Service Recovery – The Seven Step Process

Despite our best efforts to efficiently organize our operation and train employees, situations will inevitably arise when customers/guests/members are dissatisfied or unhappy with service and/or products offered.  Whether we feel the problem is legitimate or unwarranted is of no consequence.  The customer is not satisfied and our only concern is changing the outcome by making a speedy and gracious recovery to his or her complete satisfaction.

To better aid employees in making a gracious recovery, we have developed the following Seven Step Process, which can be divided into two distinct phases.  Steps 1 through 4 constitute The On-the-Spot Fix, while steps 5 through 7 make up The Long-Term Repair aimed at correcting the underlying cause of the service failure.

Therefore, when a customer approaches you with a complaint or concern, here’s what you do:

The On-the-Spot Fix

1.   Focus – stop what you’re doing and focus entirely on the customer and what he is saying.

2.   Listen – carefully to fully understand the nature of the problem.  Recognize that the underlying problem is not always the one that is being brought to your attention; for example, the complaint may be about the food, but the real issue is slow service.  Sometimes you have to read between the lines or recognize the issue is larger or maybe different than the one being complained about.

3.   Apologize – a sincere apology is absolutely necessary.  We (the establishment) and you (personally) are sorry for any service failure, so we should never be shy about or slow to fully apologize.  After apologizing, tell the customer what you are going to do to correct the problem.  If the customer still seems dissatisfied, enquire what we might do to make it right.

4.   Make It Right – quickly, efficiently, and discreetly (to avoid any possible embarrassment to the customer).

The Long-Term Repair

5.   Assurance – after the situation has been made right, approach the customer (when convenient) and let him know that the matter will be addressed formally by management.

6.   Notification – if the failure is serious enough or the customer does not seem fully satisfied, notify your supervisor, department head, or manager on duty so she can also approach the individual to discuss the situation and apologize.

7.   Report – When you have time, but no later than the end of your shift, fill out a Service Issue Resolution, HRI Form 180, describing the problem, your assessment of the underlying cause, your efforts to recover, and the member’s mood after recovery.  This form is used to more formally address the problem and, in the case of a private club, gives the General Manager an opportunity to call the member after the fact to apologize again and discuss the issue further.

Unfortunately in our business, there will always be mistakes and failures, but what has gone wrong is done and is not nearly as important as what we do next.  Managers should discuss recovery techniques with staff frequently and share stories of both successful and unsuccessful recoveries so that everyone can learn from our experiences.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the hospitality industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers — those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hospitality hardworking  managers throughout the country and around the world.

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