From Misses to Wins… 7 Learnings to Create Service Recovery Excellence

Doctor conveying disappointing news to a patient while in an appointment

As we strive to create patient experiences that always meet or exceed expectations, it’s important to recognize that sometimes we will disappoint or even anger the patients and family members we are called to serve. We can all relate to times we have felt upset by a service, restaurant, travel, or product experience. Chances are, there are times when an individual or organization stepped in to recover the situation, as well as times when no one addressed your concern. It is likely that the presence of service recovery practices (or lack thereof) impacted your loyalty to that organization.

Yet, we know the stakes in healthcare for the service experience are profoundly different. Research demonstrates many connections between the patient experience and quality outcomes (such as morbidity, mortality and readmissions). Additionally, at PRC, we have demonstrated that when Patients can rate their healthcare experience as being “Excellent” they are four times more likely to recommend the hospital to their friends and family.

Patient Perceptions

Across the continuum of care, there are different expectations for the healthcare experience among patients and family members and our average visit time or length of stay either gives us shorter or longer to create a memorable, lasting impression. Our Excellence Accelerator® team often coaches organizations to feel more comfortable with being uncomfortable seeking out times when we have failed to meet patient expectations and stepping in with communication and service recovery practices to turn the disappointment into loyalty.

 About Service Recovery

At its simplest, Service Recovery is a set of tools and techniques that can be used to make things right after something has gone wrong with the healthcare experience. Service Recovery should activate the moment we identify we have not met the patient or their loved one’s expectations. Recovery should be matched to mild, moderate, and severe situations appropriately (and always guided by your risk management, legal and compliance guidelines). We have found it to be invaluable to combat instances such as:

  • Not following up on a request
  • Wrong dietary order or something is missing
  • Inappropriate or rude behavior from staff
  • Lost or misplaced belongings
  • Long waits without providing updates
  • Canceling or rescheduling appointments with little notice
  • Any situation that embarrasses, inconveniences, angers, or disappoints a patient or their loved ones

7 Practices of Excellence Service Recovery Programs

  1. Understanding and being present when expectations not met. One of the most powerful opportunities to educate, empower, and develop staff is the opportunity to be present and embrace recognizing times when we have disappointed patients. Additionally, using patient experience surveys, comments, and social media posts are tremendous ways to gain the perspective of patients and proactively identify trends and instances of service failure.
  2. Hearing and acknowledging their disappointment and feelings. We must make it safe for patients to have a voice. It is challenging at best for a patient or their family member to overcome the power dynamic of being a patient to speak up when they have been upset, inconvenienced, or disappointed. Giving patients your undivided attention, listening attentively and encouraging them to share their concerns are important to uncover the true learning.
  3. Displaying Empathy. We recommend exercises to help leaders, staff, and physicians take the perspective of patients and their family members. Consider how you would feel if you were in the patient’s gown/shoes/slippers. Displaying empathy can create an environment of caring and concern rather than confrontation. As PRC Excellence Accelerator® coach Kathleen Lynam says, “if they get furious, get curious.” Giving staff sample phrases to respond can help fast track your ability to mobilize during service recovery instances.
  4. Apologizing and taking ownership. A timely, honest expression of regret is the first step towards finding a solution. We oftentimes work on “blameless” apologies that acknowledge the disappointment and demonstrate that their needs and wants are important to you.
  5. Empowering staff to address and offer solutions. We find it important that all employees can step in and begin deploying service recovery. Organizations can provide service recovery toolkits, policies and procedures, and training to help all employees feel confident in the competency and practice of service recovery.
  6. Resolve and Take Action. The best programs drive towards resolution of the concern or disappointment. Summarizing the actions you will take and confirming that action is acceptable to the patient and family will bring closure. Following up through leader rounding can validate that the patient is comfortable (if not delighted) by the response.
  7. Create trends for continuous and proactive improvement. Service recovery will be limited without a system to document instances of service recovery, solutions provided and monitoring key performance indicators. Additionally, we find it important to garner stories of both service recovery wins and losses to build momentum and create an environment of continuous learning.

While this article focuses on the best practices for service recovery programs, it is imperative to create a climate that makes it safe to embrace service recovery and acknowledge the misses with resolution to turn the disappointments into loyalty.

At PRC Excellence Accelerator®, we are proud to offer our clients with ways to elevate or establish service recovery programs that achieve results. For more information contact: Bfleming@prccustomresearch.com for a free coaching consultation on how to take service recovery to the next level at your organization.


About the Author

Katie Owens Headshot

Katie Owens - Senior Vice President, PRC Excellence Accelerator®

Clients and colleagues who have worked with Katie Owens recognize her very impressive mix of skills, knowledge, and experience. They also value her strong commitment to achievement, as well as an ethical approach that is a trademark of all her work. She balances a disciplined and competent technique with the ability to nimbly adjust a course of action when necessary. It is this unique approach that makes her stand head and shoulders above others in the industry.

Katie is an innovator, implementing new ways to deliver the best in patient-centered care. Known as a leader among leaders, she exhibits a decisive approach and has demonstrated the ability to achieve outcomes across the continuum of care. Katie works with clients to create cultures of excellence. She is a published author, coach, international speaker, and advocate for creating environments where the best care possible can be achieved. Katie served on Baptist Health Care’s (BHC) leadership team where she supported the system’s sustained journey to excellence. At a variety of other highly successful organizations, Katie has led teams of expert coaches dedicated to improving the quality of the patient experience and has been instrumental in creating leading-edge learning assets to support patient experience competencies. A highly sought-after expert, Katie is often quoted in national publications and is invited to speak at international and national conferences.