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Take Advantage of the Service Recovery Paradox

Service Recovery Paradox

Service calls are a fact of life. Use them to build a loyal customer base by providing excellent service. 

No property manager or maintenance staff member enjoys a service failure, but it does present an excellent opportunity to make residents more satisfied with the apartment community and the company. 

How is this possible? Through the service recovery paradox, which is the reality that customers can leave a service failure more satisfied and loyal to a company than if no failure had occurred if — and it all hinges on this if — the problem is resolved efficiently and effectively.

“We’re all human, and service failures are going to occur no matter how focused you are on providing excellence service,” says Mark Vanderhoof, corporate maintenance training specialist for CWS Apartment Homes. “Don’t look at it as, ‘Now I have to go talk to an angry person.’ Instead, look at it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship between your company and your customer. And learn from it.”

Service Recovery Paradox in Action

Vanderhoof understands the service recovery paradox because he’s experienced it. When he was running a community years ago, he got a call from a couple who had recently moved into a Class A property. Unfortunately, soon after they moved in, the refrigerator stopped working. “On my way to the call, after talking to the resident and finding out how severe the problem was, I stopped and picked up a gift certificate for dinner,” he says. 

When he got to the property community and took a look at the refrigerator, he explained that he wouldn’t be able to fix the problem immediately, and he gave the couple a time frame for when it would be resolved. The company would reimburse them for the cost of the food that would be lost, but Vanderhoof had some immediate gratification for them.

“I offered them the gift certificate for a meal,” he says. “I think that that went a long way to creating the type of relationships that I had hoped for.” 

At CWS, Vanderhoof regularly trains maintenance techs on the service recovery paradox and how to help it occur. “We have certain people on-site at all times that have the ability to make monetary purchases if necessary to compensate somebody,” he says. “Teach your staff to use their initiative. Everyone has to try to be a leader at their property, no matter their position.”

Help Residents Feel HEARD

When going to service calls, maintenance professionals are wise to implement a strategy Disney uses when its customers are having a problem with the company — and one that Vanderhoof teaches in his training sessions. 

“They use the acronym HEARD,” Vanderhoof says.

H is for hear
E is for empathize
A is for apologize
R is for resolve
D is for diagnose

Vanderhoof points out that it’s important to not just listen to what the resident is saying about a service failure — you've got to really hear them and then let them know that you understand the inconvenience of the situation (the empathy part). 

He also believes there’s a difference between just saying sorry and truly apologizing — down to using one word over the other. “Most studies suggest that ‘I’m sorry’ is perceived as insincere about 80 to 90 percent of the time, whereas an apology with the phrasing ‘I apologize’ is more likely to be perceived as sincere.”

And, of course, fixing the problem quickly and correctly is key to making the paradox come to life. 

Learn From Every Service Recovery

At CWS, property managers solicit feedback from residents after every service call via a survey. This way, maintenance staff members are always learning what they can do better, and managers know who is providing excellent customer service — and, Vanderhoof hopes, then rewarding those employees for particularly good interactions. 

Vanderhoof advises taking the following actions to create the environment for the service recovery paradox:

  • Identify the most frequent service problems.
  • Develop options for fixing those problems.
  • Teach staff to take initiative when problems occur.
  • Hold training discussions, whether monthly hourly meetings at the property or shorter reviews after service breakdowns, to go over what was done during each service call and what could have been done better. 

“A service failure may not always be your fault, but it is your problem,” Vanderhoof says. “Embrace those problems as opportunities.”

Want more? 

Education ConferenceLearn more about the service recovery paradox at the 2015 NAA Education Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas, June 24-26. Vanderhoof will be leading a session on the topic on June 26.