Having a service recovery framework is important because, even in the best of times, it’s hard for most of us to improvise entirely from scratch without a structure to guide us and upon which to fall back. And a situation that calls for service recovery is, by definition, far from the best of times. When things haven’t gone smoothly and a customer is upset, employees are likely to feel embarrassed, or defensive, or put-upon, or angry—or all of these at once. With so much emotion flying around, it’s hard for even the most seasoned and even-tempered customer service professionals to do their best.
All great customer-focused organizations have one, and they tend to form a mnemonic for easy recall under the gun. For example: Marriott’s spells LEARN; Starbucks’, quite adorably, spells LATTE.
If your organization hasn’t already committed to a different service recovery system, let me offer you my own four-step MAMA service recovery framework. I expect it will stand you in good stead.
[NOTE: Here’s a resource for community members: If you’d like a free, standalone, printable copy of the four-step MAMA service recovery approach, let me know by email at email@example.com and I’ll hook you up.]
The MAMA Method for Customer Service Recovery
Here are the four steps to take when responding to a customer who is upset about a service failure:
Make time to listen
Acknowledge and apologize
(have a) Meeting of Minds
Act! And Follow Up
Step 1: Make time to listen
• Immediately stop whatever you’re doing.
• Listen with your ears, your eyes, and your body. Don’t interrupt the customer with questions or explanations.
•Only after listening quietly, strive to learn more about the situation by probing for what the customer is specifically upset about.
Step 2: Acknowledge and Apologize
• Acknowledge the situation and, if an apology is called for (by which I mean the customer feels an apology is warranted, not necessarily that you do), apologize sincerely.
• Even if you have no reason to feel that you’re at fault, you should convey to the customer that you recognize and regret what they’ve gone through.
• Be sure to make it a real apology and not a fakey-fake apology, like “I’m sorry if you feel that way.” (Delivering a bogus apology like that one, through gritted teeth, is probably worse than not apologizing and all.)
Step 3: (have a) Meeting of Minds
• Strive to align yourself to the customer’s expectations for what a solution would look like, and work from there to determine what would both be acceptable to them and would be practical (or even possible) for you to pull off. (In doing this, continue to include your customer in the process of developing this solution, and strive to be open to a different vision emerging at this point of what a successful solution may be–one that may never even have occurred to you.)
• Once you have a match, spell out the agreed-on solution, as you understand it.
• Commit to exactly what you will do to resolve the issue, and by when.
Step 4: Act! And Follow Up
• Take care of the issue as promised.
• Follow up with anyone to whom you’ve assigned all or part of the resolution.
• Follow up with the customer to ensure all is well.
• Later on, examine what went wrong with an eye toward identifying negative patterns, systemic issues, and chokepoints (for example, repeated complaints of long lines on Tuesday afternoons or of a website that loads slowly, but only on weekend nights), and strive to learn from the error, using this new knowledge, where applicable, to refine future company operations and training.
Author • Forbes Senior Contributor • Customer Service Consultant
President and CEO, Four Aces Inc.
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