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.