Going Beyond ‘I’m Sorry’: The Difference between an Apology and Service Recovery

Much of what is written on this blog is designed to help business leaders understand the importance of excellent customer service and the tools they need to provide it. But no matter what business you’re in, occasional customer service slip-ups are unavoidable. Sometimes the issue—like an airline forced to delay flights because of inclement weather—is completely out of your control.

No company looks forward to these incidents, but if approached with the right perspective they are actually opportunities for you to stand out as a business dedicated to providing the absolute highest quality of customer service. How? By going beyond “I’m sorry.” True Service recovery is more than a simple apology—it’s about making things right. Here’s how you can do it:

Listen closely for subtle clues

Oftentimes, if an agent remains silent while a customer vents they can gain better insight into his or her ideal resolution. For instance, if a customer calls a bank’s contact center because he was mistakenly charged a $30 overdraft fee on his checking account, chances are the inconvenience and hassle are more at issue than the money itself. Sometimes a refund or store credit is a good idea; other times a consumer might be pleased to learn your company is going to re-examine a particular policy. The key to finding the right course of action is really listening, not just hearing.

Be empathetic

You might be surprised to know how much customers value an empathetic response from a customer service Communicator. Everybody has had a negative experience at some point, so encourage your representatives to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes and think about how they would like to be treated in a similar situation. Coach your agents to validate the customer’s feelings by saying something like, “I can hear you are upset and I will work with you for as long as it takes to get this straightened out.” That kind of compassionate response can help calm the costumer and get the call going on a more positive track.

Take responsibility

Trying to deflect blame, especially back to the customer, only makes things worse. Even if the consumer did play some small part in a mishap Communicators should avoid mentioning it because it is simply not important anymore. What matters is getting the situation fixed—quickly. Agents should be held accountable for their individual actions and, brand representatives should be held responsible for the company’s mishaps, as well.

Use feedback to make changes

Consumer feedback is one of the most valuable assets for any company because it allows you to make changes to your best practices based on empirical evidence rather than guesswork. Leveraging customer responses will improve service overall and can be particularly satisfying for customers who see their suggestions put into practice.

Research indicates that 96 percent of unhappy customers don’t complain when they have a problem, so you can be sure the ones who do reach out feel strongly about their issue. Though they may be upset at first, if your customer service Communicators make consumers feel their problem is as important to your company as it is to them, you’re on your way to service recovery and loyal customers.