United Airlines what are you doing?!
First David Dao, then a scorpion and now an engaged couple are escorted off a plane by a marshall for not wanting to disturb a fellow economy riding sleeping passenger.
I reiterate, what are you doing?!
Unfortunately investors (and the market) shrug off bad press a lot faster than the consumers that are the subjects of the press but, the last few weeks have been a great example of exactly how NOT to deliver good customer service. To support that point I’ll defer to the UAL (United Continental Holdings) stock charts and direct your attention to the fact that amidst all the non-apologies, outraged passengers and those “re-accommodated” by Oscar Munoz the UAL stock is still hovering around rolling six month average prices.
Without spinning off and trying to tackle the complexity of running a successful airline business in a highly price sensitive, highly regulated, low margin and monopolistically competitive market I want to focus on one thing - the customer.
I want to use the poor behavior of United Airlines as an example of how companies should be treating their customers during less than ideal times. Great customer service will help you weather bad press and it will keep customers coming back. In an industry where the services are pretty much substitutable that extra edge can make a big difference.
1. Your customers have to come first.
Your customers are the lifeblood of your business. You’re job as a business owner is to make sure that your customers not only get the service or product you sold them but also an experience that warrants them coming back (and bringing friends). Sometimes though, there are hiccups. Sometimes you run out of products, sometimes you deliver late and sometimes you overbook a flight. That should never be the customer's problem. Remember, they chose to spend their hard earned dollars with you and if something happens that impacts how you deliver your value then it’s up to you to make it right.
Now with United and David Dao that could’ve meant maybe offering the Department of Transportation’s $1350 maximum if the delay a passenger experiences is more than two hours before moving from voluntary to involuntary denied boarding procedures. If you run into a situation in your business that prevents you from delivering a less than awesome experience then I sincerely encourage you to eat cost of over-accommodating now to make it easier for your customer. It will prevent you from having to backpedal to your audience later hurting your credibility and forcing you to constantly “re-accommodate”.
2. Consistency matters.
Most people are willing to try a new product or service at least once. If they aren’t happy with it they explicitly let you know by not engaging with your company again. So, first impressions matter. After that first impression though, for the customers that do come back, they will be expecting some consistency in their experience. That means that as a business owner you have to spend time and energy on making sure that the experiences you’re providing always meet the high standards you have for your business. It’s why your customers keep coming back and why they will trust you when you try to sell them something new.
If a figurative scorpion happens to drop out of a figurative overhead bin it may be the result of some slacking standards. Possibly. I’ve seen this a ton of times, when a business owner gets a little too busy it can be really tempting to cut, what you think are little, corners. I really insist that you don’t because your customers will notice, they always do!
The four biggest reasons for consistency then are:
- it will allow you to collect data that will help shape future decisions about your business,
- it creates accountability for you and your customers,
- it helps support your credibility and keeps you relevant,
- and it supports your efforts in delivering on the mission of your business.
3. Happy customers make for great brand building.
Everyone loves a good love story. What everyone loves more than a good love story is when an airlines keeps an engaged couple from arriving at their destination wedding location due to some really bad customer service. Now this story might not drop the stock price but the constant sound bites playing on the radio, TV stations and YouTube channels will not make for a happy image. I’m not saying that when your customers break your policies or are challenging to deal with that you should just let them steamroll you but there’s got to be a better middle ground. I mean, going from zero to air marshal seems a little aggressive.
If you’re looking to turn your customers into your advocates you have to listen to them empathetically, acknowledge their feedback and look for solutions that are mutually beneficial. When people see your business as one that not only provides a great product or service but one that really cares about the people it serves you get buy in. This is how you build community around your brand and where your ravings fans will come from.
To build or grow a business that people will emphatically stand behind you have to care about your customers. You have to show them an experience that will make them want to come back. You have to be willing to listen to them when things don’t go quite right. And, you have to show up for them every day. You might not have the budget to outspend a competitor’s marketing or investment in infrastructure and that’s ok. Consumer’s will always do business with the people they know, like and trust before any shiny marketing campaign or new technology.