By Sambridhi Shrestha

Today businesses all over the world use social media to grow and improve their services. When Samsung’s Galaxy Note smartphones caught fire, they explained the problem on all social platforms. They apologized, and they replaced the phones. When it comes down to it, customers just want to know they can trust a brand to make it right. In the contrary, they are also vulnerable for criticism. In the recent case of United Airlines, the flight was overbooked by one person, and that person was forcefully removed from the aircraft. This incident went viral over a short period of time, and the image of the airlines had taken a hit. Failures can go viral in a matter of a few hours leading to criticism and a negative image of the company. Service failure refers to not being able to perform the service that a company has promised, and service recovery refers to compensating and recovering the damage that has been done.

Sometimes customer service fails because of doing something, at other times because of not doing anything. A service failure, simply defined, is service performance that fails to meet a customer’s expectations. Typically, when a service failure occurs, a customer will expect to be compensated for the inconvenience in the form of any combination of refunds, credits, discounts, or apologies. Service failure is the opposite of customer satisfaction. Service failure can range from bad quality to rude behavior to late delivery. These examples all result in the customer not receiving the performance that they were promised. Everyone faces service failure now and then. One of the service failures that I experienced was at a restaurant when I had ordered a dish, and I found a long hair in it. When I notified our server, he took back the dish, added some more food in it, and presented it to me. But the hair was still there! Since then I never went back to that restaurant. And that’s what customers do when their service failure is not handled properly.

The major reasons for service failures include strategy of the management, leadership quality of managers, and natural instincts of employees.

  • Strategy of the management: Management should be able to plan and strategize company policies and operations so that every aspect of the business is well-organized to reduce the chances of service failure.
  • Leadership quality of managers: Managers should be able to apply their leadership skills in motivating, supervising, and correcting the operations and actions in the organization to ensure higher customer satisfaction and minimum service failure.
  • Natural instincts of employees: A large part of service relies on the employees as they are the one to provide service and interact with the customers. The behavior of leadership and management towards employees is often incongruent with the customer service initiative. Thus, employees must be well-skilled and trained to work efficiently and effectively.

Service failure is a very common scenario, but recovering from such failures is one of the most challenging tasks that management faces. There is always a hidden opportunity in a service failure, it just depends on the management whether it worsens or can set an example of recovery.

In the video shared below, Mr. Jon Picoult and his wife faced service failure at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, but the hotel manager had done a great service recovery which developed a more loyal customer. In this case, the situation was cleanly handled by the manager of the hotel, which boosted the image of the hotel. Also, good word-of-mouth was communicated, and the service recovery has now become one of the best service recoveries in the world.

For every service failure there are 4 steps of service recovery, and they are:

Step 1: Apologize and Ask for Forgiveness: After a service failure, listen to the customers and don’t interrupt. Apologize for the failure in a genuine and sincere tone. Also, provide them with the full information regarding the cause of the service failure.
Step 2: Go Over the Complaint with Your Customer: Always go through the complaint as you might be missing something. This also helps us to actually understand who’s at fault because sometimes the customers may also be wrong or may give false complaint. We can also locate the expectations of the customers after the failure has occurred.
Step 3: Fix the Problem and Then Follow Up: In the third step of service recovery, try to fix the problem with the best alternative and follow-up with the customer. In the case of Southwest Airlines, a man had paid $8 for the Wi-Fi services in the flight but didn’t get the service. Later, the amount was refunded by the airline, and this helped to develop a loyal customer for Southwest Airlines.
Step 4: Document the Problem in Detail: The last step of service recovery is recording the complaints and problems and training the staff members for similar problems that may occur in the future. The only way to prevent serious problems from recurring is to document the problem for careful analysis later.

Not every service failure can lead to greater service recovery. It is in the hands of a management or a manager on how he or she can handle the situation. Quick thinking and empathy will help to handle the failure and have a good connection with the customers. In a service market, not receiving complaints doesn’t mean that the service is great because most of the customers don’t complain, and that is how you lose customers. But service failure and service recovery help to develop a better customer relationship and increase customer loyalty as they feel they are being heard.