Surprise! Here’s good support!
I’m sort of geeking out over a great customer experience I had this past weekend, but mostly because the great experience was on American Airlines. When I talk at conferences and people ask me for examples of bad support, my party line has always been, “Look at the Twitter account for any airline.” But after this weekend, I’m afraid I’m going to have to find another example. The story is long, but the lesson is simple: When you’re responsive, apologetic, and personal to your customers, you win their favor even in your moments of fail.
Let’s start with THE BAD
Last year, I took a vacation to the Virgin Islands and flew American Airlines. I hadn’t traveled much on American, and after that trip I realized why – my flight from Chicago to St. Thomas was delayed 18 hours because American Airlines “couldn’t find” a pilot for us. Not weather, not mechanical, not an act of God -unless he is somehow spending his time focusing on labor disputes with airlines.
People were irate, screaming at the gate agents, demanding refunds and hotels and all number of consolation prizes. We were all booked at a roachy DoubleTree near the airport, given $10 in meal vouchers, and rebooked the next day without much apology. A number of passengers (including myself) lost a full day of a pre-paid vacation, which American did nothing to compensate us for.
Here’s a picture I tweeted to @AmericanAir during this debacle, after an 18-hour delay:
I got no response.
Now, for THE GOOD!
Cut to last Friday, nearly a year after this event. I was scheduled on an American flight from Miami to Chicago after another snorkeling trip to the Caribbean. I was very tired and a bit sun-stroked, so the first 1-hour delay to our flight was aggravating. When we finally boarded and began take off, our pilot suddenly braked hard and the plane came to a dead stop, then turned around and went back to the gate. With obvious frustration in his voice the pilot informed us of some mechanical issue that needed to be taken care of. 40 minutes later, still sitting in the plane on the runway, it was still being taken care of. Another hour later, the issue still being taken care of, we were asked to leave the plane and wait in the terminal.
This was completely annoying, sure, but it would have been more annoying if the experience with American’s staff was the same as last summer. But it wasn’t at all. Instead, the experience was shockingly okay. The gate agent apologized profusely, told us all where phone chargers were located in the terminal, and somehow managed to get Starbucks to stay open past their 11pm closing time. (HUGE WTF THUMBS UP!) They kept everyone informed of every update they had, to the point where there was almost no room for complaints from the very tired passengers.
We were rebooked on a new plane 3 hours after our intended take off, past the time I would have been arriving in Chicago originally. But when we arrived at O’Hare at 2:45am, I actually wasn’t very irritated. The American crew handled the issue with such calm and by being so informative and apologetic, it was easy for all passengers to be empathetic. Delays happen, planes brake, mechanical stuff has issues. If we admit we know how much it sucks for everyone, we’ll all handle it much easier.
Then today, I got an email from American apologizing again, and offering me 3,000 points because of the delay. Completely, totally, unrequested by me. This is proof they’ve changed how they handle issues like this, and that they are focusing on making even crappy experiences as better as they can. All I can say is, Well done, American Airlines. Never, ever thought I’d be writing those words!
Finally, THE LESSON
When you are informative about an issue and take responsibility to be fast and friendly, people will cut you some slack. If your app goes down and you apologize for the inconvenience, you’re putting a huge wall between you and your customer’s real annoyance. You’re telling that customer that you’d rather there be distance between you and the issue, and for them to take their annoyance elsewhere because you don’t want to hear it. But when you instead say, “I am so sorry, we are working to get this fixed and doing all we can,” that very annoyed customer is going to see you’re trying.