Service Recovery Offline

Let's face it, every customer at one time or another has suffered a service failure. A failure takes place when an unanticipated problem occurs. Your meal arrived at your table cold. Your package was lost in the mail. The hotel gave you a room with a single bed, when you requested two beds. The possibilities are endless.

When a customer suffers a failure, what the firm does next to correct the problem is crucial. This is referred to as a service recovery. It is the actions that service staff take in an effort to satisfy the disappointed consumer. Decades of research show that a satisfactory service recovery leads to customer loyalty, satisfaction, positive word-of-mouth referral, an increase in brand equity, and many other positive outcomes for firms.

One particular area I find fascinating about customer service is the perceived justice framework. It is a theoretical representation of how a customer judges a service recovery to be fair (or unfair). Ask yourself, 'How do I judge if a customer service encounter was fair after I experienced a problem?' After years of research the answer resides in three dimension of justice (i.e., fairness).

Interactional Justice

One dimension of the perceived justice framework is interactional justice. This is the customer's perception of how polite, kind, and empathetic the customer service rep's treatment was during their interactions. Was the service person nice to me? Did they genuinely care? Did they treat me with respect? Part of the overall fairness assessment takes this interactional component into account.

Procedural Justice

Another dimension of the perceived justice framework is procedural justice. This is the customer's perception of how fair the company's policies, procedures, and rules are that dictate what a service worker can do to fix the problem. For example, imagine that you return a product and want a full refund. Yet, you are told, politely, by the service worker that you can only be given store credit instead of a refund. The service worker may be interactionally fair, but the overall procedure dictates what the worker is limited to do for you.

Distributive Justice

The last dimension of the perceived justice framework is distributive justice. This is the customer's perception of fairness for the final outcome. It is a subjective judgment as to what the company gave the customer to make up for the failure. In some cases this may involve monetary compensation (e.g., a refund or gift certificate), while in other cases it may involve psychological compensation (e.g., a sincere apology). In combination, all three of these justice dimensions feed into a customer's overall service recovery evaluation.

Currently, some of the projects I am working on examine how different personality types react to these justice dimensions; and how the dimensions feed into a consumer psychologically identifying -- an extreme degree of loyalty -- with a firm. For more information on service recovery you can visit these links: