How is your organization at service recovery? In other words, how good are you at recovering when something goes wrong? At transforming a dissatisfied customer into a satisfied one even though you messed up? Your skills in this area are very important to customer retention. When you are good at service recovery, problems will never escalate so far that you to lose a customer.

After all, you can't get it right 100 percent of the time. There are times when things will go wrong. So what happens when that occurs? Does your customer walk away disgruntled, vowing to tell everyone about the negative experience with your company? Or does he leave feeling that you have handled the mistake in a fair way?

Research shows that a customer whose complaint is satisfied will actually use more of your service or product that she did before the unhappy service incident.

Be sure you start the service recovery process by listening carefully to all that the customer has to say. Let them know through your body language -- eye contact and facial expressions -- that you are taking his or her complaint seriously and that you want to do something about it.

Ask questions to make sure you understand exactly what happened and what the customer expects in return. "What would you like to see us do in this situation?" or "What do think would be fair in this situation?" might give you an idea of what the customer is expecting you to do. Sometimes it is obvious, like taking back a meal that is unacceptable in some way, repairing a car correctly, or returning the customer's money for a defective product.

It is important to compensate a customer for a perceived loss with something to assuage their feelings. Don't ever let them just walk away without trying to satisfy them in some way. Every business should have some kind of a token to give away when things go wrong. It should be something that is very inexpensive or free to you.

Airlines can upgrade to first class, restaurants can give away a free drink or a dessert. Just give something that will say to the customer, "I'm sorry for your trouble."

Be sure to look beyond the stated expectations of the unhappy customer for the real reasons. Never assume that what people demand is what they will eventually settle for. You may discover that while you cannot meet the demand, you are quite able to satisfy the reasons that led to the demand. So try to dig as deeply as you can for the reasons your customer is upset and then answer those needs.

I recently saw an excellent service recovery in action. I was flying to Orlando to give a speech and was in the process of checking in with Continental Airlines on an electronic ticket. The agent behind the counter asked me if I would like him to check me in rather than have me go through the process at the computer terminal.

"Nice," I thought and proceeded to let him do just that. After getting my ticket and flight and gate information, I proceeded to go through security and make a few phone calls. While I was on hold on the phone, I just happened to look at my ticket. It was for a Matthew Morrow and it said I was going to Denver! Not good.

I quickly ran to the Orlando gate and said, "Help." The gate agent and a customer service representative sprang into action, calling to get my luggage off the Denver plane and righting my ticket. And then they upgraded me to first class, apologizing profusely. That was good service recovery.

So how are you at recovering when you make mistakes? Give yourself a check up. It's very important to the success of your business.

Peggy Morrow is a professional speaker and customer service consultant. To have her develop a customer service plan for your organization call 800-375-1982 or contact her via her web page at

Copyright © 2002 Peggy Morrow & Associates. All Rights Reserved.