We all want our clients to be happy with the service they receive all of the time. However, occasionally we will encounter dissatisfied, frustrated or angry clients. In our experience it is the way that you respond to a service failure that defines the ultimate outcome, not the issue itself.
There is a special art to a great service recovery conversation, and if managed well, good service recovery conversations can turn dissatisfied clients into loyal ones.
Preparation for the meeting:
Make sure you have done your research beforehand, these meetings can be tough, so be empathetic to the client and understand the issues fully from the client's perspective - ensure you listen! Be prepared to apologise if appropriate, but be aware of inadvertently accepting liability.
Be prepared to acknowledge the issue, agree an action plan; initially this may only be to report back to the client by a particular date, and then move on in the conversation. Try not to make promises unless you are absolutely certain they can be fulfilled.
In most cases the initial meeting may not define the response, but rather inform proper consideration which can result in an effective remedial plan that is agreeable with the client. It is essential however that the firm's response does not appear to duck the issue, defend the course of action, appear unresponsive or indeed suggest the client is at fault.
Most importantly, be prepared to deal with it – meet the challenge head on and try to practice your response before the meeting.
During the conversation:
We recommend throughout the meeting that you stay calm, reminding yourself why you are there, bad feedback is good! Where possible try to note the body language and empathise/respond accordingly. Ask open ended questions rather than directive questions, as you want to try and flush out as much information as you can. Only ask closed or directive questions to put the brakes on, for example, ‘when did that happen?’
Use active listening skills as much as possible. Paraphrase and summarise key messages, understand nonverbal signs and try to bridge the conversation, for example, ‘how does this relate to what you said earlier?’ Remember to give the client time to think through their reply if it is a challenging question and make good use of silence.
When you get back to the office:
Engage in a review of the meeting, you might want to ask questions like: ‘What was expected to happen? What actually happened? What went well and why? What can be improved and how? What should we do next?’
Define an action plan describing who, what, where, when, why and how. Share the outcome of the review and action plan with the client, including anticipated timelines for implementation (typically there is no need to share a detailed plan, a summary plan normally works). Ensure the owners of the action plan follow through on it.
Where appropriate, capture key learning opportunities and themes, circulate this internally and celebrate successful service recovery and the journey that made it possible.
We believe the art of a successful service recovery conversation is: to identify the cause from both the client’s view and the firm’s view, control the concern and analyse the cause. Evaluate the possible solutions and draw out an action plan that you share with the client. Ensure you monitor the action plan and complete a quality review with the teams, individuals or policies involved. This not only helps your image in front of your client but also identifies future concerns before they arise, leading to better service delivery and more loyal clients.