Show Your Customers You Care

Business travel is tricky sometimes … planes are delayed, hotel reservations get lost. Things happen. It’s often not what happens that sets the tone and creates (or destroys) a brand ambassador, but how the issue is handled.

A few days ago I headed out to a client meeting across the country. The flight out was uneventful, everything went smoothly. The meeting itself was very productive, and I was looking forward to getting home to see my wife and kids and sleep in my own bed. On the return trip, I was booked on a connecting flight. While that’s not usually an issue, in this case the second flight began boarding as the first flight was supposed to land … not much room for error!

Of course the inevitable happened — our first flight was delayed a few minutes, and we landed just as the second flight was supposed to close the boarding doors. No problem, I thought, I’ll just get on the next flight to Atlanta. I went to the customer counter only to find that was the last flight to Atlanta! What’s worse, the guy behind the desk didn’t even seem to care that his airline just ruined my day because they couldn’t wait just ten minutes. He clicked away on a computer for a few minutes, handed me a hotel voucher and casually pointed to where a shuttle would pick me up in a few minutes.

By this time I was pretty ticked off, not that I missed my flight or even that I had to stay at a not-so-nice airport hotel for a night, or even that I wouldn’t be seeing my kids for another day. No, what got me was the attitude of the airline employees I was dealing with — they just didn’t even seem to care.

I walked out to the hotel shuttle pick-up area and waited about 25 minutes. When the shuttle arrived, I walked over and was about to load my luggage in the back when the driver informed me that the van was full. It clearly wasn’t full, so I said “What?” He informed me he was waiting on some flight attendants and I’d have to wait on the next van. Yes, flight attendants from the same airline got the first ride to the hotel, while the customers stuck there had to wait.

And it doesn’t end there. When I finally arrived at the hotel, two pilots from the airline cut to the front of the line to check-in, passing several customers (including me) who were displaced from the missed flight. Three times in one day I was shown that employees at this airline care only about themselves and customers come last.

Not Caring is Worse than Screwing Up

The only thing worse than making a mistake is not showing your customer you care about them and are sorry. Mistakes happen, it’s just a fact of life. When you mess up, admit it and say “I’m sorry.” Then, do whatever you can to right the situation.

In my case, had the very first airline employee I dealt with shown some compassion for my situation, I might not have even really noticed everything else, or maybe I really wouldn’t have cared. The tone was set — they just didn’t care.

It Starts with Caring Employees

A few weeks ago I talked about the other side of the sales funnel, and told the story of how Ritz-Carlton employees are empoowered to spend up to $2,000 on a customer, without needing any approval from management. They make a bold statement to their employees that they have the power to take care of their customers.

The airline, on the other hand, did nothing to try and make my situation better. It was only after I turned to Twitter about how unhappy I was that they even offered to do anything about it, and even then they just offered a $50 travel voucher. On a $500 flight, I lost a day of my time, and they offered me a $50 voucher.

Give your employees the power to help your customers, and you’ll show them it’s their job to care about the customer. “Customer service” is not just lip service, everyone in your company (including you) should take responsibility and do what they can for customers.

It Can Go Either Way

You can create brand ambassadors who tell everyone how great you are, or you can have customers complaining about you to their friends on Facebook and Twitter. It really can go either way. If someone at the airline had just taken a moment to learn more about my situation, it could have gone quite differently.

The next time you have a difficult situation with a client or customer, put yourself in their shoes and really try to understand their side. Sympathize with them. Even if you can’t resolve their issue, simply showing you care will make a big difference.

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  • http://www.tyssendesign.com.au John Faulds

    Works both ways though. Clients have to show some consideration towards you too, for instance paying their invoices on time. Consistently pay late, and you can’t expect as much care or compassion about your problems.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000320598799 Evangelos Evangelou

    Small type “tot heir”, feel free to delete my comment once you’ve fixed it.

  • http://twitter.com/vassilevsky Ilya Vassilevsky

    So, Twitter haz powerz?

  • Anonymous

    It was Delta. I didn’t want to call them out publicly in the article (yet) in hopes they would rectify the situation. They still haven’t, but if they do I will certainly post it.

  • Anonymous

    It was Delta. I didn’t want to call them out publicly in the article (yet) in hopes they would rectify the situation. They still haven’t, but if they do I will certainly post it.

  • Anonymous

    They should take pride in their job, and they should care about the customers of the company they work for. If they hate their job, they should find a new one. They do see several people like me a day, but far fewer than 100,000 I’m sure.

  • Anonymous

    They should take pride in their job, and they should care about the customers of the company they work for. If they hate their job, they should find a new one. They do see several people like me a day, but far fewer than 100,000 I’m sure.

    • Johan

      Funny you mention Delta. I went (and still am at this moment) with my wife and 3 little kids on vacation / family visit in Europe. There was a delay and they also couldn’t get us on another flight, so we would have to wait 24 hours. Since we live about an hour away from the airport, we were “advised” to go back home. With 3 kids? With everything in our suitcase? Not a word about a hotel voucher, travel voucher (nice, but.. if you don’t fly frequently, how would you spend it?) or even giving us a day extra so we maybe could stay a day longer in Europe. Nothing. Not “nice” when you spend $5k and they basically take a day off of your trip without any care about your situation.
      I read your article, because it sounded kinda familiar… and then find out that it was the same airline company…. ugh.
      But yes, no need to blow up or anything. I understand they are trying to do their job… but a little bit more compassion would be appreciated.. Compassion doesn’t need to cost anything on their end either and would still do wonders…

  • Anonymous

    I agree with both of you, it definitely goes both ways. I didn’t blow up or lose my cool — I tried my best to stay respectful the entire time. But again and again I was shown a lack of compassion. However, I’ve dealt with several over-demanding clients over the years that clearly couldn’t ever be satisfied, no matter what.

    My point in the article is that you should try to understand their point of view… not that you should always give in to their demands. There are certainly times when you simply can’t do anything for a client or customer. They, of course, are free to find someone else to provide the product/service.

    But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand, or that you shouldn’t care.

  • Tim

    I get what you’re saying here Pettasg, and too often that is the case. However, it is less about your actual pay, and more about how empowered you feel. If upper management made them feel more important, and gave them a feeling of ownership over their part in the business, no matter how big or small, then they would feel that pride and actually care.

    On the flip side, it is a little harsh, and I hate to say it, but, a little ignorant to state that “If they hate their job, they should find a new one.” In this economy, it is no where near that easy. If you’re skilled, then it absolutely can be. However, working a front desk getting paid squat… not so much. That’s why the skill of upper manage is so crucial.

    As far as the pilot’s go – they’re just notorious for being arrogant.

    • Anonymous

      Tim, there are ways to switch roles in a company such as Delta without leaving the organization. For every customer-facing position at Delta, I bet there are 10 behind the scenes jobs without any customer interaction at all. So there ARE ways to find a new job, even without quitting.

  • http://www.mickg.co.nz MIck

    Nice article Brandon. I’m from NZ, and this is the antithesis of what AirNZs CEO – Rob Fyfe – has instilled in his staff… “Our business is about flying people, not planes. We have given our 11,500 people the opportunity and responsibility to be themselves and to engage with colleagues, customers and suppliers in a genuine and engaging Kiwi manner.” Nice to see some companies embracing authenticity and a personal approach :) more here … http://www.management.co.nz/Editorial.asp?eID=52595&Wcat=44