One frosty morning a few weeks ago I was driving to an early morning meeting. I’d negotiated the local country lanes without incident, but just after joining the main road my car went sliding into a skid. Thankfully nothing was coming in the opposite direction and I recovered the situation and regained control.
In this instance no harm was done, but I certainly wouldn’t like a recurrence and I will be more mindful of the conditions on that stretch of road in future.
In business, as with driving, there are times when the unexpected catches us out. Even the best run businesses have problems, and when these affect customers it’s the recovery of the situation that gets remembered.
It’s somewhat counter intuitive, but customers will often have a better perception of their experience when they’ve had an issue that’s been taken care of swiftly and professionally, than if they didn’t encounter any problems and their experience was just as expected.
I’ve written on complaint handling many times before, (see https://www.naturallyloyal.com/learn-from-complaints/) but here are 5 key considerations to aid your service recovery so your customers’ perception of their experience is even higher.
1. Report near misses
Rather than waiting for things to go wrong, create a culture where it’s accepted that mishaps happen from time to time, and encourage your team to come forward with details of near misses. If they fear a reprimand or criticism they’ll never come clean if they were close to causing an issue.
Whether it was an error on their part or not, the focus should be on learning from the situation, and identifying what needs to happen or be in place to avoid such a situation arising again. Is it a call for better systems, equipment, time, training?
Follow up promptly, or your team members will get the impression it’s not that important.
A customer doesn’t care whose fault it is, all they are interested in is getting the problem resolved. Empower your team members to take whatever action is in the customer’s best interest. This may involve seeking information, support or action from a colleague, but the important point here is that they take ownership and see the problem through to its resolution.
This is made easier when you have systems and processes in place for service recovery, and when everyone in the team has the same understanding of these.
With the best will in the world, you can’t anticipate every conceivable issue. Allow your team members to practise, get feedback and coaching on how they handle service recovery, and learn from everybody else’s experiences.
Listen out for hesitation; when you hear a team member saying “I can’t…” that might be an indication they are fearful of making a mistake. Talk this through with them to identify any obstacles.
Build confidence; often people know what they should be doing, but just lack that certainty and confidence to do this really well, so give time and an opportunity for them to practise in a safe environment.
4. Prevention is better than cure
Of course, in a perfect world you’d prevent such things happening, and never have to take any steps towards service recovery! Rather than it falling on you to spot potential problems and their solutions, involve your team in ‘hazard spotting’ and in looking for solutions to common issues. Often they’ll foresee issues you’ve never considered and before they’ve become a problem.
Even if you can’t avoid a potential issue altogether, your goal is to minimise the negative impact on the customer experience, so look for ways to do this!
The great thing about hearing about a service issue is that you have an opportunity to put things right. But, it’s also important to learn from it, so you prevent a recurrence (even if the issue was purely a misunderstanding on the customer’s part – what led to their understanding or perception, and how do you avoid that perception in future).
Have a process in place – not just for dealing with such issues – but also for reporting or feeding back on them, and following-up to prevent re-occurrence. Ensure every team member understands the process and recognises the importance of it, so they are able to get out of the ‘skid’ if it happens.
If you only do one thing
Look back over the past couple of weeks, and review any issues that have affected customers and discuss with your team how well they handled the service recovery, and what they’ve learnt from it.