Service Recovery Paradox – Fact or Myth?

This blog is about a well-known business concept called the Service Recovery Paradox (SRP).

What’s SRP? It’s a pretty simple theory. A good recovery following a service failure can turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal ones. Service managers have known about this paradox for years.

The concept was first discussed in a popular Harvard Business Review article as far back as 1990. The authors – Christopher Hart, James Heskett and Earl Sasser – are all extremely well-respected academics and business practitioners.

But are they right? Let’s take a closer look.

The Profitable Art of Service Recovery

Service Recovery at Slack

Why don’t we start with an example.

Ever heard of the American tech company Slack? Several years ago, Slack had a major service failure:

Tuesday, November 23, 2015 started out like any other day at work for James Crenson. Coffee, check email, prep documents for weekly meeting, solicit input from co-workers on slack. Um, Slack?

Outage

At 8:50am, popular workplace messaging service Slack suffered a massive outage, leaving over a million users around the world unable to send or receive messages and files for almost three hours in the middle of the workday. Angry users took to twitter and other social messaging sites to complain about the inconvenience. The situation had the potential to explode, but Slack was ready.

The team messaging tool had a solid plan in place for mass outages. A well-coordinated group effort handled support issues including a comprehensive social media blitz to contain the negative customer experience (CX). Over the few hours that the service was down, the official @SlackHQ account tweeted over 2,300 times with humorous, thoughtful, and most importantly, personalized – responses to customers complaining about the service outage.

Response

Not only did the all-out response wow users, but @SlackHQ gained over 3,300 followers – 7x more than average – on a day that could have gone down as the worst in company history. Slack was able to quickly contain the damage, took complete responsibility, kept its customers well informed and handled a stressful situation with humor and efficiency.

Throughout this process, Slack deepened the trust of existing customers by demonstrating that the company was prepared in times of crisis. Its expert handling of a negative situation enhanced its relationships with existing customers, boosted the brand’s reputation and even served as a springboard for an expanded customer base.

This is an exceptional demonstration of the value of the phenomena known as the “service recovery paradox.”


 
The graphic below explains the Service Recovery Paradox.

Loyalty generally increases over time when service is delivered consistently well. It falls rapidly if there is a service failure but loyalty increases again when service is restored and the service recovery is handled well. In fact, loyalty becomes greater than if no failure had occurred in the first place. That’s the paradox.
Service Recovery Paradox

Fact or Myth?

The Service Recovery Paradox is generally accepted as fact. But where is the evidence for it?

Some years ago, Celso Matos decided to find out. He and a couple of colleagues from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil conducted a ‘meta-analysis’ of all academic articles that discussed SRP. In total, they found 24 documented examples of recoveries following service failures. 19 of the 24 examined the impact of service recovery on satisfaction; 12 examined the impact on repurchase intentions; six looked at word of mouth (advocacy).

Their results were very interesting and not encouraging for companies with a poor service ethos.

Matos concluded that “satisfaction increases after a high service-recovery effort” but that “repurchase intentions are not increased by a high service-recovery performance.”
 

Service Recovery does NOT lead to greater loyalty

Matos and his colleagues explain that “customers are willing to make a positive evaluation of a firm providing a high recovery effort, but they are not likely to repatronize this firm”. They go on try to explain why this might be the case.

One explanation is that satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal. We know this from our own analysis at Deep-Insight. Another explanation is that people will give you a lot of credit for pulling out all the stops to recover a bad situation after a bad service failure. However, they will still doubt your ability to ensure no similar service failures occurs again. That’s pretty important when your 12-month or 10-year contract is coming up for renewal. They might give you good customer satisfaction (CSat) scores, but will they sign up for another contract?

In general, satisfaction levels do recover if a Service Improvement Plan (SIP) is put in place but loyalty does not. This does not mean the Slack example discussed above is not true. It just means that you need to go to extraordinary lengths to win back the trust and loyalty of clients when they experience a service failure.
 

The Relationship between Service and Trust

Some years ago I wrote a blog called Trusted Relationships = Consistently Good Service. It was based on our analysis of tens of thousands of customer feedback results from Deep-Insight’s database gathered over a period of 15 years. The analysis showed that of all the elements in our Customer Relationship Quality (CRQ™) methodology, Service Performance was most strongly correlated with Trust.

It stands to reason, if you think about it. What happens when you deliver a consistently good service to a client? Their levels of trust in you and commitment to your company increase. Fail to deliver the service consistently, and their trust erodes quickly. Consistently fail to deliver, and both trust and commitment levels can disappear completely. Trust and commitment also take a very long time to rebuild.
 

‘Quality is Free’ so make sure to get it ‘Right First Time’

There’s a really important lesson here. Service failures are the sworn enemies of long-term profitable relationships. That’s why it’s worth investing time and effort to minimise the chances of a service failure ever happening in the first place. You may never succeed completely but it will be worth the investment. In fact, it won’t cost you anything.

This is where the old Total Quality Management (TQM) principles come into play. In 1979, Philip Crosby wrote a seminar book called Quality Is Free. His basis message was that it costs absolutely nothing to build quality into products and services. If anything, you’ll make money by reducing the cost of re-work and failed business relationships.

Quality really is free, so if you’re in the service business, make sure to get it right first time.

If you operate in the B2B world, ask yourself the question: “Is CSat the right thing to be measuring in the first place?” Maybe you should be measuring something different.
 
