What Is Service Recovery?

Introduction To Service Recovery

‘Mistakes are a critical part of every service. Hard as they try, even the best service companies can’t prevent the occasional [mistake]… errors are inevitable.’ (Hart et al, 1990)

Although written at the beginning of the 90s Hart et al’s observations are still relevant today; in every business human error is unavoidable and in the service industry, where workers are often in direct contact with the consumers, these mistakes can often lead to customer complaints. Some suggest that while the initial problem may upset consumers it is not this which reduces their loyalty to the brand, instead this is a response to an ‘employees’ lack of appropriate response to that failure’ (Pranic & Roehl, 2012, p.244) and inability to resolve a problem quickly and to their satisfaction. Therefore, in the event of an error or consumer complaint, service recovery is essential.

Service Recovery is a term which refers to ‘any actions taken by an organization and its employees in response to a customer complaint following a service failure’ (ibid). For example, in service marketing this may include offering the consumer a refund, a better quality repeat of the service, vouchers for future services or fixing errors with an ongoing service, to name a few. For example, an internet service provider may send round a technician to identify and fix a lack of internet connection or a restaurant may offer a new plate of food to a dissatisfied customer.

Service Recovery is Essential

Most agree that service recovery is an essential aspect of all service-based businesses, however, Hart et al (1990) identified that in the past over half of businesses they interviewed were completely unprepared to deal with customer complaints which led to customers feeling even more dissatisfied and often moving towards using competitors. In response to this businesses started making more efforts to listen to customers. This included taking note of incidents when someone asked to speak to the manager, wrote a letter of complaint or made a phone call (Hart et al, 1990), as well as training employees how to respond in these situations (Hoffman et al, 2016). Businesses realised that it wasn’t just about solving each customer’s problem but also about identifying ongoing issues and preventing them in the future.

Intro to Service Recovery - Marketing Blog by Rachel Oates

The History of Service Recovery

In the 80s and 90s the key innovation in service recovery was the introduction of 0800 numbers where consumers could phone for customer service advice for free (Hart et al, 1990). Then there were customer service email accounts, and today responding to customer complaints on social media is happening increasingly frequently.

In the last decade the number of people using social media has increased rapidly; it’s now an integral part of most people’s lives, mine included! While different social networks have different uses, each is based around sharing user-generated content and generating conversation (Valos et al, 2016, Brogan, 2010). Recent studies show that 2/3 of organisations are using some form of social media today to engage with their consumers in a new, more informal way than in the past (Auer, 2011, Valos et al, 2016, Wallis, 2014).

Social Media is the Way Forward

In the context of service recovery Facebook and Twitter are most often used as these have become one of the quickest ways to complain about customer service about a company. This means that when something goes wrong a customer is more likely to send a Tweet or post to a company’s Facebook page before making a phone call or emailing. Because of this, there is the argument that social media customer service is the next innovation in service recovery and in order to assess this over the next few posts, I’ll be looking why businesses need to utilise social media for service recovery and what happens when they don’t, the weaknesses and problems with using social media for this purpose, and the future of service recovery including whether or not social media can really be called the next innovation or if it’s already getting old.


Part 2: Using Social Media For Service Recovery

Sources & Further Reading

  • Auer, M.R. (2011) The Policy Sciences of Social Media, Policy Studies Journal, 39, 4, pp. 709-736
  • Brogan, C. (2010) Social Media 101: Tactics and Tips to Develop Your Business Online, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons
  • Hart, C., Heskett, J., & Sasser Jr., W. (1990) The Profitable Art of Service Recovery, Harvard Business Review, 68, 4, pp. 148-156
  • Hoffman, K., Kelley, S. & Rotalsky, H. (2016) Retrospective: tracking service failures and employee recovery efforts, Journal Of Services Marketing, 30, 1, pp. 7-10
  • Pranic, L. & Roehl, W. (2012) Rethinking Service Recovery: A Customer Empowerment (CE) Perspective, Journal Of Business Economics And Management, 13, 2, pp. 242-260
  • Valos, M, Haji Habibi, F, Casidy, R, Maplestone, V, & Driesener, C 2016, ‘Exploring the integration of social media within integrated marketing communication frameworks: Perspectives of services marketers’, Marketing Intelligence And Planning, 34, 1, p. 19-40
  • Wallis, L. (2014) Why it pays to complain via Twitter. BBC News [online] 21 May 2014. Available at: [Date Accessed: – 15/03/2016]
Adapted from my essay Service Marketing and Social Media, written for IB2650 at Warwick Business School.


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