CX Best Practices: Enable Instant Service Recovery

This week’s best practice:  enable instant service recovery by delegating authority to address CX issues.

The best customer experience organizations in the world have all the essential elements: a clear common purpose, a team that is aligned, and a clear understanding of customer needs and wants.  Truly great organizations also create industry best practices, many of which are simple, precise, and focused.  In our best practices series, we highlight specific behaviors that can help your organization join the CX elite.

Even great organizations have disasters

Imagine your best customer (we’ll call her Helene) on your worst day.  Helene goes to your web site to place an order, but a poorly-thought out user interface led her to accidentally order a hundred times as many widgets as she needs. If that charge hits her credit card, it’s going to cause a chain reaction of fiscal calamities.  In a panic, she sends an e-mail to tech support, but it’s the support guy’s day off and the auto-response promising followup in 48 hours isn’t enough. She calls your main customer service number, but it happens to be the day that someone at another firm accidentally keyed your main number into his fax machine, and it just keeps dialing and dialing and dialing, tying up your main line. Finally Helene gets through, and now she’s angry. She hits the person on the phone like a hurricane. Now what?

The service recovery paradox: it’s not a disaster, it’s an opportunity

Service recovery is the idea that an organization can turn an unhappy customer into a fiercely loyal one by dealing with an adverse situation. That loyalty comes from the emotions generated by the company’s response to a service failure. Service failures are bad and should be avoided at all costs, but they’re also inevitable in any organization that has human customers and human employees.

The service recovery paradox is the situation in which a customer thinks more highly of a company after the company has corrected a problem with their service, compared to how he or she would regard the company if non-faulty service had been provided. Successful recovery of a service failure leads to increased assurance and confidence among customers.

So, a service failure is bad but, handled correctly, it gives us an opportunity to make our customers even more loyal. But what does “handled correctly” look like?

The elements of service recovery

Excellent service recovery isn’t a random series of actions or overly dependent on the excellent judgement and bedside manner of a specific employee.  Like everything else in exceptional customer experience, excellent service recovery is the product of a system.

The quick and the dead

First and foremost, you have to be quick in your response. Service delayed is service denied, and an unhappy customer has adrenaline coursing through her veins and is looking for someone to hurt. Your staff must be prepared to deal with a wide range of service failures; preparation results in speed and confidence.

Sometimes service recovery requires nothing more than patient understanding and a kind word, but sometimes it takes cold, hard cash.  Some organizations authorize their employees to spend up to $2,000 to resolve a customer service issue without advance approval. Do you trust your employees that much? Would you spend $2,000 to acquire a new customer? If so, then why would you risk losing a customer because you distrust your people? After all, you can always address someone who abuses that discretionary power after the fact.

You must delegate responsibility and authority to your staff, or instant service recovery can’t happen.

Put the customer back in control

A customer who is in the midst of a service failure feels vulnerable.  In her head, she’s running through the various negative outcomes that are likely to follow from this situation.  Will your company acknowledge the problem?  Will it take constructive action to address it?  Or will your company tell her, “too bad, so sad!” and deny her any relief?

The customer’s response may be driven by fear, anger, and the amygdala more than a calm, rational evaluation of the situation. Your company needs to do everything possible to make the customer feel like this failure will be resolved in a reasonable way.

Don’t make the customer climb your ladder

The first word in “instant service recovery” is instant, which means it needs to happen right now. That’s not possible if the front-line employee who first encounters the angry customer is unable to do anything about it.

Unless the service failure is truly new and unique, your front-line team must be empowered to address the failure right away and with confidence.

Enable instant service recovery

Let’s go back to your best customer, Helene, on your worst day.  She’s accidentally ordered a hundred times as many widgets as she needs, and her credit card is about to get pummeled, potentially causing a cascade of financial woes. She’s extra-torqued up because she’s had to work to get through to a human being. Your customer needs that order cancelled now.

This is the moment of truth, the moment of supreme peril where your customer is either going to suffer significant financial harm, or isn’t.

In an organization that has planned for and enabled instant service recovery, your company becomes a hero. “No problem,” says your front-line support person, Jane. “I see the transaction right here in our system.  I can change the quantity back to one rather than one-hundred.  Does that fix things for you?”

Jane didn’t have to go up the chain or get a manager’s approval.  She didn’t have to work through the IT department or get a supervisor to override the system. Jane had the training, tools, and authority to assess the situation and correct it.

Crisis averted.

Give your customer-facing people the tools they need, the latitude to make decisions in service to the customer, and financial parameters that let them save the day without breaking the bank.

As always, overreact

While Jane has averted the crisis, the service failure is still fresh, and opportunity awaits. When a service failure happens, your organization must overreact.  Teach your staff what an appropriate response is, and then escalate that one more notch and be prepared to deliver that response when the moment comes.  Now is not the time to count pennies; it’s time to count the lifetime value of a customer.

Jane sees that Helene is a regular customer and routinely orders many, many widgets. “Looking at that ordering screen, I can see how easy it is to enter the wrong quantity,” says Jane. “I’m going to send a note to our web site department and ask them to take a look at redesigning that.” By acknowledging the company’s role in the service failure, Jane validates Helene’s anger. “I’m really sorry you had to go through that and that you had trouble reaching us to resolve it, so I’m going to go ahead and credit you for the order.”

Helene is shocked. “But that’s almost $1,800 worth of widgets!” she says.

Jane reassures her that it’s not a mistake. “Yes, it is, but you’ve been a great customer of ours for a long time. We want to make sure we’ve resolved this and that you understand how important you are to us. Is what I proposed a reasonable solution?”

Helene thinks of course it is. “Sure, thanks for taking care of it.” She gets off the phone and spends the rest of the day telling everyone about her amazing experience.

Measure and refine

Preparation and speed are essential to creating an instant service recovery, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be analytical and deliberate about it after the fact.  Measure service failures and how well your organization prepared for each one.  If you find a repeated issue, that’s a combustion point that probably deserves to have some preventative design done around it. As you encounter subtle variations on known failure modes, refine your response model and constantly improve.

A complaint is a gift

A customer who brings a service failure to your attention is your best friend; a complaint is a gift.  Take advantage of every one of these situations by delivering instant service recovery, and you may just make that unhappy customer into a lifelong friend.