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Friday, February 15, 2013

To Forgive and Forget, The Art of Service Recovery

One of the most requested training topics at The Customer Service Gurus is Service Recovery.  Service Recovery is the idea that once a customer service transaction goes bad, either through company or customer error, or something like a Force majeure, through the actions of the customer service representative and perhaps adding compensation of some sort, the customer will forgive and more importantly forget when it comes time to complete the important customer service survey. 

I wish I had a magic formula for Service Recovery because I could sell it at a price that would cancel out the nation’s debt!  But Service Recovery, much like Customer Service, is part art and part science.  There is no mathematical formula that if Event A happens + Compensated with B = Customer Forgets at Survey time. 

But it doesn’t mean you cannot do something impactful that solidifies a positive relationship with the customer.  The good news is throwing money at the problem is rarely necessary.  Customers care more about compassionate actions than a key chain.

The Guru’s Experience

During the holidays, my family cruised on Holland America’s ship the Prisendam.  It was a beautiful experience, overall, but we had a maintenance problem at the start of the cruise.  We heard a strange knocking noise in our cabin, which made it difficult to sleep when the boat rocked in heavy seas.

We guessed something was loose in the panel between the closet and the outside hallway, and with the motion of the ship it banged against the wall.  We mentioned this to our cabin steward, who directed us we would get a faster resolution if we went directly to the front desk with our complaint. Complaint is really too strong of a word.  We weren’t upset; we only needed the problem fixed. (That we were directed to take our complaint elsewhere is a blog for another time.)

A concierge comes to our room to inspect the problem.  Yes, she confirms the issue and explained an engineer would come the next morning to fix it.  (It was near 9pm when we went to the desk).  We are happy with this, and she was sincere, friendly and kind.  It would be great to have it fixed now, but we understand engineers do not work at night unless it is an emergency.  It was annoying, but certainly not an emergency.

An engineer arrives the next morning.  He dabbles in the closet, but we are pretty confident he did not fix the problem.  The seas were smoother, so it was difficult to tell.  We could not say 100% that the knock was still there, but we could not say the knock was gone either.  That is the end of the actual transaction, and now comes the attempt at service recovery.

On the Road to Service Recovery

The concierge leaves a voicemail later that day asking if everything was fine, she hoped it was, and we should let her know if we needed additional service.  She truly seemed concerned.  Nice job!

The next day she leaves a second voicemail, similar to the first.   That is similarly a nice touch, but it wasn’t necessary.  We were good, and we appreciated her attention.

She calls the third day and speaks to me.  She asked again about the issue.  I said it seemed OK, but we did not know for sure, but we appreciated she followed-up with us and we would let her know if something changed.  At no point in this situation were we, the customers, upset.

The fourth day, a bottle of wine is delivered to our room with a detailed personalized note regarding the maintenance issue.   It was a lovely gesture, but we weren’t sure the problem was fixed. The kicker is we don’t drink wine. 

The Guru’s Thoughts

In our situation, the wine was certainly gracious, but it was not what I as the customer valued.  Therefore, it needlessly cost the company compensation dollars and labor tied to all the effort to manage the issue. If the team had stopped at the first follow-up call it would have been fine for us. But I recognize for other passengers, they would have even wanted more.

I do not fault the concierge, as I am pretty sure she was following a specific protocol provided by Holland America.

As a service professional, I am on the fence whether it is ever adds value to compensate a guest or customer.  If you do, the greater risk is training them to think every issue will be compensated, and that is a no win scenario for the organization.  They are purchasing your products or services, but life happens.  If it is the organization’s fault, then fix it, apologize for it, but confidently move on that you have helped them.  Compensation is an attempt to manipulate the customer, and people are too fickle for manipulation to be an effective strategy.

It is classic psychology.  You cannot be responsible for how someone responds to your best efforts.  I believe most customers, and more importantly the customers you want to keep, are satisfied with a sincere apology and education how to prevent it in the future.  The key is knowing your staff is trained to do the best they can with the knowledge and tools available to them, and empowering everyone to stop this crazy train of compensation we seem to be on as a society.  Prevent the root cause, and do not just treat the disease.

Final Thoughts

This week the Carnival Triumph was stranded in the Gulf of Mexico and had to be slowly towed to Mobile, Alabama.  As I understand it, there was a fire onboard, and to extinguish the fire there was damage to the ship’s electrical system.  Cabins did not have electricity, food was in limited supply, and the sanitation system could not be fully used (Yuck!).  There are four thousand people on the ship, between passengers and crew, and they were stuck at sea for five days.  It was a nightmarish situation.

Whatever Carnival decides to do for those passengers, my guess is they will never cruise with Carnival again, so what is the point of Carnival compensating them with another cruise?  What is the right gesture to win those customers back to their brand?  Can it happen, ever?

My best advice for service providers is to think through the situation from the customer’s point of view.  Simply ask this question, “If this happened to me, what would I reasonably expect the organization to do?”  Execute the answer to that question, and 95% of the time you will be fine.  The other 5%, let them go bother your competitor.

Bon Voyage! 

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