Customer Service vs. Service Recovery

Author: Alecia Pirulis

lemon pie

Sometimes, customer service is like the old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It is the ability to turn a negative into a positive. Service recovery is taking the lemons and whipping up a lemon meringue pie: taking something negative and not just making it a positive, but making it so positive that just the sight of it makes people smile – and want more.

First, the Lemons:

A resident walks into the office and complains that she submitted a maintenance request three days ago and she hasn’t heard back.

The Lemonade:

The office manager apologizes and immediately takes steps to resolve the problem, setting up an appointment to have the issue resolved that day.

The Lemon Meringue Pie:

The office manager not only apologizes and takes steps to resolve the problem that day, but she also discounts the next month’s rent for the three days the resident had to wait. After the maintenance request is complete, the office manager calls the resident to ask if they were satisfied with the repairs, apologizes again for the error, and ask if there’s anything else the resident needs help with.

In both scenarios, the complaint is taken care of quickly and competently. But while the resident who gets the lemonade will leave satisfied, that is probably the end of it – her issue was resolved to her satisfaction, and she goes on with her day. That’s great customer service.

But lemon meringue pie is meant to be shared, and this resident is so satisfied and impressed with her manager that she tells everyone she knows about how well she was treated and how she’s happy to be living in a place that really cares. She has become a loyal resident, sharing her happiness on social media and dishing up slices of pie to friends, family, and coworkers. That’s service recovery.

While you can offer great customer service and have generally favorable online reviews, service recovery is taking it a step further – these are the residents who will actively encourage others to check out your property, they’ll write glowing online reviews, and they are more likely to renew their leases and stay put, leading to higher resident retention. Service recovery can sometimes lead to the “service recovery paradox,” where the customer is even more satisfied with you after the issue is resolved than they were before the issue ever occurred.

So, how do you start turning lemons into lemon meringue pies?

Step one: Apologize. It’s that simple – don’t make excuses or get defensive, and don’t pass the buck.

Step two: Listen! The resident is probably frustrated, so let him or her speak. Show some empathy, take notes, and ask questions to get a better understanding of the situation.

Step three: Take care of the problem to the best of your ability, and as quickly as possible.

Step four: Take it a step beyond. Whether it’s a discount, a basket of goodies, or a free pass to the neighborhood movie theater, do that little something extra to help make amends.

Step five: Follow up! After the issue is resolved, call the resident to make sure the matter was taken care of to their satisfaction. Reiterate your apology, and let them know that you are there if they have any more issues.

In the article, “How to Turn an Unhappy Resident into a Raving Fan,” (, business coach Ernest F. Oriente suggests, “Take a few minutes to write a small note apologizing again for their unhappiness and thanking them for expressing their concerns.” Oriente also states that you shouldn’t fear an unhappy resident because this is your opportunity to shine and win that resident’s long-term loyalty.

Jen Piccotti, Senior Vice President of Education and Consulting at SatisFacts Research, recently wrote an article for Property Management Insider called “Give Residents a Reason to Love You.” She summed it up nicely with this: “Residents don’t ‘just’ leave apartments. They more often than not leave people. Our business is built on relationships … give residents a reason to love you and they’ll have no reason to leave you.”