A simple “I’m sorry” can go a long way toward customer happiness

Flying certainly is fraught with all sorts of opportunities to create unhappy customers, including ones that are unhappy even when circumstances are outside of everyone’s control.   On a recent holiday season trip, a very early morning flight had been cancelled by the airline sometime during the nighttime hours just before the flight, without any opportunity for customers to learn of this cancellation before they actually arrived at the ticket counter, bleary-eyed, at 4:30 a.m.

The weather looked fine to the untrained eye, but ticket counter clerks were not the least bit interested in explaining, exactly, what the weather problem was, and why it seemed that plenty of other airlines were flying from that same airport at that same time. Neither were the clerks helpful in offering any alternatives than the one they first offered: “Come back two days from now and we’ll put you on a flight.” Two days?  With prodding, they mentioned that a nearby airport “might” have some flights.Might? Can you check? They said we all had to take our chances. And, how does one get from this airport to that one and how much does it cost?  “Oh, you’d have to call someone else.”

This frustrating conversation was repeated for every customer in that line, which was now growing to be a full flight-full. Each re-booking took a minimum of 15 minutes because the airline had NOT in fact added any clerks to the usual shift of 2.5 persons.  When one customer pointed out to the clerks that their managers needed to provide more staff, the clerk responded with, “We know. They don’t care.”

Whoa.  Never a “We’re sorry.”  Never an offer of, “Why don’t I find that number for you?”  Never a suggestion…“What you could do, and I apologize for the inconvenience of this, but you could try this phone number here and, by the way, here’s the website for getting a refund…”

Could there be a management team who would NOT be interested in this exchange? Are airlines exempt from customer service excellence because, well, sometimes the weather interferes?

Imagine what a mystery shopper might have been able to do in this situation. She might have recorded each clerk’s response. She might report back to the management shortly thereafter, with data that could ultimately suggest changes in training for frontline personnel and, perhaps, shed light on management problems that trickle down to the customer level.

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