Our blog series “The CEO Lens” chronicles insights from Ross Meyercord’s learned experiences as CEO of Propel Software.
Because we’re right in the middle of the holiday season, I think it’s a good time to prepare ourselves for the travel snafus that could arise—delays, lost bags, or even cancellations (knock on wood).
This year I’ve traveled a huge amount and inevitably experienced all of the issues above, several times over. As CEO with daily customer interactions, these run-ins with the airlines made me consider how to handle situations with customers when things don’t go to plan.
With that, here are my top 10 lessons learned for customer success, as observed from travel trouble:
10. Always be transparent.
Whether the news is good or bad, share what you know when you know it. To their credit, United Airlines sends push notifications every time there’s an update on a delayed flight, bag status, etc.
9. Take accountability.
If something goes bad on your watch, own up to it. Don’t make up excuses or point to others. Apologize for the inconvenience you have caused. When my family’s luggage went missing on a trip this summer, the airline found the bags, put them on the next flight, and then delivered them to our hotel 50+ miles away from the airport.
8. Not your fault, but your customer was impacted? See point 9 above.
Even when you didn’t directly cause the issue, if your customer experienced pain, it’s up to you to make it right. When weather is the culprit (not their fault), airlines still get you home.
7. But don’t grovel.
A sincere, but succinct, apology followed by a demonstration of your accountability is the most powerful way to address these moments. The more you make a big deal about it, the more you open yourself up for a customer to take advantage of you.
6. (Token) gestures of remediation.
It is tempting to try to make it right for the customer commensurate with the pain caused. Often this isn’t practical or frankly needed. But making a gesture of goodwill, even if nominal, can go a long way. Putting out free snacks for those waiting for a delayed flight will calm and occasionally delight.
5. Provide options.
Do you want a rapid stop-gap resolution or prefer to wait for the permanent fix? We make assumptions about what customers want—but do we know for certain? Giving the customer options lets them feel more in control and ultimately better meets their expectations. As soon as a flight is delayed, United’s mobile app now gives you the option to seek alternatives. (Often there is nothing, but seeking options makes me feel better.)
4. Fix your mistakes.
Ultimately we need to do our job and fix the problem. All the previous items are about getting customers emotionally aligned, but at the end of the day that buys us time to resolve the core issue at hand.
3. Seek feedback to get better.
When things haven’t gone the way we wanted, it is tempting to try and move past it as fast as possible. However, asking the customer how we did in resolving their issue shows commitment to continuous improvement that the customer notices. Airlines used to just push departures and never told us why … which was infuriating. Now we get details (sometimes too many!) - airlines heard loud and clear customers wanted to know WHY they were delayed.
2. Avoid self-inflicted pain.
Sometimes things happen that we can’t foresee and we have to react. Unfortunately many times, we bring issues upon ourselves. Stay diligent and always be looking out for the customer. My travel correlation - Don’t travel cross country on a Holiday weekend if you can avoid it!
1. Underpromise and over-deliver.
When things go wrong, it is very tempting to promise a fix in the best possible timing. But often things get in the way and we miss the best-case timing and disappoint the customer. However, promising a fix in a conservative case manner may disappoint initially but sets expectations. Beating that timing then leaves the customer with a positive last impression.
As we face challenges in customer service, remember that each interaction is an opportunity to build trust and loyalty.
By incorporating these 10 lessons, you can navigate unforeseen customer issues with grace and leave a lasting positive impact—just as a smooth landing after a turbulent flight can make all the difference in a traveler's journey.
Wishing you a happy holiday with minimal travel disruptions!
For more from Ross, check out the previous installment of the CEO Lens “Threading the Needle with Unhappy Customers.”