play music. Guests shuffling through the gate received a personal greeting, assistance with their bags, a sympathetic ear, and a ride to the resort.

Waiting for them at Club Med was a banquet, mariachi band, and champagne. Staff had encouraged other guests to wait up and greet the vacationers, and they partied until dawn. In the end, the guests had a better experience with Club Med than if their flight had gone as planned.

3. Zappos

Jay was the best man at his friend's wedding and had ordered a pair of shoes from Zappos to arrive in time for the big day. Unfortunately, the package was sent to the wrong location and wouldn't arrive in time for the wedding.

Jay called Zappos, hoping to get a solution to his problem. The company not only gave him a refund, but they also overnighted him a new pair of shoes at no extra charge and upgraded him to a VIP account.

He was so amazed by Zappos's customer service that Jay said, "Zappos has earned a customer for life."

Free Service Recovery Email Template

Here's a template of a service recovery email you can use to apologize effectively and turn the situation around. Remember, even the most perfectly written email won't turn your unhappy customer into a loyal one if you don't also take action to resolve their problem.

With customer service recovery, you can turn an unhappy customer into a satisfied and loyal one. Customer service failure doesn't have to be the end of the road with your customer – now you know what you can do to turn it around and salvage a negative situation.

Make sure you apologize sincerely, take ownership of the problem and get to the root of the issue. Next, solve the problem and offer the customer something extra for their troubles. Finally, follow up with the customer to check they are satisfied.

Take your lead from top brands such as Zingerman's and Zappos to implement service recovery right now.

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