Team Building Resources

Recovering from Service Failures

Jul 3, 2019

Despite your best efforts, sometimes you will fail. While you’ll never enjoy letting your guests down, you can train your team members to enjoy the challenge of reconciling the relationship.

To be a profitable business, you need all the guests you can get! Businesses don’t lose guests all at once, but one at a time. When a guest has a less than amazing experience with your company, it is your job to fix it. You never want a guest to leave your store unhappy. If you care about your guests, then equip yourself and your team with these simple tools to handle the unfortunate situations when they do arise.

Own It And Speed Matters

The Faster You Solve The Problem, The Faster The Guest Will Let It Go

The first step in service recovery is to own the failure. You do not have to be the one who made the mistake to be the one to take the blame. Guests usually do not differentiate between chef or line cook, waiter or host, etc. In the eyes of your guests, you are all the company and the company made a mistake. As a representative of the company it is in your power to own that mistake and sincerely apologize. You should acknowledge the problem and not pretend like it didn’t happen or was someone else’s fault. Teams win and lose together, which means it doesn’t matter if the guest’s problem even occurred in your department. If you’re the one hearing about it, then you can solve it!

Typically, issues are handled best by the team member who receives the initial concern. Whether in-person, phone, or email, you want to solve the concern as quickly as possible and never pass the guest to another team member or supervisor except at the guest’s request. No one likes to play phone tag or feel like they are not important enough. When you put a guest on hold or are forced to call them back because you cannot handle their problem without other conversations, you are telling guests that their concerns are not a high priority to the company. The Ritz Carlton is perhaps the most famous example of an empowered front line. Their staff is famously empowered to make decisions up to $2,000 in value to solve a guest concern immediately. The point is not in the dollar figure, but in the immediacy of the solution. Empower your front line to care about guests’ problems and then give them tools to make things right.

When it comes to problem solving, you wouldn’t kill an ant with a cannon. Be strategic and teach your team to be good stewards of the company’s resources, and make sure everyone understands that guests are one of your company’s most important resources. This means being smart, reasonable, and strategic with what you offer as compensation while making sure your guests are blown away. You are a business after all, so you have to be profitable to stay open.

Empathy and Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

Empathy means being able to understand and share in another person’s emotions.

That’s why you should give the benefit of the doubt. As a guest yourself, you would want companies to do that for you, so you should do that for your guests. Whether it’s about a guest or a team member, you should be of their side and believe in them.

If a guest is curt with you, do you assume they’re a terrible person or that they’re probably having a terrible day? Without a doubt, you’ll deliver a better experience if you choose to believe that they are an awesome person who is just having a bad day.


Steps for Service Failure Recovery

Here is the 4-step process that we use at TEG for turning an unhappy guest into a happy one. This is what we have found works best for us as a company when serving our guests, but you can take this process and tailor it to best serve your company and your guests!



Listen actively and intentionally. When someone is upset, what they want more than anything is to be heard. Never interrupt or make them retell their story more than once. As you listen to the guest, make friendly eye contact, gently nod, and feel free to take written notes. Then you can confirm what you’ve heard, “So my understanding is…”


Some guests are more challenging than others, but you should have the personal discipline to be consistent with your empathy. If you can make the guest love your company again, regardless of who is right and who is wrong, then you all win. Acknowledge their complaint. A simple response like “I completely understand!” or “I would be upset too!” communicates your care. Remember to consider that the guest’s perception is your reality. Show your empathy through open body language. Demonstrate a sincere desire to help the guest.


Apologize humbly. Remember, you should always give the benefit of the doubt. Never let doubt dictate your apology. “Justice” has to be disregarded because while the situation is not always your fault, it is always your problem. Simply and sincerely apologize with no excuses or alibis: “I’m so sorry for our mistake” instead of “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Never transfer the guest to someone else unless the guest requests it. Remember that this isn’t personal! You’re representing and apologizing on behalf of your company. The guest is upset at the company, not at you.


Do more than the guest expects. Simply making them “satisfied” is not enough. Listen to them in every sense and offer compensation accordingly. If you’re still in doubt, just ask! A simple, “How can I make this right for you?” works beautifully. Guests will often ask for much less than what you were going to offer. Genuinely thank the guest for their concern. Demonstrate a teachable spirit on behalf of your company. Research shows that for every one person who complains, there are 9 others that feel the same way. You should be genuinely happy the guest cared enough to give their honest feedback.