The airline industry touches hundreds of thousands of consumers, from the high-flying executive to the person traveling standby or coach to visit family. And I bet that every one of them has a few stories of delayed flights, lost baggage or a grumpy seat mate. But what differentiates one airline from another is the quality of service they offer, especially when customers are faced with stressful situations such as the ones I just mentioned.
Allow me to share a story with you. I was taking a cross-country trip, but was flying with separate airlines on each leg of the journey. The weather had been poor that week, and both flights were late. What made one experience rather enjoyable and the other a total nightmare was how each airline’s staff managed the delays.
On the first flight, a technical problem on the aircraft was the reason we could not board, and the customer service agent at the gate regularly updated us on the progress of the problem and apologized for the delay. As the matter was resolved and we embarked, the flight crews onboard the aircraft cheerfully welcomed and helped everyone get to their seats, cram their carry-on luggage into the overhead compartments and quickly prepare for takeoff. The pilot and the in-charge flight attendant apologized also for the delay. The in-charge flight attendant went on to inform us that our headsets, in-flight entertainment, and all beverages would be complimentary due to the delay. The airline’s respect for its passengers was obvious, as was its desire to make up for a delay that had been caused by the company’s concern for safety. As a person who has worked for an airline, this airline did everything right to turn potentially disgruntled passengers into friendly ones.
The return flight, however, was a different story entirely. A few minutes before we were supposed to commence boarding, the gate agent brusquely informed us that the flight would be delayed and gave no reason why we would be late. Once we finally began boarding, the flight crew rushed us to our seats with little courtesy. There was no apology from the agents at the gate or the flight crew for the 45 minutes delay. Because the flight was full, I had to check my carry-on at the gate, and when it came time to pick it up outside the door of the plane, my bag and those of three other passengers were nowhere in sight. When I informed the agent that my luggage was missing and that I needed to run to make my connecting flight, she first told me to go to baggage claim – even though I had already told her I had not checked the bag. Then she impatiently told me to wait as she called a manager. I missed my connecting flight and was informed after an hour that my carry-on had been located; it had not made it onto the aircraft, it was at my originating airport. I recognize the daily stresses airline employees have to manage, so I am overly polite when I travel. In this situation, a simple apology or a friendly tone when handling the situation would have been enough for me but it was too much to ask for. This airline failed in the most basic customer service.
I share this not to rant, but to show the lesson that can be learned. Business owners may deal with crises that differ from those of the major airlines. However, in any situation, no matter how stressful, you and your staff must prepare yourselves to remain calm, polite and strive to do what is in your clients’ best interest. It is important to recognize any short comings and offer solutions. If you feel you are not yet equipped to do so, work with the rest of your team to develop tools that will help you come out on top in times of adversity, delivering top-notch customer service all the while.