 

If Trust is so important, why do so few companies measure it?

Most people understand implicitly that good Business to Business (B2B) relationships are built on a strong foundation of trust. But if Trust is so important, why do so few companies measure it? It’s a question that has always intrigued me. I must admit that I’m still struggling to find the answer.

The fact is that CEOs keep tabs on all sorts of KPIs. For operational performance, there are lots of service level agreements (SLAs) and other three letter acronyms (TLAs). Logistics companies even have five letter acronyms like DIFOT – Delivery In Full On Time. For financial performance, the CFO has an eye-watering array of metrics. For customer performance, there is customer satisfaction (CSat) and Net Promoter Score (NPS).

But rarely, if ever, is there a metric for Trust that is discussed by the leadership team or reported to shareholders.
 

How Important is Trust?

A couple of weeks ago, I ran a short poll on LinkedIn, asking people what they thought was the most important element of a strong B2B relationship. It wasn’t a trick question as we believe at Deep-Insight (based on pretty good academic research) that the three key pillars of a great B2B relationship are Trust, Commitment and Satisfaction.

I wasn’t surprised by the winner but I was intrigued by the margin. It appears that Trust really is seen as the cornerstone of a strong B2B relationship.

Trust Commitment Satisfaction
 

Trust, Commitment and Satisfaction

How are they all related? Here’s how we explain it.

If you take a purely commercial view of any business relationship – and you shouldn’t – it’s all about the revenues you can generate from that relationship over the long term. I know that’s a bit mercenary but that’s how some people view things. The greatest predictor of a long-term relationship is Commitment and it’s important that you measure your clients’ commitment to you. We ask that question quite bluntly to our clients’ customers: “Are you committed to a long-term relationship with [Name of Client]?”

It turns out that the answer to this question has the highest correlation with the likelihood of the company buying from our client again in the future. The opposite is also true. A poor score is the best predictor that the customer will defect to the competition.

But remember: commitment to a long-term relationship is only the outcome of other factors. Two of the most important factors are Trust and Satisfaction. Trust is all about fairness, honesty and acting with integrity. It’s a reflection on what clients think of your brand but, more important, it’s their perception of how trustworthy your people are as well.

Satisfaction, on the other hand, is a measure of how well you meet (or exceed) a client’s expectations. It’s more transactional than Trust, and also more volatile. For example, you can be satisfied with your IT service provider today, but deeply unhappy tomorrow when the network crashes and your factories or stores can’t operate. When the IT service provider pulls out all the stops and fixes the problem in double-quick time, you’re both relieved and satisfied again. Satisfaction scores can fluctuate wildly. Trust scores? Not so much.

 

Trust at Serco

One of our clients that takes Trust seriously is Serco. It’s one of Serco’s four stated values: Trust, Care, Innovation and Pride.

Trust at Serco

Serco is quite clear about both what Trust is, and what it is not. Here are the behaviours it expects from its people:

  • Do what they say they will, try their best and see things through
  • Consistently provide the highest standards of customer service
  • Have a can-do, will-do attitude
  • Are open and honest
  • Communicate truthfully, clearly and concisely
  • Aim to always do the right thing and never compromise our values
  • Think through the consequences of their decisions
  • Speak out when they see something wrong
  • Understand who our customers are, listen to them and act upon their feedback
  • Challenge assumptions in an appropriate way
  • Acknowledge when they make mistakes and take responsibility for correcting them
  •  

    Similarly, Serco believes Trust is not demonstrated if employees or the leadership:

  • Make promises that we cannot keep
  • Rush to provide solutions before listening to others’ needs and opinions
  • Fail to keep customers and colleagues informed
  • Are not straightforward and transparent
  • Allow disrespectful or discriminatory behaviour
  • Knowingly use Serco’s resources for personal gain
  • Break our Code of Conduct or the law
  • Falsify or misrepresent information
  • Ignore and don’t speak up when we see something wrong
  • Choose to ignore adverse criticism
  • Blame others for mistakes we have made or things we have missed
  • Shift our responsibilities to others
  •  

    Why do so few companies measure Trust?

    How many companies measure have identified Trust as a core company value and measure it in a systematic way? The short answer is that very few B2B companies measure Trust at all. Serco is one of the few that even identifies it publicly as a core value. Isn’t that strange? Business magazines and articles are full of ideas and tips for becoming trusted advisors. A lot of CEOs and company boards talk about “trusted relationships” with clients in their annual reports to shareholders.

    Trusted Relationships

    Interestingly, the same CEOs and boards talk about trusted relationships but then quote the company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS). Now don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with NPS but it’s not a measure of Trust. It’s a measure of Advocacy. Yes, the two are related but it you’re going to talk to shareholders and clients about “Trusted Relationships” or “Acting as Trusted Advisors” then you really should go and measure your performance directly.

    Sometimes NPS isn’t enough. It’s a good metric – simple and easy to understand. But it’s one-dimensional. If you really want to understand how trusted a relationship you have with your clients, you need to measure Trust as well as NPS of CSat (Customer Satisfaction). As a CEO or Sales Director, you need to understand if your key clients are Ambassadors who trust you implicitly, or Stalkers and Opponents who want to get out of the relationship because levels of Trust (and Commitment and Satisfaction) are so low.

    If you want to know more about measuring Trust, have a read of this blog.

    Alternatively, get in touch with us today.