Making Things Right: Examples of Customer Service Recovery

We’ve all experienced a customer service issue at some point.

A software service you depend on has an outage, leaving you without access to your data. The waiter screws up your meal order. Your package arrives late or damaged. 

Something’s gone wrong, but that’s not the end of the story. How a business responds and reacts to customer service issues is critical. When you realize there’s been an issue, you’ve also recognized an opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive customer experience. 

When you’re the business owner or customer service leader, it’s not always clear what the right approach is. And the stakes are high — a poor response could cause backlash from customers and hurt your bottom line, but a good response can save the customer and even create a stronger relationship with them. 

The challenge is that every one of these situations is unique, and you don’t know when they will happen. 

That’s why it’s important to have a customer service recovery plan. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of customer service recovery and take a look at the “service recovery paradox.” We’ll also share some best practices for creating a recovery plan and look at a few real-life examples.

What is customer service recovery?

Customer service recovery is the process of responding to and resolving customer complaints, issues, or dissatisfaction in a way that restores the trust between the customer and the business. 

The actions you take when you realize something has gone wrong — whether that’s through an escalated support ticket, a negative survey response, or someone blasting you on social media — can have a huge impact on your business. A service recovery plan dictates how you dive back in and engage with the customer to turn things around.

The end goal of customer service recovery is to make the customer feel better about the issue and, ideally, turn them into a champion for your business. 

Why is creating a customer service recovery plan important?

Having a service recovery plan is important for your bottom line and for your company’s reputation. 

While you don’t know when customer service incidents will occur, you can be prepared with some basic steps for how to handle them. Without a framework or plan, you’re left scrambling to figure out how best to resolve the issue, wasting a lot of critical time — and that’s not what you want in the middle of a stressful moment.

A good service recovery plan is well thought out, timely, and empathetic, and it will help increase customer satisfaction and create more loyal customers. A service recovery plan also improves your overall customer experience by focusing on problem areas and improving systems, processes, and policies for all customers.

Exploring the service recovery paradox

Service Recovery Paradox

The service recovery paradox is the idea that customers have more trust and loyalty in your business, product, or service after a service issue is resolved than they did before the issue occurred. 

Customer service experts have talked about the service recovery paradox for years. While some research debates whether it’s actually relevant, many customer service leaders find it to be a helpful reminder of an important fact: Customer experience issues, while frustrating and stressful, can have a net positive effect when they’re handled well. 

In a perfect world, your customers would never experience any issues. But that’s not realistic; issues happen. When they do, resolving those issues effectively for a customer can result in a stronger relationship between the customer and your business. That’s because your brand isn’t just hype to them anymore. You’re not just someone who says you care about customers. You’ve proven it to them by delivering help when they needed it most. 

This is why it’s important to have a plan in place for service recovery. Without a plan, you miss out on the value of the service recovery paradox and you miss the opportunity to create unforgettable customer service experiences.

Best practices for creating a successful service recovery plan

No matter how strong your product and customer service team is, you need to have a plan in place for when things go wrong. Let’s take a look at some best practices for service recovery plans.

Notify the leadership team

Depending on the severity of the issue, leadership teams should be informed of the problem. Leadership can help ensure the recovery plan is prioritized and the right resources are available to help with the company’s response. 

Anticipate customers’ needs

The ability to anticipate the needs of customers is a customer service superpower. Being able to think ahead (and think quickly) enables you to deliver delightful moments even when a customer might be frustrated.

Communicate quickly

Whether the issue is impacting a single customer or thousands of them, you need to acknowledge the issue with impacted customers and let them know you’re working on a fix.  

Time is of the essence, as the longer you go without communicating with customers, the more upset they will become. If you wait too long to communicate, it might even give the customer enough time to switch to a competitor.

Apologize and empathize

When customers are having trouble, let them do most of the talking. They’re going to have things to say, and the best thing you can do is listen to them, acknowledge their feelings, and empathize with the situation they’re in. 

Most importantly, apologize. The customer doesn’t only want their issue resolved — they want to know you care that it happened.

Once the customer has explained the situation (and maybe vented their frustrations), ask clarifying questions to ensure you’re on the same page. This demonstrates your desire to help them, aids in determining next steps, and will help rebuild trust.

If possible, fix the problem

Take the necessary steps to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. This might involve giving the customer a refund, offering a replacement product, or implementing new processes to prevent the issue from happening again. 

Whenever possible, give the customer something extra to acknowledge their trouble and demonstrate your sincerity. Whether it’s a gift certificate for a future meal or a couple of months off their subscription, small tokens of appreciation can go a long way.

But let’s be real: You can’t always fix every issue. What then?

In those situations, listening and providing context is often the most helpful approach. If you can’t fix a problem, help the customer understand why that is, what other options they might have, and how they can overcome the situation. 

