Importance of Customer Service Failure Recovery Strategies

How You Fix Mistakes Can Turn Annoyed Customers into Loyal Customers

Waitress smiling at a table and offering great customer service to a customer.
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In the field of customer service, failure response and recovery strategy are how a business manages a bad experience and turns it into a positive experience. No matter how committed a retailer is to its customer service, at some time in every retail location mistakes will happen.

Expectations won't get met and customers will be disappointed. In these moments, customers care less about why the failure happened and more about how you and your employees handle the situation.

Customer Service Failure Response and Recovery

How you recover from a customer service mistake can make or break your relationship with your customer. It's not just about fixing the problem, but how you fix it. A solid customer service failure response is the best customer loyalty program that any retail organization can have.

Those retail organizations that truly value customer satisfaction prepare their employees with service recovery strategies that include an immediate and appropriate service failure response. The best service recovery strategies can fix mistakes, repair relationships, and build trust. The worst responses will almost certainly result in a loss of both customers and brand reputation. 

The retail and restaurant chains on "Customer Best," '"Most Reputable," and "Most Valuable" lists are the ones that customers can trust to make things right when things go wrong.

Real-Life Example of the Power of Great Failure Response

One of my regular restaurant haunts is the Corner Bakery. It’s a quick-serve sandwich, soup, and salad restaurant chain that’s almost as fast as fast food, but with menu choices that are more real and fresh. I’ve been to several of their restaurants in more than one state. Besides the free Wi-Fi which makes it an easy working lunch destination, it has high-quality food and above-average service that’s impressed me the most.

But one day, I stopped at a Corner Bakery restaurant on my way home to grab an early dinner instead of sitting in rush hour traffic. I ordered a scrambled egg sandwich from their breakfast menu and even though they weren't an all-day breakfast kind of place. They didn’t even hesitate to comply with my request. When my order was delivered, though, the order was wrong. As soon as I walked back up to the counter with my plate in hand, before I said anything, the cashier, Monica, said, “What can I fix on that sandwich?”

Not only did the cooks have to make a breakfast item at the wrong time of day, now they had to make it twice for the same customer. Shortly after, Monica walked to my table with a new steaming hot sandwich in one hand and a big chunk of my favorite chocolate cake in the other hand.

What happened next is something I rarely experience as a customer. Monica said, “I’m sorry for the mixup.” No excuses. No justifications. No attempt to make me feel guilty for my unusual order. Monica made a simple, sincere apology, smiled, and walked away. Five minutes later the manager walked up and said, “How is your new sandwich?” With my mouth full, I nodded and smiled while they said, “Sorry about the first one.”

Why Service Failure Recovery Strategies Work

My experience at Corner Bakery was like taking Service Recovery 101 and Ph.D. level Service Recovery at the same time. Neither the Corner Bakery cashier nor the Corner Bakery manager did anything extraordinary. But really, it was not an extraordinary situation. Because they obviously had a clear commitment to the customer experience and a plan for service recovery, they were able to prevent a minor failure from becoming a major relationship-ending disaster. 

It seems like common sense, but as is so often the case in business, just because it makes sense, doesn't mean it's commonly understood or commonly acted upon. 

I've experienced significant service failures other retailers that didn't have such happy endings. Had the employees been trained, allowed, or motivated to respond to the service failure in a way that would have mitigated the customer relationship collateral damage, a minor failure wouldn't have escalated into a major incident. 

The Bottom Line

In that wrong-order-right-response customer experience, the Corner Bakery team delivered service recovery with rock-solid consistency. In doing so these employees also delivered on the promise of the Corner Bakery brand. Whether they intended to or not, they gave me a new reason to be impressed with the Corner Bakery restaurant chain when I could have easily been annoyed or turned off.


What is the measure of success at the end of a typical retail day? Sales? The number of transactions? Of course. But how about the number of times you give a customer a new reason to be impressed? How about the number of times you convert someone into a loyal customer? Now that’s a goal that any customer can get behind.