What is the Take-Away from the Airlines' Blunders?

John Krautzel
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Airlines are making waves in the American media — and not in a good way. United Airlines made headlines with incidents of banning girls wearing leggings and a poor customer service response after a passenger was forcefully removed from an overbooked flight. In late August, actress AnnaLynne McCord caused a stir with an open letter accusing Southwest Airlines of discrimination. No matter what your industry, you can take valuable lessons from these unfortunate situations.

Don't Discount the Power of Social Media

In the digital age, negative experiences are no longer isolated to a customer's immediate circle. An angry Facebook or Instagram post can go viral in a matter of minutes, catapulting your business into a customer relations nightmare. Although you can't prevent a social media disaster, you can mitigate it with the right response. Learn from United Airlines' mistakes — instead of citing policy, which sounds heartless, opt for a genuine apology that validates the customer's pain and accepts responsibility. Then, explain how you plan to make amends. This approach mitigates public outrage and shows that you take customer service seriously.

Prioritize the Customer Experience

Most negative news stories about airline snafus have nothing to do with ticket prices. Instead, the reports deal with passenger treatment, customer service and staff communication, indicating that buyers place a high value on a pleasant experience. As a professional, you can learn from this trend by prioritizing customer interactions. Create spaces that cater to shoppers' needs. Design a friendly, easy-to-navigate customer service system. Respond quickly to complaints. Down the road, when a shopper needs to choose between you and a similarly priced competitor, a positive customer experience can swing the decision in your favor.

Individual Employees Matter

When you manage a large company, it can be easy to forget that a single employee can make or a break public opinion of your brand. United discovered this the hard way in 2017. In March, an agent denied boarding to two young girls wearing leggings and required another female passenger to put on a dress over her leggings. Less than a month later, United CEO Oscar Munoz caused a stir by apologizing for "re-accommodating" a passenger that had been dragged, bleeding and nearly unconscious, off a plane. When AnnaLynne McCord accused Southwest of discrimination, it was in response to an agent's alleged decision to refuse family boarding to a gay couple. In each instance, a more thoughtful decision by just one employee could have headed off a public relations disaster. The takeaway? Ensure that each person in your business, from cleaners to customer service agents, is adequately trained in how to create a welcoming, supportive and friendly experience. In addition, make sure that all employees understand how important their behavior is in reinforcing your brand's reputation.

For businesses across all industries, airlines' customer service problems should serve as a red flag. By viewing each situation as an opportunity to evaluate and improve your own operations, your company can create an excellent customer experience and avoid similar disasters down the road.


Photo courtesy of Tomas Del Coro at Flickr.com

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