I’m writing this as I am en route to Austin, for the Dell Customer Support Think Tank. It’s going to be a great event, if I ever get there.
I’m having the usual traveler’s problems of delays.
What is very apparent, however – and not just with this trip because I see this all the time – is that the airline staff at the gate are often the last people to know what is going on.
Today, I experienced a series of delays (30 minutes, then another 30 minutes, and so on, and so on), followed by a gate change, followed by a plane change (yup, after we loaded the plane, we all got off and trooped to another terminal and got on again.)
The front line staff often appear reluctant to share information. I think it's because they don’t have any. The best and brightest will get on the announcement system anyway, risking personal abuse, and will tell people what they know. Even if it isn’t much.
One of the problems the gate staff was having? They couldn’t board us on the plane, because the computer system still showed all of us on the plane we had left. So the plane was ready, the bags had been moved, the people were ready, the crew was ready – but all of us were waiting on a computer.
Once in the air, I commend the captain and crew (United 3612 on June 24) for their personal, heartfelt, and non-script-sounding apologies for the situation. They were clearly embarrassed, but sucked it up for whoever was at fault, and carried on.
In the category of “above and beyond,” one of the flight attendants loaned me his jacket (there are no longer blankets) because I was freezing. I think he’s working too hard to be cold.
So what have we learned here:
#1 – In this era of high passenger loads and maximum efficiency, when anything goes wrong, it quickly cascades through the system. There is no slack to absorb or buffer the customers. (Or the staff.) As a manager, you need to understand this in advance – when things go wrong, they will be harder to recover from.
#2 – The thing your customers most want to know is a) what is happening and b) when is it going to happen?
#3 – Your best staff will put themselves out there for customers, risking abuse by communicating. As they should. Remember that they are taking this abuse for problems not of their making. They need as much support as management can provide.
#4 – Ask yourself if your communication systems are doing everything possible to help the people on the front do a great job, provide a good experience, and recover effectively from problems.
#5 – If you hire the right people, they will have great instincts. Don’t put up barriers, and recognize that they are the people keeping your organization rolling.
#6 – A series of short delays is worse than one long delay. In one long delay, you get angry, then you can formulate a plan. In a series of short delays, you have to hover and be vigilant while you watch the clock. This applies to many kinds of customer experiences, not just airlines.
#7 – Are you using mobile technology as you could to help people? Forget the app, think app-let. When I got your e-mail confirmation, why didn’t you offer me e-mail updates? Real time status reports? Or at least give me a link to a mobile-friendly site that I can get that information. The hundred or so people hanging around waiting were all checking their handhelds, calling people, trying to get information – make it easy for us.
This was actually a great way to start the Think Tank – I hope to give you tons of good stuff, but you will also want to follow the others posting to Twitter. Watch #winningservice for updates from all the other smart participants.
#WINNINGSERVICE, dell customer support think tank