Traveling often presents the best and worst of customer service, and today’s first flight did not disappoint. Both my colleague and I witnessed botched service recovery opportunities during the first leg of our journey.
Mine involved a couple with a 35 minute scheduled connection. They were asking the flight attendant for some assistance in making their unrealistic connection once the plane landed.
Flight attendant, “[airline] doesn’t make those short connections. You must have gone through an agent.”
Couple, “No we booked right through [airline] site.”
Flight attendant, “[airline] doesn’t do that.”
Couple, “Really, we booked through the [airline] site, but regardless, can you help us?”
Flight attendant, “No, [airline] wouldn’t do that.”
Couple, “Is there anything you can do to help us like calling ahead or getting us a cart? Or could we get off the plane first?”
Flight attendant, “No, you’ll have to take the train. That’s why [airline] doesn’t do that.”
I was so annoyed just listening to the conversation because the attendant did nothing to own the situation on behalf of the airline. He was totally focused on being right. How would that possibly help the customer? It doesn’t. They needed help, not a review of policy.
On the same flight just three rows up, my colleague witnessed another botched service recovery opportunity. A different flight attendant approached my colleague’s seatmate and asked, “Are you going to San Francisco, because that flight is cancelled.” There was no apology, no softening the news, just a cold, harsh message. Period. Neither of these attendants offered help. Just information, leaving needs unmet.
These examples both could have been good coaching opportunities but were unwitnessed by a supervisor. My hope is that any supervisor or trainer would have seized the opportunity to model the correct behavior with the customer, and then followed through with a discussion with the staff member on how the situation should have been handled.
I’ve seen similar situations in healthcare settings where staff miss the opportunity to own the experience on behalf of the organization. Leaders must constantly be on the lookout for stories and examples that will prepare staff to think and act on behalf of the organization. Look around for examples that can surface in your department, and use them as opportunities to play out and teach your team. Your customers will thank you.