Travel Tale Offers Customer Service Lessons For All

Social media is not a waste of time.

Well, at least not always.

That’s one of the top takeaways from the most frustrating travel ordeal of my life, topping the time in 2007 when a client and I had had to fly to Minneapolis to sleep in a hotel room in a water park for 3 hours before flying to South Dakota to drive to Nebraska, where I had to buy clothes and toiletries. On that trip, I at least left the airport, slept, ultimately got to my destination and wasn’t lied to repeatedly.

Sparing you the gory details, I ultimately couldn’t get to my favorite annual weekend of friendship and fun at my alma mater after 15 hours total of flight delays, being booked on three planes, getting on two of them before boarding doors closed, one trip to the deicing pad, one mechanical problem, two cancellations, multiple lying and/or clueless gate agents and one uncomfortable overnight spent at Detroit Metro Airport (here’s a Facebook Live video on that niche subject). It was an emotional roller coaster caused by a combination of bad weather, bad luck and bad “customer service.”

For all of us who have to deal with customers directly, there are some important takeaways from my ordeal:

-Be Consistent: The Delta representatives I communicated with via Twitter direct message were responsive, honest and creative. The thieves of salaries I dealt with in person represented that company in the worst possible ways.

-Be Honest: Tough stuff happens in any business. Level with your customers. Tell them you screwed up. Remember that customers have access to information, not just you. So telling them, for example, “no flights are getting in,” when that can easily be proven false, is just wrong.

– Be Available: Do more than perfunctorily apologize, show you mean it. There was a supervisor present during the latter, most frustrating hours of the delay, who never went around to the dozens of customers who had spent the night in the gate area to interact with them and offer any personal touch, including the crying young mother who had been up all night with her baby. Make the extra call. See someone in person. Show you care, if indeed you do. It doesn’t cost a single cent to be nice to someone.

-Remember Your Role: When bad stuff happens and you own the customer relationship, either you can make the situation better or you can make it worse. Choose to make it better, if you can, in any way, even emotionally.

In my case, a gate supervisor, told me flat-out, “There is no way to get you on another flight” and sent me to get my luggage. A minute later, the Twitter-connected rep rebooked me on a later flight (that ended up being cancelled, not her fault). I got better service through a nameless, faceless platform than from a guy right in front of me.

I explained this all (and a whole lot more) to a Delta representative at the company’s headquarters who called me later in the day after receiving a report from the Twitter-monitoring staff. I received a sympathetic ear and a fair offer of compensation. I appreciate that and am impressed by it. But all that does is reinforce the lessons above, applicable to air travel, PR or whatever you do.