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

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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  1. Alas I cannot say that my experience with Delta was as positive. A few years ago we were going to Savannah from Saskatoon for a convention at Hilton Head. I wasn’t paying enough attention to the flight times when I booked with Delta so we found ourselves running flat out in Minneapolis and Detroit on the way down to catch our connecting flights. On the way back we flew from Savannah to Atlanta and we realized that we had a bare 1/2 hour from the time our wheels touched the tarmac until our flight to Minneapolis left. I complained to the attendant and all she said was “We are within the legal limits”. Great. Never flew Delta again. Maybe they have learned something since then.

  2. Alas I cannot say that my experience with Delta was as positive. A few years ago we were going to Savannah from Saskatoon for a convention at Hilton Head. I wasn’t paying enough attention to the flight times when I booked with Delta so we found ourselves running flat out in Minneapolis and Detroit on the way down to catch our connecting flights. On the way back we flew from Savannah to Atlanta and we realized that we had a bare 1/2 hour from the time our wheels touched the tarmac until our flight to Minneapolis left. I complained to the attendant and all she said was “We are within the legal limits”. Great. Never flew Delta again. Maybe they have learned something since then.

  3. I have 3 great examples of customer service.
    First one was Westjet, when my dad died. There was a problem with the plane, and a possible delay of several hours. The Westjet found all 3 of us who were flying to (separate) funerals and started planning to put us on another airline’s flight to make sure we didn’t experience extra stress.

    Second was when I was trying to order a part for my faucet. I was exchanging emails with the Delta rep and when we had narrowed down the part I needed I inquired as to how to order it, (expecting to pay for the part and shipping) and was told “it’s in the mail.”

    Third was this past summer. Waterton Park, experienced a severe fire there. All of the power poles were burned on the way into the townsite, but Epcor had generators working within record time. They also managed to get new power poles in place within weeks. But the icing on the cake was the broadcast voice mail from the Epcor VP of operations, assuring us that they were working hard to restore power.

    So good customer service lives on. It’s a differentiator, in this business environment.

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