Recovering from Service Failure

Sometimes customer service failures are unavoidable. No one is perfect and mistakes will happen, but if handled appropriately, service failures can provide you with excellent opportunities to learn, grow, and establish better business practices to mitigate and deal with future failures.

Research indicates that customers who have had issues resolved promptly and efficiently, tend to be more loyal than those who have never encountered issues. In fact, if you can resolve a complaint in the customer’s favour, they will do business with you again 70% of the time (Lee Resources).

Here are some tips to help you avoid conflict before it happens, and deal with it when it does occur:

Learn from the past.

Chances are, you’re not going to be able to see eye to eye with every single customer. Maybe you've had issues in the past where you just couldn't find a compromise and come to an agreement. Or maybe your customer thought what they wanted, wasn’t actually the right solution for them. Or perhaps the misunderstanding may have even been your fault if you weren’t listening closely enough to the customer’s needs.

To avoid the types of conflicts that arise from these situations, you’re going to need to Identify what did or didn't work with past customers, be realistic about what you can do, and think about possible issues that may arise. This means you're going to have to engage fully with each customer and have some type of CRM system that documents conversations and transactions. This way you can analyze and learn from them in the event of service failure, and know how to set up the customer relationship for success going forward.

Communicate clearly.

Communication is integral to everything you do and is the cornerstone of a successful customer relationship. Great companies get to know their customers intimately and they do this by asking questions: What do customers want? How can you better design your product or service to meet their needs? Where are the fail points? To improve you need to engage with your customers, understand their needs and goals, and align them with yours.

Acknowledge the customer's needs.

Setting up frameworks and services that suit your business, but not your customers isn’t going to set you up for success. For example, say you're a SaaS company and your best practice is to have all customers funnel service requests through your online chat system, but certain old-school customers keep contacting you through email. If you keep pushing them to use the online chat system, they’ll start to get annoyed and you’ll get frustrated. You should pause and consider why they’re not using the chat system and think about how you can meet them on middle ground. A good solution is one that works for the business and the customer.

Say you're sorry.

If you made a mistake, own up to it – tell the unhappy customer how you’re going to fix it and what you’re going to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Your customer wants to hear that their business is important to you and nothing is more frustrating than someone who won’t take responsibility for wrongful actions. Be open to listening to the customer and considering any resolution that they may propose. If you’re lucky, they’ll tell you exactly how to resolve the issue to their satisfaction.


Give the customer some time to cool off and then follow-up. Following up further demonstrates that you take service issues seriously and it creates another opportunity for you to build trust with the customer. You need to know if the customer ultimately walked away happy so that you can improve your service recovery processes.

Not every service interaction is going to be perfect and sometimes customer relationships get strained. Effectively resolving a service issue involves engaging the unhappy customer, documenting the conversation and solution, and learning from the entire interaction.


Rodney Steele