A participant recently shared with me that he attended another service program in Manila that focused on service recovery because the belief was, “since you can’t avoid service problems, you might as well be ready for them.” 
While I agree with the second part of the statement of having a prepared plan of action for service breakdowns, I totally disagree with the first part.  I even have quotable quotes to support that stand such as, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”and ““Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” since where I come from, we like to do things well.  In service where execution is paramount to excellence in delivery, I do not need to emphasize the importance on flawlessness and seamlessness to consistently convey the service promise.  Therefore, while good management sense encourages us to prepare for worst scenarios, outstanding management dictates that we do things right all the time.
I have already mentioned in a previous article that in my many encounters with clients, I noticed the constant focus on handling complaints and objections rather than on “perfecting” the process to avoid complaints.  This process includes looking into possible service gaps as well as formulating the right service metrics to identify recurring events that have constantly caused stress and dissatisfaction.  Many times, companies have internal controls and systems that characterize how they (the company) operate and not how customers define standards.  This kind of supply-side thinking especially in a service setting is dangerous when the company assumes that their internal processes are all right or acceptable with the customers.  As I always tell my seminar participants, knowing your customer expectations is a prerequisite in formulating your service process because customers’ satisfaction is a function of meeting and/or exceeding these expectations.  Therefore, it is the customer that defines what is needed or expected and not the company.
A case in point is a hospital I worked with that had a problem with coordination between the nurses’ station, the doctor and the security personnel at the entrance.  Since patients are not allowed to leave the premises without proper clearance which the nurse and the doctor should have provided, it was left to the guards on duty to secure the proper clearance.  When I asked them how long the procedure would take, they said, “only 30 minutes.”  They said it like it was perfectly acceptable to the patient who so wanted to get home.  While this case seemed simple enough to be handled, I needed to remind them about customer perspective at all times.  Thirty minutes to a patient who still may not be in the pink of health may be unacceptable.  The same is true for their turnaround time to address service complaints.  Since they always need to investigate any complaint (which is quite necessary, yes), their more than one-week response time is definitely unacceptable especially to one balikbayan patient who needed to go back to the U.S. within that timeframe.  Whether or not the complainant was leaving within the week is not the issue here.  They needed to be reminded that the longer a complaint is allowed to “fester” without response that addresses the patient’s issues, the more difficult it is to recover from the disappointment.
One of the things I learned from my service course in Harvard Business School which I totally agree with is how Intuit, the software company conducts itself in market research, product development and customer service.  They want to do things right the first time around by coming up with products that fit exactly what customers need.  This they do by using customer-centric market research and product development where engineers who are trained to make things easy for customers, observe customer needs and usage of their products from the very start of product formulation.  Then they have a lifetime free service guarantee so customers can give immediate feedback in case Intuit needs to re-do programs or processes the second time around.  All this effort so they don’t have to correct things, the third time around. 
So yes, many service problems can be avoided if we have customer-centric processes delivered by properly trained people in an environment where internal service quality is reflected in external service quality.
Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.