Service Recovery: How to Apologize and Build Strong Customer Relationships

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is renowned for exceptional guest experiences.

In my book

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I share my work with leaders at this iconic service brand and how those leaders ensure consistently elevated service levels. I also note that NO business (not even the Ritz-Carlton) can deliver FLAWLESS experiences.

Since service breakdowns are inevitable, let’s look at the process Ritz-Carlton’s ladies and gentleman follow to ensure those BREAKDOWNS TURN INTO BREAKTHROUGHS!

Step 1: Share a genuine and compassionate reaction to the person’s distress – The first step in service recovery is to acknowledge your customer’s issue and show empathy towards their situation. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees are trained to actively listen to customers and respond with genuine concern and compassion. This helps create a sense of trust between the customer and the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz Carlton, which is an essential foundation for successful service recovery.

Step 2: Offer appropriate apologies – Once the customer’s issue has been acknowledged, the next step is to offer a sincere apology. This demonstrates that you take responsibility for the situation and value the customer’s experience. The Ritz-Carlton encourages employees to apologize on behalf of the company, even if the issue was not directly caused by them. This willingness to recognize that the breakdown shouldn’t have happened to the guest reflects accountability and fosters customer engagement.

Step 3: Assure the person you will take care of the issue – After apologizing, it’s important to assure your customer that their issue will be taken care of promptly and effectively. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees are empowered to resolve customer issues on the spot, without the need for approval from a manager. This helps create a sense of urgency and demonstrates a commitment to the customer having a positive experience.

Step 4: Individually, and through the resources of your team, resolve the problem reasonably and ensure it does not reoccur – Once the issue has been identified and a plan of action has been put in place, you must follow through with the solution. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees are trained to go above and beyond to ensure that the customer’s issue is satisfactorily resolved and that underlying processes are fixed to avert similar issues occurring in the future.

Step 5: Recognize the inconvenience – The Ritz-Carlton encourages employees to show that they value the customer’s business and are committed to their well-being and peace-of-mind. This may involve offering a complimentary service or amenity. This is not about giving the customer money or compensation to offset the issue. Instead, it is a gesture that occurs after you have listened and resolved the issue in a reasonable way.

In my experience business leaders and frontline team members underestimate and underperform when it comes to SERVICE RECOVERY. As such, you have a huge opportunity to distance yourself from the competition by consistently and graciously recovering from your service stumbles.

In the words of leadership author Stephen Covey,

“The proactive approach to a mistake is to acknowledge it instantly, correct and learn from it.”

To learn more about ways to differentiate your business through service recovery, please get in touch with me at

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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