Did you know that problems with your products are not necessarily going to make your customers dissatisfied? At least, not in the long run. Instead, they can provide an opportunity to turn customers into evangelists for your customer service.

Think about this common scenario: you boot up your computer, ready to work (or play a game, or send an email – we won’t tell), and before you can start whatever you were planning to do, your anti-virus software tells you it needs to update its virus definitions.

Frustrated Customer

Is your first reaction anger or disappointment that their software wasn’t already preventing these viruses? More likely, it’s minor irritation at the interruption, mitigated by reassurance that the software will now do an *even better* job of protecting your computer. You feel safer, and the anti-virus software company has associated its brand name, right there at your workstation, with that feeling of security. This kind of software-as-a-service (SaaS) actually makes real-time technical solutions to customer problems part of its competitive edge.

Service recovery paradox

While no business benefits from deliberately allowing flaws in its products, consider how your business would change if you started treating every customer complaint as an opportunity to shine. Service researchers call this the “service recovery paradox.” In some situations, customers will actually feel more loyal, satisfied, and willing to recommend your company to others after a successfully resolved failure than they do with a perfectly functioning product.

Recent research suggests that there are two spheres that influence whether a failure will lead to a more or less satisfied customer:

  • The nature of the problem (severe or minor) and whether it suggests a pattern of problems with your organization
  • The reaction of the organization to the customer’s complaint, and whether the problem is resolved

The problem itself

In a 2007 study, Magnini et. al. found several issues were critical to whether a problem was likely to be resolved well, in the customer’s view:

  • Was the failure or problem severe, or minor?
  • Was this the first problem the customer encountered with your organization, or the latest in a series of problems?
  • Was the failure caused by something within the control of your organization?

Minor, anomalous problems which were outside the control of the organization were least likely to cause customer dissatisfaction with the company, even if they could not be completely resolved. Severe problems, repeated problems, and problems caused by something endemic to the company’s way of doing business, on the other hand, were most likely to increase customer dissatisfaction, regardless of whether the problem itself got resolved.

Your company’s response

What does it mean to resolve a customer’s problem? Usually, we think in terms of fixing the technical problem that originated the complaint. But that’s just “fixing” the problem – resolving it means that your customer gets closure.

Specifically, the customer wants to feel that someone has listened to him sympathetically and respectfully, attempted to resolve his problem, and that his problem is taken seriously by the company.

Your front-line employees need to be trained and encouraged to do anything possible to work towards this resolution, from showing empathy, acknowledging and owning the problem, and providing compensation, in addition to actually fixing the problem. This means educating them, empowering them to make quick decisions, and backing them up when they follow through.

It’s been said that, “life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent what you do with it.” Replace “life” with “customer service” and you have a great mantra for business success.

Sources cited:
VP Magnini et. al., “The service recovery paradox: justifiable theory or smoldering myth?,” Journal of Services Marketing 21, no. 3 (2007): 213-225.

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