Service Recovery: 4 Things Your Agents Need to Succeed

Recently, we wrote about preparing the front line for inbound calls from angry customers. We also shared some great tools agents can use during these encounters. But what about service recovery? Are your agents ready to reach out to angry customers after their own calls end badly?

Service recovery has never been more important to a brand’s health and bottom line. It’s not just a matter of preventing the next social media PR disaster; it’s a matter of growing revenue in a sustainable way. As customer acquisition costs continue to rise, reactivating and retaining high-value customers (aka “plugging the leaky bucket”) have become the easier paths to long-term profitability.

“One study found that 63% of consumers said they would be willing to go back to a company after a negative experience if they received a follow up apology/correction from a supervisor/head office.”
Adam Toporek
Customers That Stick


If you’re familiar with the Service Recovery Paradox (SRP), you know the jury is still out on how much service recovery actually affects customer loyalty and spend. But research suggests that, in certain circumstances, a successful service recovery at the hands of a brand superhero can boost customer satisfaction higher than a typical five-star encounter.

Even if the SRP “bump” isn’t a sure thing, writing off angry customers is something your brand can’t afford to do. Service recovery has to be a priority, and it must be done well.

Service Recovery Success Starts With the Four P’s

Think of service recovery as both an art form and a fine-tuned machine. It requires skillful execution at the individual level and streamlined execution at an organizational level.

From the customer’s point of view, any service recovery effort should be:

  • Prompt – Follow-up communication that comes days later, or even hours later, may be too late. The customer may feel undervalued by the brand (a second big blow to the relationship), or they’ve already walked away and don’t care enough to give the brand a second chance.
  • Personalized – The response and proposed remedy should reflect the customer’s specific grievance as well as their history with the brand.
  • Prioritized – Along with being timely, the response should make the customer feel their discontent is the brand’s deepest regret and foremost concern.
  • Persistent – The brand rep should make clear, by way of a firm promise and clearly outlined action plan, they will not rest until the customer is happy.

Targeted training can enhance agents’ competency and confidence, but that’s only part of the equation. You also need to make sure no customer is left hanging or falls through the cracks. That’s the fine-tuned machine we alluded to above. We’ll dive into that part of the equation below.

How to Turn Your Agents Into Service Recovery Pros

If you’re ready to go all in on service recovery, you should be willing to entrust your agents with the all-important task of winning back customers’ hearts. As some of our clients have discovered firsthand, when agents know they’ve failed a customer, most are eager to make things right. They just need to be empowered in the following four ways.

1. Give agents the first shot at service recovery.

In many contact centers, supervisors are tasked with service recovery. In some cases, this is the wisest course of action. But when agents accept personal responsibility for a bad customer service encounter, customers sit up and take notice. They see a brand representative who’s invested in their job, concerned about the customer’s welfare, and willing to re-engage—making the brand feel less like a corporate entity and more like a true friend.

“Some of my favorite phone calls I made as an associate were follow-up phone calls—opening up that dialogue and letting customers know we’re determined to make things right. Our customers love how transparent we are as a company. Any type of negative or constructive feedback that comes in is an opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship.”
Jack Lorentzen
Customer Experience Lead, Brooklinen


2. Alert them to service recovery opportunities in real time.

A scalable, streamlined, sustained service recovery effort isn’t possible without enough of the right kind of data. You’ll need a steady supply of agent-level customer feedback (with survey response rates averaging 40-60%) that agents and managers can use to immediately identify one-star ratings and negative comments.

This type of feedback differs from typical CSAT survey data in important ways: it’s plentiful, it’s timely, and it’s tied to specific encounters. VoC data from the front line can capture customer grievances in the moment and provide contextual detail, ensuring every angry customer gets a quick, effective response—no matter how fast your business and customer service organization grow.

3. Equip them to solve complex problems.

Your agents need to be able to take charge of any service recovery situation. Use coaching and refresher training as needed to make sure they have a solid grasp of brand products, policies, and protocols as well as all tech platforms available to them.

At the same time, don’t hamstring your agents by keeping them trapped in a silo. Provide easy access to people and resources across the organization so agents can dig for answers and information and enlist help as needed.

4. Nurture their ability to emotionally connect.

Soft skills are a crucial part of service recovery training. From the moment an agent reconnects with an angry customer, that agent is on a mission to change the customer’s service outcome and restore trust. Use role play to help agents choose the right words, set the right tone, and stay calm and positive.

Once these skills are ingrained, agents can win the day even when the customer relationship is at its breaking point. And once-angry customers will likely see the brand in a whole new light.

Make Service Recovery a Standard Practice, and You’ll See Real Business Results

Even the most beloved brands have the occasional customer service failure. In that critical moment, when other companies might write off the loss—or continue flying blind, unaware of the damage done—leading brands dig in. They treat service recovery as a brand imperative and show unfailing resolve in their attempts to please unhappy customers.

Williams-Sonoma used front-line VoC data to institute a large-scale service recovery program, turning some of its unhappiest customers into some of its most satisfied. This brief case study has all the details—along with an inside look at how the brand transformed its contact center culture and operations.