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Why service recovery fails: Tensions among customer, employee, and process perspectives

Stefan Michel (IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland)
David Bowen (Global Business Department, Thunderbird School of Global Management, Glendale, Arizona, USA)
Robert Johnston (Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 19 June 2009



The keys to effective service recovery are familiar to many throughout industry and academia. Nevertheless, overall customer satisfaction after a failure has not improved, and many managers claim their organizations cannot respond to and fix recurring problems quickly enough. Why does service recovery so often fail and what can managers do about it? This paper aims to address these issues.


The objective is to produce an interdisciplinary summary of the growing literature on service recovery, bringing together what each of the author's domain – management, marketing, and human resources management – has to offer. By contrasting those three perspectives using 141 academic sources, nine tensions between customer, process, and employee recovery are discovered.


It is argued that service recovery often fails due to the unresolved tensions found between the conflicting perspectives of customer recovery, process recovery, and employee recovery. Therefore, successful service recovery requires the integration of these different perspectives. This is summarized in the following definition: “Service recovery are the integrative actions a company takes to re‐establish customer satisfaction and loyalty after a service failure (customer recovery), to ensure that failure incidents encourage learning and process improvement (process recovery) and to train and reward employees for this purpose (employee recovery).”

Practical implications

Managers are not advised to directly address and solve the nine tensions between customer recovery, process recovery, and employee recovery. Instead, concentrating on the underlying cause of these tensions is recommended. That is, managers should strive to integrate service recovery efforts based upon a “service logic”; a balance of functional subcultures; strategy‐driven resolution of functional differences; data‐based decision making from the seamless collection and sharing of information; recovery metrics and rewards; and development of “T‐shaped” employees with a service, not just functional, mindset.


This paper provides an interdisciplinary view of the difficulties to implement a successful service recovery management. The contribution is twofold. First, specific tensions between customer, process and employee recovery are identified. Second, managers are offered recommendations of how to integrate the diverging perspectives.



Michel, S., Bowen, D. and Johnston, R. (2009), "Why service recovery fails: Tensions among customer, employee, and process perspectives", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 253-273.



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