5 Steps To Service Recovery

how to recover from customer problem

The way that you respond to a service recovery situation can turn a negative experience in to a positive one OR create a lasting negative impression about your business.

In an earlier post we discussed the goals of recovering from service issues, so with those in mind, let’s get more tactical with HOW to go about solving an issue.

There are five specific steps that will set you and your team up for success.


First and foremost, you need to let the customer explain the issue from their perspective; and you need to be fully present in the interaction by actively listening. Be sure to have full eye contact and don’t interrupt. Give your full attention and make sure that there is sincerity in your words and actions. This will go a long way to defusing the situation.

Active listening is a skill that can be developed by following a few simple behaviors:

  • Paraphrasing the customer’s version of the story back to them

  • Make sure the customer feels heard and understood

  • Make sure you understand the problem accurately by asking questions if you’re unclear on any points

  • Thank the customer for their observation and bringing the issue to your attention

  • Even if you’ve heard the same issue dozens of times before, this is the first time this customer is experiencing it so be present in the conversation. Don’t marginalize their experience by saying that “we’ve heard that issue before”.


Showing empathy is tricky because it can easily cross the line to sympathy or worse, pity. It takes a rather high degree of emotional intelligence and practice to master this step but it’s a crucial skill to get right because not doing it properly can make the situation far worse.

Empathy IS NOT feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters. That is Sympathy.

Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another and showing the ability to experience the feelings of another.

If you immediately empathize with the customer’s version of the story, placing yourself in their position and showing that you get what is making them upset, you’ll gain their trust because they know that you understand the issue. From a customer’s perspective, there isn’t much worse than a service failure that is diminished by the person they go to for a solution.


Don’t skip a sincere, authentic apology. This shows respect while also taking responsibility for the issue. It also serves to address the customers anger and can prevent further misunderstandings.

A few points on apologizing:

  • Keep the apology brief and direct

  • Be specific about what you are apologizing for

  • Be sincere and empathetic

  • Take responsibility and own the issue

  • Poor body language, voice tone and word choice can derail an apology

Resolve the Issue

You’ve now taken responsibility for the issue, unburdening the customer. Time to resolve it. Don’t sit on this important step. The quicker that you can evaluate the situation and respond with a solution the better. Speed counts here but don’t sacrifice a full resolution for the benefit of a bit of time.

If you can’t find a solution or you’re in a position where you need approval or need to defer to a supervisor or manager, give the customer a timeline on when they can expect a response.

For example: “My manager is currently in a meeting and should return in about a half hour. As soon they are back I will inform him/her of the situation. Would it be okay for me to contact you in about an hour?”

Above all, keep your word. Failing to follow through on what you said you’d do will only make the situation worse.

Notify the Customer of the Outcome

Once you have your resolution you need to let the customer know as soon as possible. Skipping this step will undo all of your hard work.

When notifying the customer, there are a few points to keep in mind:

  • If necessary, apologize again for the original situation

  • Present the response, solution or compensation:

Example: “I apologize for the wait, Mr. Smith. Again, please accept our apologies for {what happened}.  We would like to offer you…

  • If the customer is still unsatisfied, work with your supervisor/manager to address it

One final point here. If it’s appropriate, follow up with the customer to ensure their satisfaction with the resolution. It could be a simple call later that day to check in. This reinforces the fact that you care about the issue and want to ensure the customer is truly satisfied.

Looking for a more personalized and strategic plan? Contact us to start a conversation.