Customer Support Spotlight 4 – How to resolve a customer service breakdown?

Written by on June 20, 2012

I had ordered a copy of Brian Greene’s book ‘The Fabric of the Cosmos’ from an online bookseller last month. The book was supposed to arrive in three days. I’m guessing the book would have been a pretty awesome read, but I really wouldn’t know. It took the seller eight emails, a few phone calls and twenty six days to tell me that they never had the book in stock. Ever!
System error, apparently. Of course, there were a few other more creative excuses thrown in along the way. At one point, the support rep on the other end of the phone told me about a policy that international editions would take a week longer than others. I could visualize him taking his hat off and pulling a new policy from it!

As the story goes, eventually the bookseller decided to unilaterally cancel my order. Not that the gift coupon or store credit that they DID NOT offer me would have helped at this point. I was far too angry already. This was a customer service breakdown at its worst, and I was never going to go back to the miserable bookseller.

Cooling down in a few hours, I did what any sane enough person with an internet connection would do- scout out other examples of customer service breakdown and figure out what was common between them. That’s when I landed on this discussion in Quora about how service breakdowns have stopped even the most loyal customers of some pretty big brands from coming back. There are the usual suspects of service breakdown- phone companies, service stations and irate grocers topping the charts. But it is interesting that a bad sales experience can get a BMW loyalist to jump to Land Rover.

Of course, every once in a while you are going to have a couple of customers who are not very happy with your service. So what can you do then to turn the story around? How can you turn a dissatisfied user back into a loyal customer?

Short answer – create a service recovery strategy. That’s a fall-back process for your support team when things start going downhill. The basic framework for a service recovery strategy consists of 6 steps:

1. Listen to the customer
2. Empathize
3. Own the problem
4. Act to solve
5. Understand the reason
6. Follow up

Listen to the customer
Don’t listen to an end. Just listen. Sometimes customers just need to vent. Let them. It’ll take a bit of patience, but it helps. They’ll get around to telling you what the problem is soon.

Communicate to them that what was their problem is now your problem as well, and that you’ll do everything to help them.

Own the problem
Take complete responsibility for the situation, apologize and in a way that communicates with the customer that you truly are sorry and will do anything you can in order to get things cleared up for them.

Now that the customer has communicated what he wants done, do it. Act. Do whatever it takes and if possible, keep him in the loop. The old adage of service still applies – ‘under promise’ and ‘over deliver’. If you can’t get the problem completely fixed, give him a workaround. The customer should never have to wait.


Ask questions. Get to the root of why the problem arose in the first place. Know the problem, understand it. The customer’s problem is not that he wants a six inch drill. He wants a six inch hole. Internalize this approach.

Follow up

When the issue has been resolved and the ticket has been closed, remember to go back and ask the customer if everything is fine & if he needs anything else. Customers don’t expect this. It indicates that you care – makes a huge difference in perception.

More often than not, service breakdowns result in businesses losing customers for life. It doesn’t have to be this way. Combining set procedures with a bit of tact and commitment can turn angry customers into your biggest promoters.

I buy a lot of books. The online bookseller I talked about missed a big opportunity to make me a customer for life.
Make sure you don’t.

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