Managing service mishaps in a pandemic

CX insights from COVID-19

Wednesday, 26 August 2020 00:22 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Despite our aspirations to always delight customers, we have to understand the fact that service mishaps are to be expected and accepted – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara 


Most businesses accept the fact that possessing a sound ‘customer service excellence culture’ is the best way to establish a ‘distinctly sustainable differentiation’ to the entity. Once its importance is identified, entities often focus on that aspect in the business plan. Since managing customer expectations should have a strategic approach, customer service plays a key role in a company’s growth and development. Although the ways in which every organisation approaches this may differ, every entity’s ultimate motive will be to ‘exceed expectations to retain customers’.

Despite our aspirations to always delight customers, we have to understand the fact that service mishaps are to be expected and accepted. The reason being that no company is perfect, and every business is going to make an occasional mistake. Hence, service mishaps are inevitable owing to factors which are either controllable or uncontrollable nevertheless making customers unhappy. 

During a crisis, customers are extra sensitive towards what is happening around them. In such an environment, every choice and purchase decision they make is expected to be delivered with a perfect experience. Stressful customers want to be hassle-free with all their further activities and initiatives. The usual tendency of a customer is that, in their buying behaviour, when things go right the customer wants to feel that; “I made a smart buy and not that somebody else did a smart sale!” However, when things go wrong it is the other way about and customer wants to feel that; “Somebody made a stupid sale, I was forced to buy and I was taken for a ride!”

Whenever a mishap takes place in a crisis situation the crucial action is to find immediate remedies to create more value for the customer and win him/her back. Otherwise such instances may affect the business seriously especially at a time when they need to generate some revenue by harnessing every opportunity. Companies who want to prevent such instances from affecting their businesses will need to have a customer service strategy primarily focusing on the following during this period of time. These steps are a guideline to take action upon and prevent mishaps because as the saying goes; ‘prevention is better than cure’.

Prioritising the policy on managing service mishaps

During a crisis whilst ensuring and finetuning everything to function smoothly, have plans to manage any unexpected adversities as well. Corporate policies prepared to effectively manage such situations should ensure a consistent positive customer experience. Sometimes the rules that are designed originally to benefit the business can act as roadblocks to creating a memorable positive experience to the customer. These may need reviewing during a pandemic.

Promptly acting on customer feedback

When a customer makes a complaint, the first thing, he/she wants is an acknowledgement from the entity. A prompt response signal to customers indicates the company’s readiness to accept and remedy any shortcomings. It also shows that the company values customer opinions in the progression of their business. If there is delay in responding with a solution at least acknowledging the receipt of complain for the time being is valuable. That will put the customer at ease at least for a short period of time.

Analysing the ‘ability to deliver’ before ‘giving a promise’

Every promise given to a customer creates an expectation. With such expectations when customer deals with the entity he gets the opportunity to have the real-life experience. Ideally the customers’ experience should exceed or at least meet the expectations. Destroying the expectations will definitely create a frustrated customer. During a crisis, do not give promises to customers with the motive of just generating revenue especially when the entity knows that the business has no capacity with regard to its ‘people’, ‘processes’ and ‘policy’ support to honour or deliver it. Therefore, it is needed to analyse on the capabilities within the company before promising the offer to the customer.

In the event of a service mishap taking place it may create an adverse impression about the entity. Managing the customer ‘win back’ is a challenging task. However, proceeding with the following ‘LASSO’ model can mitigate the animosity in such a customer’s mind. In most entities it has eventually helped to ‘win back’ the customers.


Give your absolute focus and actively listen to the customer’s grievance. Understand the fact that a customer who has faced a service mishap is angry. The usual tendency with anger is that the thinking ability comes down and talking capability goes up. Therefore, the service providers should leave the customer free to vent and express what he has to say.


Regardless of whether the customer is right or wrong one’s immediate response should be “Sorry to hear this Sir, let us see how this can be resolved immediately!”. Never try to argue with the customer as nobody has ever won an argument with a customer and he is not a good person to match your wit with. Profusely accepting or admitting your fault will put the customer at ease.


Research has proven that a customer who is facing a service mishap still needs the solution to his problem immediately before he decides to quit to another as an option. Therefore, your ability and flexibility to swiftly remedy the situation matters a lot in ‘winning back’ the customer.


Study where things have really gone wrong to cause the service mishap. This is vital to explain how it happened to the customer and to demonstrate your transparency. Always be honest with the customer for the simple reason that ‘if you are telling the truth you need not remember anything’. Furthermore, customer will feel that company is now taking actions to ensure that such mishaps will never happen again in the future.


Think of offering a goodwill gesture. This can come in different forms such as; gift vouchers, discount coupon, free meal, wave off a charge, upgrading, bunch of flowers or visit to a customer by Senior Managerial Officer to cement the relationship back. 

Case study – ‘LASSO’ in action

For a long period of time I have been getting three crates of one-litre drinking water bottles to my residence on a biweekly basis from a leading provider. They have always been very prompt and smooth in their delivery and service. Even during COVID-19 lockdown period, they continued to provide our supply as an essential service. During this period, I unfortunately experienced an awful taste when consuming one of the water bottles. I immediately tightened the lid and informed the Customer Service Officer who was in charge of my supply. Having apologised to me she immediately sent a team to my residence, during the lockdown, to clarify whether I had a similar experience with the other bottles of the same batch for which my answer was a simple “No”. They collected the water bottle for further inspection. 

Along with the following week’s supply they sent me six extra one-litre bottles complimentary. Moreover, a detailed investigation report also was sent, on the water bottle, for which I made the complaint. They confirmed that the said water sample was analysed as per the SLS 894 standards and assured me that its chemical and microbiological parameters were in-line with the requirements for safe human consumption. Moreover, they informed me that the slight deviation in odour owed to an overheating of the bottle during the moulding process. They have also mentioned the fact that actions had already been taken to inform the plastic bottle supplier for corrective measures.

Learning outcome

Promptly attend to customers’ complaints beside the other roadblocks in the environment. If complaints are taken positively it can help to improve your company performance whilst seeking needed support from the other stakeholders as well. Furthermore, during a crisis, make a serious attempt to understand the annoyed customer’s emotions, the need to be on his side, and the importance of logically explaining the facts to him. Eventually all these actions will ensure that customer returning back towards the same entity or the brand.


Complaints can be considered as; ‘a gift though badly wrapped!’ The general tendency on the part of the ‘service provider’ is to hate complaints. It is mainly owing to the way in which a complaint is usually presented by the disgruntled customer. Although the annoyed customer may be harshly screaming at you with his grievances, concentrate on the ‘problem’ and not on the ‘person’. Furthermore, consider the expenses you incur to remedy a service mishap as a ‘strategic marketing investment’ which is bound to give a significant benefit over a period of time.

(The writer is a sought-after ‘Service Excellence’ specialist in Sri Lanka. Over the last 25 years he has conducted nearly 3,000 Inspirational and Educational Programs for over 750 organisations in 11 countries. His work can be seen at

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