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Service Recovery and Handling Irate Customers

Every organization makes mistakes daily. Things go wrong and bad stuff happens no matter how committed we are to great service.

When this happens, the frontline employee often takes the brunt of your customer’s wrath. Not every customer is nice and often uses derogatory language. When things blow up the customer can get very excited and their tone of voice changes dramatically, setting the stage for an unpleasant encounter.

How do we handle this? In most companies, the employee lies and runs for cover. They figure it is better to let someone else handle the wrath of the customer and they know the customer will never remember who they talked to.  Lying only kicks the can down the road for someone else to handle and creates a better chance the customer will never come back.

A screaming customer can ruin any employee’s day. If an unpleasant encounter happened at 9 am with an irate customer it will be difficult for that same employee to be cheerful and nice to everyone for the rest of the day. Even more difficult if the employee was not given the training and empowerment needed to handle the problem.

There is NO educational system in the world that will teach your employees how to handle these situations. If you want to reduce employee turnover, keep employees happy and have customers return to do business with you, all employees should be trained on how to handle Service Recovery and Irate Customers.

This is a link to our 2 session program on Handling Irate Customers. You can view the video, leader guide and participant kit online.

The customer is always right even if you think they are nuts. There are 6 steps I teach in Handling Irate Customers:

1. Listen carefully

2. Put yourself in the customer’s place

3. Ask questions

4. Suggest alternatives

5. Apologize

6. Solve the problem

Service Recovery is how you flip an upset customer in 60 seconds who is maybe swearing because your organization screwed up or he/she believes you screwed up. When I give my service strategy seminars across the world I ask executives to come up with 5-10 services or products they can give away as Service Recovery. Guess what?  Very few can come up with even one.  So, if the leaders have a problem what is the front line employee supposed to do? Which proves my point that according to my estimates, less than 2 percent of organizations practice service recovery.  This leaves a company with only two choices….

1. Kiss the customer good bye.
Often the employee will say the customer was a jerk. Very few companies know the life time value of a customer. 

2. Master Service Recovery.
Give something away that makes the customer excited about what happen so they fall in love with you.


A restaurant has a reservation for 4 people for you at 7PM. When you get there the hostess says, “Mr. Nelson we are way behind. All our fault. Would you and your guests please wait in the bar until we call you and have drinks on us.”  Lets’ say each person has 2 drinks during the waiting time. The real cost of goods is at most $1 each which would come to a total of approximately $8.

What do you suppose everyone is talking about while waiting?  I suspect 100 to 1000 people with social media will hear about this. All for $8. This is called “word of mouth” advertising and Service Recovery.

The host/hostess took a mere 4 steps in dealing with a potentially irritated customer. 

1. Acted quickly
All this has to happen in 60 seconds or less.

2. Took responsibility 
Didn’t lie or move the problem to someone else.

3. Made an empowered decision
Made a fast decision in favor of the customer.

4. Compensation
Every organization has things of value they can give away to compensate the customer for your mistake. Just apologizing is nice and is good customer service but it is not Service Recovery. 

Always remember….Once you connect with your customer it becomes easy and natural to take a concerned or irate customer and turn them into a valuable ally in growing your business profitably.

The Service Recovery/Loyal for Life Training Program is three hours.  

If you are interested in my book on Service Recovery, Loyal For Life, click here. All these programs and my books are also available on Amazon.

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