After the recent JetBlue customer service nightmare, it appears everyone is talking about customer service. This is a good thing! It is the perfect time for you to evaluate how you handle customer crisis in your business.
When mistakes are made, companies fall into one of three categories. Businesses will:
- Ignore the problem
- Only address the problem if a customer complains
- Proactively identify and correct the problem
Ignore the Problem
To ignore or even deny that a problem has occurred is very dangerous. At best, your customers will abandon you. At worst, they will share their story with the world and you’ll have a public relations fiasco on your hands. When mistakes are made, don’t ignore them! Face them head on.
No Complaints = No Problem
If you never hear from customers about a problem, does that mean you don’t have any problems? No. For every vocal customer that complains, there is a hidden army of silent customers that simply walk away and take their business elsewhere. Only waiting to hear from customers does not give you a realistic view of your operations. Yes, you should handle customer complaints with style, but that can’t be your only policy.
Proactive Customer Service
Business Week magazine this week has a cover story titled “Customer Service Champs.” The opening paragraph of that article highlights Southwest Airlines for their proactive customer service:
Bob Emig was flying home … on Southwest Airlines … when an all-too-familiar travel nightmare began to unfold. After his airplane backed away from the gate, he and his fellow passengers were told the plane would need to be de-iced. When the aircraft was ready to fly two and a half hours later, the pilot had reached the hour limit set by the Federal Aviation Administration, and a new pilot was required. By that time, the plane had to be de-iced again. Five hours after the scheduled departure time, Emig’s flight was finally ready for takeoff.
A customer service disaster, right? Not to hear Emig tell it. The pilot walked the aisles, answering questions and offering constant updates. Flight attendants, who Emig says “really seemed like they cared,” kept up with the news on connecting flights. And within a couple of days of arriving home, Emig, who travels frequently, received a letter from Southwest that included two free round-trip ticket vouchers. “I could not believe they acknowledged the situation and apologized,” says Emig. “Then they gave me a gift, for all intents and purposes, to make up for the time spent sitting on the runway.”
Emig’s “gift” from the airline was … standard procedure for Southwest Airlines, which almost six years ago created a new high-level job that oversees all proactive customer communications with customers. Fred Taylor, who was plucked from the field by President Colleen C. Barrett to fill the role in 2001, coordinates information that’s sent to all frontline reps in the event of major flight disruptions. But he’s also charged with sending out letters, and in many cases flight vouchers, to customers caught in major storms, air traffic snarls, or other travel messes–even those beyond Southwest’s control–that would fry the nerves of a seasoned traveler. “It’s not something we had to do,” says Taylor. “It’s just something we feel our customers deserve.”
In this story, Southwest didn’t wait around to hear about complaints and they surely didn’t ignore problems. They had established company policies to proactively seek out and handle any problems or perceived problems with customers.
Because your customers were dealing with your company at the time things went bad, regardless of whether or not it was your fault, they had a bad experience. To handle a bad situation proactively, you need to handle all problems: both your mistakes and the side effects of events outside of your control.
Uncontrollable circumstances will happen on your watch. Take care of the customer during these times and they will grow into your loyal fan club.