The Vanishingly Rare Art of Customer Delight
Was ready for a flight destined to Houston, en route to my home. I had a tight connection. But I’m an optimist by default. So I was in strong spirits. And set to fly.
The initial delay was 30 minutes. Something about the plane having to be towed from another area to the gate (not sure why someone didn’t tow it over earlier but no worries; there are worse things happening in the world). 30 minutes stretched to an hour. Nearly zero communication nor explanation. The gate agents just typed frenetically on the keyboards as in one of the final scenes of the pretty-much-hilarious “Meet The Parents” movie.
Finally, we boarded. The captain then came on the PA and advised us of a “minor mechanical problem that should be fixed in 15 minutes.” Four hours later we were still on the runway.
When we eventually took off, I’d missed my connection and resigned myself to the adventure of an unexpected evening in Houston (great city). Through it all, no one from the airline said “Sorry”, the gate agents promised at the arrival gate were invisible and no plans were made for hotel accomodations or ground transport. No one seemed to care (when a business treats its people poorly, its people treat their customers poorly – except for the one in one hundred soul who rises above it all because of their personal belief system and Leads Without a Title).
Look, I’m not complaining. Not at all. Delays and disruption are the price of admission for a professional traveler. I had books to read, water to drink and my iPod with hundreds of audiobooks just begging to be consumed. I’m not so special (and certainly no different from you) but I was able to maintain a sense of perspective about the whole thing. But the experience did fine tune and bring into clearer focus the gorgeous opportunity every business has to breed customer loyalty and all -new levels of trust when things don’t go as planned.
Here are some of my thoughts on what a truly world-class airline that really cared about their customers would have done:
1. Talk To Your Customers: A problem is nothing more than an opportunity to engage and wow the people who keep you in business. The gate agents and personnel could have quickly and regularly explained the situation and assured us all possible progress was being made.
2. Say You’re Sorry: I’m a fanatic about leadership language. Words have such power. The captain talked a lot about “some more bad news”. Better to just give us the facts – and hold off on the emotion. But even more importantly, say “sorry” when you need to say sorry. Many of us missed our connections and were caused inconvenience because of this mechanical issue. Yet no one took responsibility.
3. Show Your Customers a Little Humanity: While we waited, the agents could have handed out bottles of water. Or had some protocol that would make a challenging situation easier (or even fun). Maybe the Plan B could have been a boxed sandwich. Or some special chocolates. Or just walking around checking in with as many passengers as possible to make human connections (I saw one passenger buy Chinese food and share it with people around him…shared decency amidst adversity).
4. Go Beyond Expectations: Most businesses don’t even deliver on what they promise in their advertising and sloganeering. Imagine, when we arrived in Houston (it was nearly midnight), if we were provided with transport to a hotel, a healthy meal, and a letter on check in wishing us a great night, while thanking us for giving the airline our business.
Business brilliance is pretty simple. Maybe not easy. But pretty simple. And it begins with caring about the people who keep you going.