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I Know Exactly What Happened

Excerpt from Your Invisible Toolbox

Be careful with your words; once they are said, they can be only forgiven, not forgotten. Author UNKNOWN

Most millennials share stories, images, and facts about their lives on social media. The movement started with Facebook and has evolved as platforms like YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat arrived on the scene. We are all part of a movement where everything we think, say, and do can be tweeted, posted, and blogged for public consumption. When does sharing become over-sharing? Is there a line?

It is said that customers measure a company not by how they are treated when things go smoothly but by how they are treated when problems with its product or service arise. It is in these moments that customers decide who they will flatter with their future business.

The scene is familiar. A group of passengers is milling around the airport boarding gate awaiting word on the status of their delayed flight. Boarding can't commence because the copilot has not arrived.

Federal Aviation Authority guidelines prohibit a pilot from flying alone. Calls have been made to the copilot's home, but he can't be located.

Everyone waits.

Apparently the copilot called in three days earlier to book the day off. Someone failed to replace him on the schedule. The flight is due to leave Los Angeles on New Year's Day. Some of the travelers surmise the copilot is at the Rose Bowl.

Three hours later, when the passengers finally board their flight, crew members are asked, "What happened?"

Following are their responses. Imagine you are a senior leader in this organization. Two of your company's values are honesty and good customer service. How does the customer experience measure up?

  1. "A new crew had to be called in. We're doing the best we can."
  2. "We had to take a thirty-five percent pay cut, and everybody is calling in sick in protest. I was called in to replace them. I've worked every holiday this year."
  3. "On behalf of all of us at the airline, I apologize for this unbelievable situation. We know this is an inconvenience for you. I've worked for this airline for twenty-four years and have never seen a scheduling oversight like this. We are embarrassed and appreciate your patience. We will get you to your destination as soon as possible."

All three responses pass the honesty test. However, handling customer communications during a difficult time requires more than just an honest answer. It also requires:

Three honest answers. The differences relate to discretion and compassion. Response (1) was impersonal and defensive. Response (2) revealed troubling morale issues. Only (3) began to address the issue from the customer's viewpoint.

Customer service is high on the list of key differentiators and competitive advantage for organizations, including this airline. This uncommon skill is too often left to chance. The good news is that the skills of good customer communication are learned. Always consider the audience, use discretion, and express compassion when communicating, especially when the news is bad.

Invisible Tool Be discreet and compassionate

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