Customer service recovery examples in the real world

Now let’s look at some real-life examples of customer service recoveries, including a well-known public incident and a couple of personal experiences I’ve had as a customer.

Example 1: United Airlines employee forcibly removes a passenger

On April 9, 2017, a video surfaced on social media showing Chicago Department of Aviation security officers aggressively removing a passenger from his seat on United flight 3411.

United Airlines needed to fly four employees on the flight to get them positioned for the next day, and they asked for volunteers to give up their seats. Unable to find volunteers, they used a computer program to randomly select the passengers who would need to be rebooked. When selected, passenger David Dao refused and was then forcefully dragged from his seat, resulting in a broken nose, broken teeth, and a concussion. 

On the day of the incident, April 9, United Airlines released a statement that they had overbooked the flight and needed four passengers to leave the plane. Three of the passengers volunteered, and one man did not agree to leave. 

On April 11, United Airlines corrected the original statement saying the flight was not overbooked, but it was sold out and four airline workers needed seats on the plane to get to their jobs the next day.

While the difference is subtle, the original statement made it seem like the plane could not fly without removing passengers. Instead, it was more likely that United was trying to avoid potential delays and additional service issues that might arise if they did not reposition their crew members. 

What went wrong:

  • A passenger was forcefully removed, causing him physical and mental harm. 

  • United’s initial communication was misleading and lacked empathy.

How they made it right:

  • United Airlines compensated every passenger on the flight with a $500 voucher.

  • David Dao and United Airlines settled out of court with Dao receiving an unconfirmed amount.

  • United made changes to its policy for dealing with at-capacity flights.

Example 2: Apple’s repair services team loses my wife’s laptop

A few years ago, my wife dropped off her Macbook at an Apple store to get the keyboard fixed. Upon dropping it off, we were informed it would take roughly a week to repair and get it back to us. This aligned with an upcoming vacation so we weren’t bothered by the turnaround time.

After returning home two weeks later, the laptop still wasn’t ready. This was shocking, as the repair was supposed to be completed a week earlier. We called Apple’s customer service line, and we were told to check back in a couple of days.

We called the Apple store a couple of days later and to our surprise the manager said she was unable to locate my wife’s computer. This was a big problem. My wife runs her own business, so she needed her computer. We were frustrated and decided to return to the store to discuss the matter in person.

Upon visiting the store, the manager looked up our case and reviewed it. She empathized with us, understanding our level of frustration and concern. She told us the computer was last checked in at a recycling facility operated by Apple. My wife’s computer had been recycled and it wouldn’t be coming back to us. However, the manager made it right by providing my wife with a brand new computer.

What went wrong:

  • Apple’s process for handling the repair broke down, as our computer ended up in the wrong place. 

  • Some of the call center employees didn’t seem very empathetic about the situation.

How they made it right:

  • The store manager was empathic and empowered to make things right. 

  • She resolved the issue by providing us with a brand new, more powerful computer.

Example 3: The Farmer’s Dog shipment hiccup

We get our dog’s food from The Farmer’s Dog, a dog food delivery service providing fresh, human-grade food for dogs. The food comes frozen in a package with dry ice. 

A while back, I received a notification that our dog's food was being prepared and I should expect it in a few days. Several days went by and I was surprised we hadn’t received the food yet. We were running low, so we needed that package. 

Around the time I became concerned, I received a text from the company’s support team notifying me of a shipment issue. They informed me they would expedite a new package and it was their top priority to ensure our dog’s food arrived within 24 hours. 

The package came and my dog was happy with a full belly. I was happy with the service we received and felt even better about supporting a brand that cared about me (and my dog) as a customer. What a delightful experience!

What went wrong:

  • The shipment was delayed, which was stressful because my dog was low on food.

How they made it right:

  • The Farmer’s Dog support team proactively reached out to me about the problem, showing they were already aware of the issue and empathized with me.

  • They took on the cost of expedited shipping to make sure we got our package quickly, ensuring my dog was fed. 

  • They apologized and communicated about the issue frequently until the new package arrived. 

While the issues in all three examples were eventually resolved, The Farmer’s Dog recovery plan was ideal. The company’s approach was proactive and empathetic and helped foster brand loyalty.

Remember, your company’s response can lead to costly settlements or it can build stronger relationships with your customers. It’s up to you.

Plan for the unexpected

If you’re running a business, things will go wrong. It’s the nature of the beast.

When that happens, taking those negative customer service issues and creating positive customer experiences is possible. The key is having a solid service recovery plan in place. 

Don’t lose customers because of service failures. Learn from each service issue, and prioritize making things right so that you can build customer loyalty and a brand that’s known for doing right by its customers.

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