Is a free dessert your service recovery “go to?


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How many times have you had an issue in a restaurant with service, a cold meal or incorrect charge? It happens, as it does in many industries. I’ve had my share of less than desirable experiences at restaurants. When it happens, I’m frequently offered a free dessert. I’ve often wondered why after failing to deliver an acceptable dinner experience, a restaurant management’s response is “give them a free dessert”. Really? Is that the best service recovery strategy they could come up with? A $100 meal (probably more these days) is a disaster and in return, I get an $8 free dessert. Hardly seems equitable to me. I have had restaurants compensate the entire meal, but these are few and far between (and ones I go back to more often).

What’s your service recovery plan when something goes wrong? While you may not be in the restaurant business, does your service recovery more than make up for what went wrong? What do your customers think of your response to your problem with their purchase? Do you track their post-incident purchases to determine if they are remaining loyal to your brand?

Being specific about your service recovery plan is important not only for your customers but for your employees as well. How much authority do your employees have to resolve an issue for a customer rather than escalating it to a manager? Do you provide employees with a variety of options to solve a customer’s issue so it can be done on the spot with little or no delay in satisfying a dissatisfied customer? Do you track the issues to improve your processes and avoid repeating the same mistake? As the adage goes, it takes a lot more money to acquire a customer then to retain one – so why hesitate when it comes to service recovery? Did you know that when a company recovers quickly and effectively from an error, customer loyalty can increase so long as the same mistake isn’t repeated?

What are the ingredients of an effective service recovery plan?
1. Be proactive. Have the systems in place to ensure you know before your customer does that something went wrong. Examples of this include stock outs, delivery delays, unexpected charges, billing mistakes, etc.
2. Accept the mistake even if it is that of the customer. The customer is always right even if they’re wrong. Worry about getting to root cause later. Solve the problem then figure out what went wrong.
3. Solve the issue now. Whatever the issue is, it’s important to get it solved now. Give authority to your sales team, your customer care team, your billing team, or whomever is in touch with the customer to satisfactorily solve the customer’s problem, immediately.
4. Track the problems. If it happened to one customer, it may be happening to others – some of whom may not report it. Collect data on your errors so you can summarize them quickly and provide this data to the appropriate department so they can make improvements to their processes. Only then can you avoid making the same mistake repeatedly.
5. Determine root cause. As mentioned earlier, the time to do root cause analysis is after you’ve resolved the customer issue. Using the data, you’ve acquired in item 4, find the root cause of the issue, and fix it – permanently not with a band aid.
6. Invest in your recovery process. Don’t give away a dessert to make up for a mistake on a steak dinner. Let the punishment fit the crime so to speak. If you’ve messed up $500 order, then shipping a corrected order overnight at your expense is a small price to pay for your mistake.
7. Invest in your employees. Provide behavioral training on how to handle dissatisfied customers. Often, we train skills – when we need to be training behaviors. Employees who immediately express empathy to the customer and clearly take control of the situation – “I will get this fixed for you today” will capture the confidence of your customer despite the error.
8. Accept the fact that some customers will abuse the system no matter how effective it is. At some point you may decide to not do business with a particular customer. These types of customers are typically a small percentage of your customer population so don’t legislate for the minority.
9. Give visibility to the issues. Leaders may be reluctant to share errors made by their departments with other leaders even though solving the problem frequently requires the help of those other departments. Creating a culture of accountability instead of blame can help overcome this hesitancy and produce a more collaborative working environment.
10. Publish your recovery process. Your recovery process shouldn’t be hidden deep in a training manual for employees. Write it down. Gain consensus from all departments. Share it with your customers. Engage you employees. Share it broadly so everyone knows what it is, how and when to use it and who is accountable for ensuring satisfied customers.

B2B. B2C. B2B2C. It doesn’t matter. Having a strong service recovery process regardless of the channels in which you operate is imperative for every business. It will support your brand promise and provide better experiences for your customers.

It may be a delicious dessert but if it leaves the customer hungry for more – it isn’t an effective service recovery process!

Bob Azman
Bob Azman is Founder and CXO of Innovative CX Solutions, LLC, a boutique CX consulting firm. He is the 2020 Immediate Past Chairman of the Board of the Customer Experience Professional Association ( Bob has a wealth of executive, diverse, global operations leadership experience at Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Thomson Reuters, Ceridian and Deluxe Corporation. Bob earned both his MBA and BA from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management and Rutgers University Business School.


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