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

Stefan Michel, David Bowen, Robert Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

142 Scopus citations


Purpose – 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. Design/methodology/approach – 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. Findings – 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. Originality/value – 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-273
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Service Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 19 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Customer service management
  • Service failures

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management
  • Strategy and Management


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