Delivering great customer service can be effortless when you have everything that you need; the customers are patient, smiling, and gracious; and the stars are aligned in perfect order. The real challenge comes when none of the above is in place.
The true test of the service champion is when everything seems to be falling apart. It’s those times—when customers are angry and impatient, systems fail, and nothing seems to be going right—that the real rock stars of service excellence emerge.
I had one of those experiences recently at the airport where I witnessed one of the most professional examples of service recovery I’ve ever seen. It was 5:45 a.m. Sunday morning in Anchorage, AK when my flight was canceled. With a 5:45 scheduled departure, you can imagine how early everyone had to get up in order to be at the gate and ready to go. Needless to say, there were over 100 tired and unhappy customers clamoring for the gate agent’s attention. Diane did a remarkable job managing the situation and never once did she become impatient or rude, despite being surrounded by impatient and often rude customers. I must say I was fascinated by her composure and efficiency. (Of course, I wrote the airline to tell them how impressive Diane was.)
In dissecting her behavior, here is what I noticed:
- She kept everyone informed regularly throughout the delay and ultimate cancellation
- She gave options for re-scheduling (self-help online, phone, or wait-in-line options)
- She provided everyone with beverages and snacks at the gate as well as food vouchers
- She never raised her voice
- She was in constant motion while juggling multiple demands but always seemed calm and efficient
I’m sure the airline has processes in place to help in situations like this, but there are no procedures that guarantee how an employee handles herself when on the hot seat. The real test is how employees apply their knowledge and skills to accommodate others when things fall apart. If we all had a team of Dianes in place, we’d never have to worry about service recovery. The next best thing is to make sure your have the right people in place and that they not only know the procedures but can manage their own emotions and reactions in tough times.