How to Conduct Service Recovery in Healthcare (Part 2)

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

This blog post continues our series of patient experience best practices from the HealthStream Engagement Institute. Every week we share information that demonstrates our expansive understanding of the challenges faced by healthcare organizations and the solutions we have identified for improving the patient experience and patient and business outcomes.

For service recovery to be successful, every member of the organization is expected to respond and take ownership of a patient’s or customer’s complaint or concern. The employee becomes the personal representative of the organization and an advocate for the patient or customer.

Our RELATE acronym can help staff recall the steps in service recovery, even in the midst of a stressful or heated customer interaction.

R REASSURE by telling the customer who you are and that their concerns are important.

E EXPLAIN you are here to help resolve the issue.

L LISTEN to the concern or complaint.

A ANSWER by explaining the action you will be taking.

T TAKE ACTION to resolve the concerns.

E EXPRESS appreciation for bringing their concerns to your attention and follow up to ensure the concern is resolved for the individual.

Step 4: Answer with the steps you will take to better meet the patient’s or customer’s expectation. Whether the problem is big or small, our response can make the difference between losing a customer and gaining an advocate.

  • Apologize no matter what the situation is or who is at fault. Be sincere. Attitude is everything, so pay attention to tone of voice and body language.

    The Art of the Blameless Apology

Instead of...



“I am sorry we made you wait so long.”

“I am sorry that you have been waiting so long.”


“I am sorry that you have been inconvenienced by the wait.”


“I am sorry that the wait has been so long.”


“I am sorry we forgot that you eat dinner at 5 p.m.”

“I’m sorry that you didn’t eat at your scheduled time.”


“I am sorry that your dinner wasn’t ready at 5 p.m. today.”

“I’m sorry she didn’t tell you why she was drawing blood earlier.”

“I’m sorry you had a difficult time getting an explanation for the additional blood tests.”

“I’m sorry he made your visitors leave.”

“I am sorry that your visitors had to leave.”


“I’m sorry that we haven’t gotten you your medicine.”

“I am sorry that your medication has not arrived.”


“I am sorry that it has taken so long to get your medication.”


  • Explain the action that you will be taking to resolve the issue, making sure the service recovery is appropriate to the issue.
  • Check to make sure the customer does not have any questions about the actions you will be taking.
  • Ask questions to determine severity:
    • Did it cause the customer any embarrassment or humiliation?
    • Did it waste a large amount of the customer’s time?
    • Did it cost the customer any financial loss (including time away from work)?
    • How angry is the customer about the service failure?
    • Will it cost the customer extra time or money to make up for the mistake? 
  • If a problem cannot be resolved on the spot, share the steps that will be taken and how long it will take to get back to the patient or customer.

    Step 5: Take the action that you have explained to resolve the concern and review the steps you are taking.

  • Try to match the recovery to the issue. Most of the time the patient or customer just wants you to hear the issue and assure them that you will work on the cause so it does not happen again. There are times when a gas card or cafeteria certificate may be appropriate, but there are also times that require management intervention and/or risk management.
  • Whenever possible, fix not only the problem, but do something extra to make amends. Remember, the goal of service recovery is to overshadow a customer’s bad experience with a good one.

    Step 6: Express appreciation for bringing the issue to your attention.

  • Check to make sure the concern has been resolved to the best of your ability.
  • Be sincere when you thank the patient or customer for bringing this issue to your attention.
  • Manage up the organization by explaining that the organization never wants to disappoint patients or customers and that the goal is to always exceed expectations.

This is a sample of the innovation shared at The Healthcare Improvement Forum, a venue designed to assist leaders at every level to transform culture and optimize performance. This newly developed conference series is an innovative gathering of leaders eager to hear from industry experts. As an attendee, you will learn practical tools and tactics that will leverage strengths to meet your organization’s goals—from employee engagement to the patient experience. The coaches and experts at the HealthStream Engagement Institute incorporate a variety of adult learning and networking techniques to engage their audience and share real-world solutions for attendees to learn and implement.