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The Art of the Comeback

By Jamey Lutz—

Few things stir the emotions of sports fans like a great comeback. When virtually all rational hope has evaporated, something truly remarkable begins to emerge from the ethos. Storybook comebacks don’t happen all that often in the sports world, but when they do, it becomes the stuff of legend that gets passed down from generation to generation. As the momentum shifts, what was seemingly impossible becomes plausible, and what was plausible becomes undeniable truth.

How about the Boston Red Sox, the once proud organization that until 2004 had endured a championship drought spanning nearly a century? After losing the first three games in the AL Championship series against the hated New York Yankees, the Red Sox appeared destined to fall short once again. However, with the crack of a bat the momentum pendulum began to swing in their favor, and the Red Sox staged an unprecedented comeback, winning four straight games to become the first professional baseball team to ever erase a 0-3 playoff deficit. The Red Sox would go on to win the World Series and end the 86-year-old “curse of the Bambino.”

Like it or not, championship level sports demand the crowning of a single winner, with everyone else vying for second fiddle.Unless you are an eternal optimist and take solace in “moral victories”, a win-win scenario is simply not an acceptable outcome.

But how about comebacks in the world of customer experience? When things go south for customers who feel your organization has failed to deliver on their service covenant, is a win-win outcome even possible? In the vast majority of service recovery cases, the answer is a resounding “yes”!

Just because recovery is possible, however, does not mean it’s easy – especially if we view disgruntled customers as an opponent to declare victory over. Here are three key strategies to help your team master the game of service recovery. If executed properly they will help repair broken service relationships and create a shared sense of victory for your effected customers, employees andorganization.

Foster Empowerment

As service guru Chip Bell astutely writes, “Empowerment is not about unlimited license. It’s about responsible freedom.” Consider the legendary Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, where employees are afforded up to $2,000 per incident to resolve customer service breakdowns. Likewise, online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos has built a cult-like following based largely on unleashing their service agents to resolve customer issues in unique and innovative ways.Yes, both organizations do a great job of hiring people with bubbly personalities and a passion to help customers improve their lives. But they also invest heavily in the nuts and bolts of service recovery, training employees to properly use empowerment as a tool not just to appease but to emotionally surprise and delight. Just as a championship level football coach grants their quarterback “responsible freedom” to make the right decision in the heat of battle, we must constantly equip our corporate athletes to do the same when dealing with upset customers.

Demonstrate Courage

Remind your employees not to take the customer’s wrath personally, even when it seems the blame is being placed squarely on their shoulders. Regardless of who is really at fault, the customer is inevitably upset at the problem. You or your front line staff just happen to be the physical embodiment of the broken service covenant! Like a highly trained sports team refuses to be incited by the opposition’s mind games, we must be disciplined enough to not take the bait. Remember – it’s all about the customer, but we are the leader when it comes to service recovery. And it is our collective responsibility to courageously guide our customers to higher ground by repairing the broken relationship.

Create Customer Certainty

In the sports realm, it is incumbent on the coaching staff to foster certainty throughout the team that no matter how bleak things might appear at any given moment, a comeback is never out of reach.Certainty breeds confidence, and confidence breeds momentum. As leaders, we have a responsibility to reinforce tactics that lead to service certainty. Service warriors effectively leverage their words, voice tone and facial expressions to create customer certainty and bring the broken relationship back into the light. When we work to build certainty with our emotionally wounded customers, we give them confidence that we’ll do whatever is necessary to make them whole.

College football fans will never forget a recent amazing comeback from the gridiron featuring the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide versus the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 National Championship game. The underdog Tigers played from behind most of the contest, and found themselves down by 3 with two minutes left on the clock. In an epic final drive, Clemson scored the winning touchdown pass with just one second remaining. Talk about an instant classic! Comebacks are summarized by the caption that accompanies the familiar cartoon below… never ever give up!”

As a service leader, how effective are your employees in the art of the comeback? What percentage of the time would previously disgruntled customers say that your team resolved their problem as well as restored their faith in your brand? Make a commitment starting today to clear the path for consistently amazing service comebacks. Your customers will thank you for it, and everyone will win!


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