ABCDBlocksI’ve been involved in customer service nearly all my life.  My first foray into this area occurred when I was in elementary school.  That’s right, elementary school.  I was an old fashioned “paper boy.”  You see, I provided a very valuable service to the residents in my neighborhood – I brought the daily news to their door.  In a sense, I was the 1970’s version of the “news feed” or #twitter.

 On the rare occasion when one of my customers called my home (on a land line that was called a “party line,” a story for another day to be sure) to report that their newspaper was wet from the elements or the front page was torn during the landing from my perfect toss to their front porch – I had to deploy service recovery tactics if I was to have any hope of a gratuity at the end of the month!  These skills served me well at the front desk in the many hotels I worked at during my 29 year hotel career as well as when I had the honor of leading the guest assistance department for a major hotel branding company.  And, these skills continue to serve me well today.

While we never want our customers to experience a service failure, let’s face it – we don’t live in a perfect world.  Things happen.  Items out of our control can occur and negatively impact our customer’s experience.  We certainly cannot control everything that happens during our customer’s service delivery experience, but we CAN control how we respond to any failures or shortcomings that happen.  Recovery – or how we respond to customer complaints – is often the key to keeping or losing a customer for life.  Interestingly enough, I’ve found that successful service recover follows 4 simple steps. To that end, I provide you my A,B,C,Ds of Service Recovery.

A - Apologize early and often.  When the customer reports a problem to you, THE FIRST thing you should say in response is:  “I’m so sorry.”  Ironically, when speaking with customer service personnel, I often hear, “why should I apologize if it wasn’t my fault that this happened to them?”  I cringe at this type of thinking.  It doesn’t matter who or what is at fault – the first and most important thing you can do is to express a sincere apology.  It’s disarming, it’s calming, and it’s polite.  Apologize. It will help set the stage for recover.

B - Be present.  When a customer brings a service failure to your attention – pay attention!  This is not the time to be multi-tasking or thinking about what you’re going to do after your shift is over.  Listen.  Pay attention.  Paraphrase back to the customer what you’ve heard to check for understanding.  This will help you identify the REAL issue and work to develop the appropriate fix.

C - Close the loop.  This is an often overlooked component in the service recovery process. Contact the customer AFTER the agreed upon recovery actions have taken place and ask this simple question:  “Does this meet with your satisfaction and is there anything else I can do for you today?”  The key here is that effective service recovery is based upon the customer being satisfied with the results, not your satisfaction with having taken the actions.  Close the loop and make sure they are happy with what you’ve done.

D - Do more than is expected.  When I worked in a hotel, we had what we referred to as the “Apology Amenity Closet.”  This area had a few amenities the staff was at liberty to send to customers who experienced a problem.  They weren’t big and expensive items – popcorn, cans of soda, candy, etc.  Our team was trained to Apologize, Be present, Close the loop, and then Do more than expected by sending an “apology gift” to the guest to once again say “I’m sorry for what happened.”  Think of it as the flowers a boyfriend sends to his girlfriend when he is in the dog house.  That little something extra that says “I value you.”

And there you have it – not rocket science, not brain surgery, just simple yet powerful steps to not only recover a customer service failure, but turn that customer frown upside down.  Until next time remember, take care of the customer, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

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