Service Sells: The Psychology of Service Recovery in Hospitality

service recovery

Consumer psychology is a fascinating thing. Brands across industries harness the deeply rooted needs, desires, and even fears of the public to sell things that, in some cases, we simply don’t need. These companies take pages from the likes of Jung and Freud to tap into the collective unconscious of the public, engage audiences, and convert them into customers—spawning common, albeit dubious, maxims such as “sex sells.” And while marketing and advertising are two of the more commonly used vehicles to carry out psychological selling tactics, an underutilized but equally powerful area to do so is customer service and, specifically, service recovery.

In hospitality, service recovery provides a rare opportunity for businesses to turn a lackluster experience into a memorable one by harnessing the needs and desires of their guests. Here’s why hotels and their teams should adopt a new maxim that’ll boost loyalty and, ultimately, the bottom line: “service sells.”

The Service Recovery Paradox

In general, the customer service mindset is one shaped around prevention. Organizations allocate massive amounts of energy and resources toward finding ways to ensure that issues don’t arise. However, in most industries mistakes are an unavoidable part of doing business. And in the 24/7 hotel business, missteps are inevitable.

Hospitality is extremely human-centric, and humans make mistakes. The good news is these missteps don’t have to be fatal. In fact, service issues can be turned into powerful opportunities that actually make the bond with guests stronger.


If a brand’s ability to execute service recovery surpasses the customer’s original expectations, a paradox emerges and the customer actually becomes more loyal than if the brand had never made the initial mistake; this is known as the Service Recovery Paradox. It’s why people are far more likely to remember the times a company turned a poor experience into a positive one than all the instances brands left them frustrated.

A Cry to Be Heard

Negative online reviews are a scary thing for hotels—they can detract travelers searching for their next place to stay. What’s more, a Harvard study found that every one-star increase in a Yelp rating equates to a 5 percent to 9 percent increase in revenue, so it stands to reason that the inverse likely occurs when revues have fewer stars.

It’s easy to think of negative reviews as one-offs from disgruntled guests looking to get back at a company or team that provided an underwhelming experience. However, the fact is that in many cases, negative reviews are simply an expression of the human need to
be heard.

Hoteliers have long known that they have an incomplete picture of their guests’ end-to-end stay and that many issues go unreported. On the surface, that may seem like a contradiction that suggests guests are choosing to remain silent. However, the reality is that guests aren’t always empowered to communicate the way they want and in non-confrontational ways.

Establishing solid and frequent communication allows guests to share the good and bad in ways that meet their preferences. In doing so, brands can empower their customers and give themselves a chance to resolve issues they otherwise wouldn’t have known about until shared online for the world to see.

People Are Individuals, Not Support Tickets

When we feel misunderstood in our personal relationships, the connection between ourselves and the other person is usually only severed temporarily. In the business world, this break is much more likely to be permanent, exacerbating the pervasive disloyalty that exists because of all the choices consumers have today.

One of the biggest steps toward feeling understood is empathy, something that is impossible without human-to-human conversation. And while technology can help scale these conversations, many brands mistakenly default to a purely technology-driven service strategy that feels robotic and makes it impossible to empathize with a customer. In the hospitality industry—one built around human service—this is not a viable option.

When guests express dissatisfaction, they put themselves in a vulnerable position. Hotel staff can leverage the opportunity, showing the guest they are listening, understand the issue, and will do their best to resolve it. But if the response feels impersonal,
or worse, recovery is a much steeper hurdle and the brand risks losing the customer forever.

Having others see us as we want to be seen verifies our sense of self and gives us a deep sense of validation. Feeling like a support ticket is a frustrating experience, but not just because it means waiting on hold or having to repeat ourselves. At the end of the day, no matter what we are doing, we have a need to feel understood as an individual.

No matter where a property is, every one of the guests who walks through the doors has one thing in common: they’re all human. By opening the lines of communication with guests, hotels can take their guests’ experiences to the next level.


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Ford Blakely is the founder and CEO of Zingle Inc. As a frustrated consumer with an entrepreneurial spirit, Blakely sought to figure out an easier and faster way to order his latte in the morning. He did—and in 2009, Zingle was born as the first two-way, business-to-customer communication platform. Today, leading brands across different verticals, including hospitality, food & beverage, retail, and more,, use Zingle to increase efficiency, improve operations, and delight their customers.