3 steps to successful customer service recovery

imgresMy work with clients can often result in travel.  And if you fly much at all, you know itineraries can turn on a dime with one delay.  That’s my recent experience and the inspiration of this week’s blog.

Here’s a brief recap: It had been long travel week with a client on the west coast.  I had been awake since 3am to make the 2-connection trip back to Nashville.  The last leg of the trip departed from Dallas.  The flight was on time but as we sped down the runway, the pilot aborted the takeoff due to a warning light on the control panel.  The result:  a two hour delay to check out the warning, make the decision to switch planes then move all passengers from one terminal to another.

Now, certainly a “safety first” mantra is always the most important outcome but that doesn’t change the reality of a frustrating experience.  But what I assumed was just another long travel week actually turned into a surprise.  Two days after my return home, I received the following message from the airline:

“We are writing to follow up with you about the situation you have encountered as a passenger on our flight 1399 on June 28. While we are sure you can appreciate that our captain’s decision to abort the takeoff of your flight was done with your safety in mind, we also know the situation was certainly unexpected and we are very sorry for any concern you may have experienced. We understand as well that many of our customers’ important plans were significantly affected, and for that, we apologize.

In appreciation for your patience and understanding, we have added 10,000 bonus miles to your account. You should see this mileage adjustment in your account very soon, and you can view this activity via our web site.  Your loyalty is important to us and we would like to assure you that we are committed to getting you to your destination as planned. We’ll do our best to provide a smooth trip the next time you fly with us. We will look forward to welcoming you aboard again soon.”

I must admit.  I had to read the email twice. Really?  An airline 1) apologizing again for the inconvenience and 2) making a tangible effort to make it right with customers. The experience made me thing about a few customer service truths.  Regardless of your product or service, these principles drive customer loyalty.

#1  Lead with “I’m sorry” and mean it.
Service failures will happen.  It’s not a matter of if but when.  Regardless of the cause or problem, begin the conversation with your customer with a genuine apology. Mean it and empathize with your customer’s perspective.  For our flight, 200 passengers’ travel plans were impacted.  And the crew had to acknowledge that.

#2  Keep your customers informed.  
For our passengers on the plane, the pilot talked to us every 15 minutes to keep us informed of updates – even if there was no new information.  Time stands still when you are sitting on a tarmac. Frequent updates help to manage the emotions of the delay.  When problems occur with your customers don’t miss the power of communication.  The more you talk to them the less they try to assume what is going on.

#3  Find ways to make it right.
Actions speak louder than words.  When we fail to meet a customer’s expectations, the first step  will always be acknowledging it.   We do our best to fix the problem and when possible, find ways to go above and beyond to repair the relationship.  Those attempts don’t have to be costly and could be as simple as a follow up note.  It’s that extra degree of attention that your customers notice.  And that’s how loyalty is built.

I’ll be honest, there are some airlines (and airports) I avoid if at all possible. Why?  My experiences  over time have not been positive.  And why do I choose the airlines I do?  Sure, they take me where I need to go but if given the choice, I intentionally choose the ones who do their best to take care of me even when a service failure happens. And you know what?  Your customers do the same.

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