MEMPHIS, Tenn. — No one is infallible. Eventually, no matter how finely tuned you believe your laundry or linen operation to be, someone under your direction is going to make a mistake. It may even be you.
A customer will be overbilled. A route driver or linen distribution aide will fail to make a timely delivery. An order will come up missing some items.
It’s during these moments that a good customer recovery program can mean the difference between losing a customer and reaffirming their faith in your service, says Paul Fayad, who addressed the topic for attendees of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management’s (NAILM) 65th Annual Educational Conference.
Fayad has extensive experience in support service management, having begun his career in the 1970s in facilities management and environmental services for several hospitals in the Detroit metropolitan area.
Since 1990, he’s been president/CEO of HHA Services, which provides support services management to some 60 healthcare and other clients from corporate headquarters in St. Clair Shores, Mich.
Service recovery isn’t as simple as saying “I’m sorry,” Fayad points out. It requires a well-established and easily understood approach to identifying a customer’s problem or concern and addressing it promptly. It’s suggested that the issue be addressed within 60 seconds.
Having an informal program that leaves service employees guessing about what they should or shouldn’t say to a customer with a complaint can be risky for your business.
“You’ll confuse your staff,” Fayad warns. “If your staff doesn’t understand what the policy of the organization is to recover from [mistakes], then they’re going to be afraid to say anything to your customers. That’s extremely dangerous.”
An example of good practice is airline JetBlue’s written policy that customers made to wait a certain amount of time due to a company-related delay will receive some monetary compensation or even have their full flight costs reimbursed, he says.
Fayad described three types of common service delivery situations in which recovery may become necessary:
Implicit – An example is a wheelchair-bound person being unable to see over the front desk at a hotel. How does the staff respond to them and their needs?
Explicit – These situations would include customers with special needs (they’re allergic to feather pillows or a certain laundry detergent, for example), specific menu preferences (desire to substitute food items), customer errors (an airline passenger has lost his boarding pass) and disruptions among customers (smoking in a no-smoking section, for example).
“Most people think that customer service recovery occurs when your staff makes a mistake,” Fayad says, but there are many instances when situations created outside of your control still must be addressed.
Unprompted – The attitude of your staff, the culture of your business and even adverse conditions fall into this category.
Service recovery is an important part of your entire customer service program. Fayad reiterated that it must be a formal, structured program that should be a written policy or process that employees are taught to follow.
“If you can’t do it, you bring in somebody who can,” he says. “Bring in somebody who can teach your staff to say the right things, do the right things, be the right person in order for this to be accomplished.”
Finally, the program must be measured and adjusted as needed.
It sounds like a daunting task, given the many responsibilities that laundry and linen managers face already, Fayad admits, but it’s a necessity to maintain and grow your business.
“The reality of it is, if you don’t, somebody else will,” he says.
Good service recovery can turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal ones and can create more goodwill than if things went smoothly in the first place, Fayad says.
“If we’re sincere about what took place, they’re going to appreciate that a lot more,” he says. “Sincerity goes a long way. If we work hard to resolve these issues, it is an endearing quality.”
And bad service recovery?
Fayad describes how he recently ordered a new mattress for his growing son from a large Detroit-area home furnishings store. He schedules time off work to be home for a morning delivery the following week. Meanwhile, he sees a television commercial for this company guaranteeing next-day delivery or the item is free.
Fayad calls the salesman, who promptly transfers him to an assistant manager who claims the promotion is valid only if the company schedules next-day delivery and fails to deliver. Fayad continues to push for a resolution and the assistant manager transfers his call to the manager, who answers the phone with “Ain’t gonna happen.”
Fayad then was referred to corporate customer service, which took his complaint but ended up bumping it back to the store to be handled. He canceled his order and went to another retailer.
PITFALLS TO AVOID
If you say events didn’t happen, you make the customer look like a liar, Fayad says.
If you investigate and report back that they’re right, the customer feels that you don’t trust them.
If you say “We don’t know,” the customer thinks you’re making excuses for poor service.
What can it mean for you? Fayad cited several studies to illustrate the impact of customer service and recovery.
— 91% of customers who leave because of a complaint will never return and will tell everyone they can. Of these customers, 80% will come back if you solve their problem quickly and to their complete satisfaction.
— 96% of customers who leave won’t tell you why they left.
— Three happy customers will tell three others. They’ll tell 10 if you did a great job. They’ll tell 25 if you did a bad job. If you argue with them over their complaint, they’ll tell 50 people.
ABC'S OF SERVICE RECOVERY
“I like to keep it simple,” Fayad says. “Anybody can remember the ABCs. When we develop our processes and programs within our organization, we try to utilize simple ways for people to remember.”
When a customer brings a complaint to your company, you should:
“A simple apology goes a long way if followed by the rest of the program,” Fayad says. “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ alone isn’t going to work.”
“You’re going to agree with the customer, which validates their anger and helps them stop [growing angrier]. You want to try to flat-line this as quickly as possible.”
“We admit that something was done incorrectly that has caused them to feel this anger.”
“And we accept responsibility for whatever may need to take place to correct what has happened.”
Don’t place the blame on any of the four P’s: people, processes, procedures or policies. “They don’t care about any of these things,” Fayad says. “What you ought to be doing is fixing the process so it doesn’t happen the next time. Then you don’t have to explain anything to anyone.”
Show compassion and empathy for the customer. “You’re trying to remove the problem from them to you,” Fayad says. Focus on the complaint, and actively listen before repeating almost word for word what the customer has told you
Fix the problem immediately. If needed, give them a timeline for when it will be resolved. And provide some sort of compensation for their troubles.
“They make one complaint and it’s resolved,” Fayad says. “If they make two complaints, they may not come back.”