Regardless of whether Toyota was slow, ignorant or delusionary to the faults in its vehicles, one thing it has finally done is to say “We are sorry”.
Much criticism of the company is anchored in the belief that Toyota was slow and unwilling to take responsibility for evident technical problems. The time it took for Toyota to ‘come clean’ is, itself, a source of anger.
Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s President and CEO, finally apologized – on TV, to the press, in the American Congress and, most recently, in China.
But saying “We are sorry” is only Step One in a successful service recovery.
Step Two is “Fix the problem”. Toyota marshalled impressive production, distribution and service capabilities to install new parts quickly. Toyota has unparalleled global production and distribution expertise, and here they used it well.
Step Three is “Show your concern”. In this step, only Toyota and Lexus customers can decide if the company succeeds. At issue is not the speed or scale of action, but the perception of Toyota’s care and concern felt by those customers affected.
Step Four is “Do something extra”: something unexpected, appreciated, and valued. In Toyota’s case, this could be as simple as a free tune-up, two full tanks of gasoline, or favorable treatment to trade-in and upgrade anytime in the next six months.
Customers who experience a service breakdown followed by effective service recovery often become more loyal than those who never had the original problem. Toyota should be aiming for this increase in loyalty as their ultimate recovery objective.
Service recovery should never be an exercise in convincing customers. Convince them of what? That you tried to do the right thing? That you didn’t know anything was wrong? That they should not be angry or disappointed?
The only way to convince a customer after a service breakdown is to create a new and better experience through superior service recovery. Say you are sorry. Fix the problem. Show your concern. And then, do something special, something extra.
This is not the time for Toyota to calculate the cost of an effective service recovery program. This is the time to shift into higher gear and take these steps to set things right.
The recovery costs will eventually be forgotten. The recovery experience will be remembered.