How to Turn a Negative into Positive Customer Service

By Joanne Blake | Etiquette & Manners

Jul 11
Airline Positive Customer Service Cartoon

Delta Airlines turns a problem into an opportunity to strengthen customer relationships

In his book The Virgin Way, Everything I Know About Leadership, Richard Branson talks about the importance of turning a negative into a positive customer service experience.
“When a problem is handled quickly and effectively it will create more long-term customer loyalty than if the original service was delivered in a satisfactory manner.”

Flight delay blues – strike one

This was demonstrated recently by Delta Airlines, while we were flying back from Washington DC. On the way to the airport, we received a text saying that our flight was delayed by an hour due to weather conditions. Oh well, “stuff” happens. Not Delta’s fault.

Strike two and three

Once we arrived at the airport, another text pops up advising us that it’s now delayed 2 hours. By the time we get to our gate, the customer service agent gets on the intercom, apologizes and announces that because of the weather, the flight may be delayed a further hour.

Now a 3 hour delay. People are frustrated, even though we know Delta’s not to blame. We’re not to bad off as we had a large margin of error with our connecting flight but the other passengers aren’t so happy. The natives were getting restless. But the gate agent doesn’t stop there.

Delta turns it into a positive customer service

Even though the weather is totally out of Delta’s control, he brings out a snack cart. It’s full of soft drinks coffee and goodies. He invites us to help ourselves to complimentary refreshments while we wait.

A nice touch! We made good use of it. (Especially Terry who enjoys freebies AND snack food and discovered a new favorite – sweet mustard flavored pretzels that we don’t get in Canada. He went up 3 times.)

A customer service home run

When our airplane finally arrives and we’re boarding, as the 2nd gate agent is checking our boarding passes, she greets each one of us warmly, again apologizes for the delay, and thanks us for choosing Delta.

Then when we’re on board, the pilot gets on the intercom and welcomes us, updates us and apologizes for the unexpected delay.

Small things add up… to your customers

The way that Delta turned a negative experience into great customer service isn’t rocket science. It’s an example of Richard Branson’s philosophy of how to handle problems, no matter who or what’s to blame. Delta had empowered each of it’s employees to act as brand ambassadors for the company.

Six Tips to turn negatives into positive customer service

  1. Apologize for inconvenience , even if you or your company is not to blame.
  2. Delays happen. Make the customer comfortable by offering refreshments.
  3. Check in with customers with frequent updates.
  4. Under promise and over deliver.
  5. Customers have lots of choice. Thank them for working with you; for their loyalty.
  6. Survey customers regularly to see what you’re doing well & more importantly what can be improved.

Bonus tip:  Discuss with colleagues what negatives customers experience and plan your positive customer service recovery.

It gets noticed and pays dividends

It was a handful of little gestures and small acts of kindness demonstrated by Delta employees from the bottom up that got noticed, remembered and commented on. Instead of a black mark the company’s response scored a warm fuzzy feeling that we, the customers were valued and appreciated.

People will remember to fly Delta and tell their friends. And we’ve told two friends (plus you and we’ll be sharing it in our business etiquette training) and so on it goes.

Positive customer service? What about you?

What examples have you done or seen of taking a customer service lemon and turning it into lemonade? Please share your experience or comments with us, below.

Posted by Joanne Blake – Business etiquette expert and frequent flyer

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About the Author

JOANNE BLAKE Canadian speaker, corporate image consultant & business etiquette expert. If you're interested in booking a presentation, keynote or coaching, contact me. Based in Calgary / Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada.

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