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In the quest for achieving the dream of Total Quality Management there are many moments which end up being nightmarish, says Hospitality Consultant Avril Sule. She talks about Service Recovery Paradox in complaint handling.

As standards of service rocket sky-high, guest expectations increase making it difficult for organizations to live up to them. There is always the inevitable need to deal with guest complaints. The television channel that cannot be accessed, the toilet flush that does not work and the towel that has not been placed in the room… these could be some of the reasons that mar the perfect guest experience. No matter what the reason, these service failures bring about negative feelings and responses from the guest. The reputation of an organisation must be restored. A lot depends on the actions taken by an organization in response to a service failure. This is referred to as Service Recovery. To ensure guest retention, it is essential be able to identify guest complaints and solve the problems to the guest’s satisfaction. Any Guest Loyalty Program views Service Recovery practices as a critical element and the culture of the organization must support the belief that guests are important and their opinion is of utmost value..

One might view Service Recovery as a positive approach to complaint handling. In my own experience, I have been pleasantly surprised to find there are still staff who exhibit concern and empathy when dealing with complaints and provide a quick understanding and speedy solution to the problem. The satisfaction at the moment and the confidence in the service practices of the organization tend to maintain Guest Loyalty. That is the intrinsic value to effective Service Recovery and complaint handling — Repeat clientele.

In fact, some studies actually project The Service Recovery Paradox Theory. The theory suggests that that if the organization exhibits an excellent recovery in the event of a service failure, then the guest’s satisfaction may exceed pre-failure levels. Recent research has criticized the evidence provided in support of the recovery paradox. Needless to say, the recovery paradox has multiple dimensions. Simple shortcomings like items in the room not provided or out of order can be quickly resolved to the satisfaction of the guest and overall recovery can occur. In the case of complex situations like cockroaches in the room or a delay in allotting the room well past check-in time, The Service Recovery Paradox may not be applicable. The magnitude of the failure makes it difficult, if not impossible, to achieve even a reasonable level of service recovery.

In weighing the pros and cons of The Service Recovery Paradox, it becomes clear that it is more complicated than it seems. This is largely because of the many variables in complaints. The magnitude and circumstances may seem to be the more important variables but perhaps what is more crucial is the temperament of the guest.

All in all, it would be ludicrous to believe that service failures that are counteracted with exceptional service recovery are advantageous to winning Guest Loyalty! After all, ‘doing things right the first-time round’, reflects the reliability of the establishment and is the most critical determinant of service quality across organizations.

Recent research counters previous findings suggesting that only under the very highest levels of guests’ service recovery ratings, can one observe increased guest satisfaction and loyalty. Unless the recovery effort is absolutely superlative, it cannot nullify the negative impression of the initial experience adequately to build repurchase intentions beyond where they would be if the service had been provided correctly in the first place.

Despite the ongoing debate on the value of Service Recovery, most organizations are more focussed on Guest Acquisition than Guest Recovery. This reveals a bias towards marketing rather than operations. Each year, organizations enhance their marketing strategy to devise sales and marketing programs to reach new target clientele. They spend big bucks on achieving sales growth and expanding their market share. Dealing with angry guests is an operational task and falls in the arena of the Guest Service Department. The thought that it may be simpler to ignore guest grievances and seek greener pastures is not one that should be adopted. Some queries arise…. Are guests, always right? Can service failures be recovered? Or are guests simply being pacified so that they don’t bad-mouth the organization? However, most guests can be recovered… they buy more and give positive recommendations – the most important form of ‘advertising’.

It is necessary that every organization makes a conscious move from the moribund stage of ignoring angry customers and complaint handling or a haphazard procedure with no definite goals for service recovery. Active listening is necessary. Being solicitous and being proactive instead of reactive works far better since most guests don’t bother to complain. They simply move on! The solicitous role is accomplished by encouraging customers to voice their complaints and this does not refer to measurement via anonymous surveys. The successful solution is that the survey must be infused. The pinnacle of Service Recovery is achieved when the complaint identification merges with business process improvement or TQM programs to support root cause identification and occurrences to prompt reexamination of the process design. The two feedback loops are from the guests to the organization and from the guest-facing groups to leaders in the organization. While organization culture is clearly critical to implementing this level of feedback management, it is possible to infuse this information sharing into business practice.

And that is the value of Service Recovery in achieving Total Quality Management!

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