3 Things an Airline Taught Me About Customer Service
All too often we are quick to jump down the throats of our favorite airlines and criticize them for something they didn’t do. We complain to emotionally-calloused gate agents and even leave detailed comments on the email surveys we receive after the flight…but where does it really get us? It’s a one-way, non-stop trip to NOWHERE.
Recently, I was scheduled on a flight from Boston Logan Airport to LAX.As I casually strolled through Terminal C, with coffee in hand and time to spare, I noticed a crowd had gathered around gate C19. Passengers on flight 1100 were being notified via a static infested handset that a small fuel fire had just been extinguished and, until all inspections were complete, no planes would be leaving the airport.
With each delay, the lines at the gate counters grew longer and longer with passengers wanting answers when none were available. I knew nothing I could say or do would open those runways, so I chose to find an outlet to keep my MacBook® charged, and just wait it out.
I salute United Airlines on the way their reps handled the situation, and highlight three specifics that presenters around the world could incorporate into dealings with clients, in the continuous effort to maintain solid rapport and create repeat bookings – even in the face of adversity.
1. Acknowledge the situation. Something was wrong. They knew it, and we knew it. Nothing adds to a customer’s frustration more than being kept in the dark. It makes us feel as if we are being ignored and disrespected.
United was quick to inform passengers of what was happening and was honest in their updates. No one felt slighted or deceived. Human beings feel entitled to know everything there is to know about everything, all the time. We are information hungry and until that hunger is fed, our desire for knowledge growls louder than the stomachs of those waiting in line at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. United not only put out a nice spread of information, they also handed us the fancy silverware with which to consume it.
When something goes awry at a speaking engagement, assess the damage and explore the potential outcomes. Realize that how you respond will speak volumes for your professionalism. When all is said and done, that is what they will be talking about for years to come.
2. Accept responsibility. To me, accountability is a major turn on. I despise hearing, “It’s not my fault!” In this case, however, United was not the least bit responsible for our frustrating delay.
Speakers are often faced with unexpected challenges. Some will be out of our hands, but occasionally the blame falls on us. The true professional immediately handles the client’s complaint or concern with sensitively and courtesy.
When an NBA referee calls a foul on a player, that athlete usually raises his hand and acknowledges the violation. Owning up to your mistake builds credibility and brings respect. If you hear a whistle, raise your hand and hustle to get into position for the next play.
3. Offer solutions. Catastrophes are often opportunities to blow the client’s mind. The speaker who steps in and saves the day becomes an unforgettable superhero. The key is to have respect for the situation, and offer your solutions concisely and professionally. Understand that those in-charge are operating in an elevated emotional state. Quickly letting them know you will be standing by, should the opportunity to be of assistance arise, is ideal.
United realized the number one concern among the passengers affected was the possibility of missing connecting flights, and immediately offered to re-book those passengers on other flights.
Strive to identify your client’s top concern and, if possible, offer ways to solve it.
Professional speakers aren’t perfect. Things happen. Remember that we are here to serve the client. On rare occasions, the service needed will change without warning. If we are able to address the situation quickly, accept responsibility/be accountable, and offer solutions to the problem, chances are we can make some sweet lemonade out of that crate of lemons that just fell through the ceiling.