“It takes months to find a customer…seconds to lose one.” – Vince Lombardi

Customers are the lifeline of every single business. No one sets up a business to serve themselves or their employees because the money to grow the business and pay the staff all comes from the customer. Without your clients, your establishment is as good as dead! Simply put, you cannot thrive without them. That is how important a customer is to a company; doctors may call them patients, lawyers call them clients, churches; congregants or members, hotels; guests, schools will call them students, etc. The fact is, no matter how you refer to them, consumers are considerably a very important asset to your company, and you should treat them as such.

Losing a customer is losing revenue, which is bad for any business at all. Who will buy all those shoes you’ve just stocked? (or you’ll wear them yourself?). Who will buy all that food you just exhausted all your strength to finish cooking? Better still, how are you going to pay your staff and maintain the school when all the students leave? Not possible right? That is when customer service recovery comes in.

Service recovery simply means the process of righting your wrongs and gaining back your customer loyalty. Your clients are human beings; they have emotions, sentiments and expectations which when ignored or overlooked, can turn into a bad experience. And when this experience is not quickly resolved, the customer leaves unhappy or perhaps, even angry. The potential of losing that customer is very high, and it is also highly likely that he/she won’t recommend you to their network. In this internet age where information travels so swiftly, he/she may leave a comment online, and you’re sure to miss out on hundreds of prospective new customers because of that one bad comment.

We all remember, or maybe some don’t, the song ‘United Breaks Guitars’ by Dave Caroll released in 2009. The American singer is said to have lost his customised guitar onboard a United Airlines flight from Halifax connecting to Chicago. He complained to three employees of the airline who seemed unconcerned about his plight. The musician released a song to narrate his ordeal and reports show that the airline lost about ten percent in shares, a value of almost $180 million. And that was just four days after the song was released!

Service recovery is essential because it gives companies the chance to meet consumers’ expectations and prevent them from possibly agitating. It’s an opportunity for the business to save a customer relationship and improve. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that people who complained or wrote negative comments about a brand on social media and received a response were more loyal afterward than those who never complained at all (Zendesk blog).

The customer recovery process starts from receiving a complaint. A complaint about what the customer is not happy about, and your reaction to this grievance will make all the difference. Welcome all feedback; good or bad, but especially the bad. Pay attention to customers’ sentiments about your services, and act promptly!

The service recovery process is summarised into this five-word acronym “REACT”.

The first letter, “R” means to “react” to the grievances of the customer. Reacting here means responding in a particular way to the customer. Given a situation that your client is angry and talking about a serious situation, you cannot laugh or show unconcern like in the “Dave Caroll – United Airlines” case. You need to react appropriately in order not to escalate an already bad incidence.

Letter ‘E’, “Empathize”. Empathy is when you put yourself in the customer’s shoes and try to understand just how they are feeling at that very moment. Let them feel that you are concerned and appreciate their sentiments. Empathy creates a connection between you and the customer, thereby making them feel you are with them. You may not be able to resolve all their problems but you can always show empathy. United Airlines’ staff could have simply empathised with Dave on the fact that the guitar was custom-made, which means it must’ve been very dear to him. They probably hadn’t lost a guitar before, but I’m sure they may have in the past lost something that was special to them.

“Apologise” for whatever may have gone wrong for the customer to complain. Yes, you may not have actually done anything particularly wrong, you still need to apologise for the fact that they felt upset by your service, even before you go ahead to explain if there is the need to. The saying that the “customer is always right” might seem like a cliché but it’s truer than you think. Some schools of thought do say that “the customer is king” and how would you treat a king? With the very best of services and exquisite products right! If you want to always insist on the fact that you are right and the customer is wrong, you may end up with a business without customers. A simple apology could have saved United Airlines that whopping $180 million.

“Communicate” your suggestions or solutions to the customer. How are you going to resolve their grievance? What solutions do you propose? Are you giving them a complimentary package, a freebie, or a discounted item? Are you refunding their money? Communicate to them what steps you are taking to get their issue resolved. And be quick about it!

“Train” the customer. This training is usually a proactive approach to avoid customer complaints in the first place. If the customer doesn’t fully understand what they want, you must explain to them the right thing, in order to not get their order wrong. For instance, if you have a restaurant business and someone walks in for some fried eggs and say they want “sunny side up well done”, take it upon yourself to explain to them that “sunny side up” and “well done” are two different things and that they can have either one of the two or probably, one of each. In this case, you are avoiding the chaos of preparing a sunny side up and being told by the customer they wanted a well done, and vice versa.

Bad customer service has become a normal practice in Ghana- one that people will hardly ever question as though it has become acceptable with the frequency at which it happens. Especially in organizations that think their services are essential and the customer has no choice but to return. However, with the influx of online businesses, people are starting to provide alternative services and products and it’s just a matter of time before these “essential” companies lose all their customers.

However, all hope is not lost. These companies can still recover their clients if the right actions are implemented and executed. Research proves that customers become more loyal when they experience bad service and get it resolved properly. Actually, clients who experience a service failure become more loyal after the resolution than those who have never experienced it. Abeg, this research finding does not give you the warrant to fail in your service delivery to customers and try to patch up later just so they will become more loyal. Learn from all the recovery processes, put proactive measures in place, and continue to treat all customers fairly and equally.