Service Recovery vs. ‘Right First Time’ – Which is better?

Instinctively you would assume that for businesses to get something “right 1st time” would be an ideal they should strive for. In fact, the Quality Management movement is based almost entirely around this principle. TQM (Total Quality Management) in the 1990s and in more recent times Six Sigma have focused on the possibility of reducing the number of errors/ defects to a handful per one million transactions.

However no company can ever achieve absolute perfection. Companies employ people and, from time to time, those people will make mistakes. In the eyes of the customer, when company employees get it wrong, the company gets it wrong. So is this really a major problem for businesses?

Service Recovery vs. Right First Time

We’ve all heard the phrase “to err is human” and being human is central to this issue. When someone we know makes a mistake that affects us in everyday life, we judge that person on how they deal with it. If they put their hands up in the air and apologise straight away, we are far more likely to forgive them. In fact, we can end up having more respect for that person than we had before.

So can the same principle apply to business? It can be argued that when a company makes an error, we see the human side of the organisation, giving us the opportunity to relate to their employees as human beings. Maybe the important issue is not that they make mistakes, but how they choose to respond and hopefully recover from them. This being the case, there is a good argument to say that strong service recovery is as important as “right first time”, as it provides the business with a ‘human’ interaction that it otherwise wouldn’t have had. This could be seen as a platform from which the business can build potential relationships.

In fact, in one survey that was undertaken, eighty-one percent of respondents who said a company’s problem resolution experience far exceeded their expectations also said that they’re very likely to do business with that company again. Only 5% of those who said problem resolution experiences fell far below expectations said that they’re very likely to do business with the same company again.

Now this isn’t to suggest that a company should deliberately seek to make mistakes. Attempting to reduce the number of errors a business makes is still something that most businesses should probably strive for. We can safely assume that most businesses make too many mistakes! However for any errors that a business is unable to completely eliminate, it certainly needs to be empowering its people to behave like human beings.

If we knocked someone over in the street, we would most likely offer them our hand, help them up and apologise. We wouldn’t inform that person that helping them up wasn’t ‘one of our policies’ or ‘not part of our Terms & Conditions’. To eliminate mistakes completely would require the right processes to be followed the same way every time; and we would probably have to build perfect robots to make them happen. But where would be the humanity in that?

Customer Experience isn’t just about the experience the customer gets. Customer Experience is also about how that experience relates to their expectations. Part of setting the expectation for the customer comes from the brand; and in its broadest sense a brand is a promise – the promise the business makes to the customer. This being said, we should never forget that promises are made, realised and broken by human beings. In this sense, your people are your brand. So if we want our customers to build a relationship with our brand, we need to be empowering our people to be human!

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