Service Recovery – The Art of Damage Control

By Nancy Friedman, The Telephone Doctor

We all know the importance of customer service. Those of us who are in this industry normally are the ones who genuinely want to help the customer. It’s sort of a “high” for us when things go right. But what happens when it all goes wrong? How do you recover?

Service recovery is simply the art of damage control. Every industry has damage control. Think about Hollywood; poor Tom Cruise, for example. He said something negative about Brooke Shields and suddenly everyone was out to get him. His PR team went into damage control mode. What about when things happen in government? Big-time damage control shifts into gear.

It’s the same when customer service goes wrong. Think “damage control.” What can we do over and above in order to gain this customer back? To have them swearing by us and not at us?

Empowerment. That’s the number one step of service recovery. Each employee needs some form of empowerment. They need to know how far they can go to help the customer. Remember our Telephone Doctor rule: It should never take two people to give good customer service. Any time you escalate a call to a supervisor, you are losing ground. The more employees a customer speaks with, the harder service recovery becomes.

Humor will only work when you have a rational customer. And normally by the time you’re into service recovery, the rationale is lost. However, what we do know is that most customers respond in kind to gentle humor.

One of the worst things you can say to a customer is “I know how you feel.” There is simply no way in the world anyone can know how someone else feels. That particular statement will get you in a lot of hot water. Drop this phrase now. Even worse is saying, “I know exactly how you feel.” You can say, “I can only imagine how you feel.” But it’s best that you don’t walk in the customer’s shoes. It won’t be a good fit, I promise you.

True service recovery occurs when you’ve helped the customer and you can tell that they’re satisfied, that they’re back in the groove with your company again. It’s when they go from screaming to loving you, and it can be done.

To do this, you need a whole lot of empathy. You need to listen; you need to care. These are the tools for service recovery. You need to go that “one step beyond.” You need to do something they’re not expecting, something that bowls them over. It might mean taking a loss, but if you’re really looking to save that customer, you’re willing to take that loss. At the end of the call, they’ll be so happy and so smitten with your response, they’ll be singing your praises to all their friends.

Service recovery is special. You see, good customer service is expected. That’s nothing new or special. You’re supposed to give good customer service. What’s the big deal? But often it all hits the fan and you’ve got one customer who is just really fired up. Mad, bad, screaming, totally out of it. That’s when your service recovery needs to kick into gear.

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor, an international customer service training company, based in St. Louis, MO. Nancy is the author of four best-selling books.

[From Connection Magazine October 2007]