The Psychology of Service Recovery

Our story begins on an unseasonably sunny hot spring day in the Port of Miami. In the chaos that is embarkation, my family dumps two pieces of luggage to a porter to begin a welcomed gorgeous transatlantic cruise. The porter physically writes our cabin number on the luggage tags, attaches said paper tags to our bags, and places them in the cage with hundreds of other pieces that belong to our new best friends, aka fellow travelers. We next queue with several thousands of passengers to begin the check-in process. Moooooo!

Normally, this is end of a check-in story, but of course it was not or there would be no blog. Our one suitcase with ALL of our clothes for 2 weeks did not arrive. By midnight the first evening, we are not sure if it made it on the ship. The next morning my husband and I analyze, strategize, theorize what to do about our missing bag. I am almost frantic with worry. So much for being the Customer Service Guru.

Luckily, our bag was found shortly after noon the next day, after an extensive cabin by cabin search by the housekeeping team. Our cabin number ended in 78, but the handwritten tag looked like 18, which was unoccupied this cruise. There was no passenger in the room to say it didn’t belong to them.

We were fortunate to have a happy ending. More interesting was the psychological experience my husband and I had during the 24 hours we did not have our bag and the actions of the staff. If you are in the customer service industry, read on for three service recovery tips.

If you are in the customer service industry read on for three service recovery tips. Click To Tweet

Number 1: Rarely is the Issue Presented the Real Issue

As hours passed and it seemed more realistic the bag will not be found, I became increasingly upset. It wasn’t mad at the cruise line, per se, it was the unsure feeling of “What are we going to do?”

Yes, clothes can be purchased and yes, there are bigger problems in the world. The question that most stressed me, “Can I purchase in 2 days on a floating vessel all the items I had accumulated over years, to enjoy this cruise experience?” The answer was a flat out no. Could I have survived? Sure. But this was not a situation I created! I followed the company’s luggage policies. This was highly stressful and made our first 24 hours onboard semi-miserable.

It is not the lost bag truly bothering me. I am scared what is in the bag is simply gone and how that will disturb my vacation. Instead of focusing on this once in a lifetime experience, I am thinking insurance claims, arguing with front office managers, and laundering the same underwear for 12 days. None of this is appealing.

TIP 1: To any employee attempting to help me, understand the underlying fear I have about the situation. I don’t need empathy, I need understanding. The customer is usually upset about something deeper than the situation presented. When solving, first define the problem presented and second define the core issue bothering the customer.

The customer is usually upset about something deeper than the situation presented. Click To Tweet

Number 2: Pumped Up for a Fight

Since I am in the customer service consulting business, my mind was instantly racing how difficult it would be to get the cruise line make this right if the bag was gone. It seems companies are trying to wiggle away from responsibility when issues arrive, so I was preparing to present my case like I was arguing before the Supreme Court. Does this sound like a great vacation? What do you think I would tell my friends and family about this trip, or rate it on the final survey?

I prepped for my interrogation and cross examination. Did I use a luggage transfer company? No. Did I ride in a cab or taxi to the port? No. Did I put the bag in the porter’s possession? Yes. My husband was asked these questions when he first talk to guest services about the bag.

TIP 2: Customers train for a fight when trying to resolve service issues. Perhaps it is our cultural, perhaps it is their history with the company, or perhaps it is the tone of the employees. When solving, first employees or managers must assure the customer you want to help and blame is secondary to the solution.

When asking questions use a tone that communicates you are solutions oriented. Do not sound like the police or look for holes in the customer’s story. The best approach is question the guest with a positive 50/50 mindset. Fifty percent could be their fault, because people do all sorts of silly things or simply make mistakes. But critically, 50 percent could be the organization’s fault due to poor procedures or employee mistakes. Until you know, do not place blame, and whoever is at fault it doesn’t matter, it is in the organization’s best interest to fix it.

Number 3: At a Loss for Words

I felt bad for the employees we asked what should be a simple question, “What is the likelihood you will find our luggage?” Or “What happens if it isn’t found and it was left in Miami?” This must happen all the time, so I was surprised there wasn’t a concrete answer or procedure. Employees truly felt bad for us, and we never raised our voice, but they had no skills how to respond.

TIP 3: For your top 5 service issues, put procedures in place and communicate it to all employees. Have them practice saying the proper response in the most common language of your customers.

Our anxiety level would have decreased if anyone, including the housemen had said something similar to this:
“We have a procedure. First, please check with guest services for unclaimed bags. Sometimes tags accidently are pulled off luggage with so many bags coming onboard. If it is not there, and another guest does not put it out of their stateroom by tomorrow, we will have the housekeeping staff do a cabin by cabin search. 95% of the time, the luggage is found this way if it made it on the ship. If it is not found, then you will talk to our guest services manager and they will do everything we can to help you still have a great cruise. We have some clothing and toiletries available for you to sleep tonight, …”

Relief is Underrated

After an hour alone watching a cooking demonstration mostly for distraction, I returned to the cabin. Our clothes were on the couch! I was in such disbelieve and complete relief, I started crying. Seriously, balling like a baby.

Companies underestimate the negative consequence on customers when something goes wrong. Yes, there is the loss of business, company loyalty, all the formal impacts addressed in other blogs. My theme is the psychology your customers go through during any service recovery situation. It is deflating, bothersome, and emotionally draining. It will negatively change your long-term relationship with this customer.

Companies underestimate the negative consequence on customers when something goes wrong. Click To Tweet

If customers could articulate what they are really trying to say when a problem occurs it would be this, “This situation is temporarily ruining my life. Please help me. Use your skills, resources, and talents to do your best and make this better.”

If that can become your service recovery philosophy, you will have calm seas in the storm of any service issue.

CCNG Member Blogger: Stacey Oliver-Knappe, The Customer Service Gurus

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