Fast Company

Is Your Customer Service STUCK on a Runway?

Are your employees helpless when trying to mitigate the bad feelings created by poor customer support? The New York Times reported recently on a story that got me thinking about what it feels like to be stuck. While you may think that the only people trapped in the situation were those on that plane, I say that type of thinking is symptomatic of more companies that just airlines.

When communication is not two-way everybody loses. Employees feel powerless and begin to resent not only customers, but also their company. Customers begin to imagine the ways in which they can wage a war against an organization. In other words, everyone is stuck in a position. And positions are very dangerous -- ask negotiators; when people assume a rigid stance, you might as well forget any sort of progress.

I can see your face next time you read the ad that says: “Fly (insert airline here) for free”. Yes, you might think to yourself, but at what cost?

What we need to realize is that it is as easy to get stuck, as it is to get unstuck. This is terminology I am borrowing from Keith Yamashita, who I met a few years ago at Fast Company Real Time live event in Miami. Let’s use the example in the NYT article to see how we get ourselves out of a rut.

First we need to acknowledge that we’re stuck. So following the advice of Yamashita, we can then empathize with the passengers on that flight with emotional manifestations. Yes, we know you are feeling:

alone, overwhelmed, directionless, battle-torn, worthless, hopeless, exhausted.

Do you think that these would also apply to the airline staff? Yes, and by learning to get through the empathy process for the sake of passengers, they can regain control of the situation. The first mantra should be of course to determine what the problem is and what the airline/airport/company is doing or going to do about it.

Meanwhile, on the plane (and situation), we need to acknowledge that we’re still stuck. Thinking about and communicating that “we’ll take care of you, and here’s exactly how”, with action attached to it is a good step in the right direction. It’s important to manage expectations, and to meet those expectations with a sense of urgency.

In the scenario of a plane stranded for hours, for example, the pilot gets on the horn and orders food and beverages for everyone to be brought to the plane. Stations are organized from the ground to service the plane, and so on. Whatever it takes to make people comfortable and unstuck.

What’s that? You’re saying that it would cost too much? What’s the value to you of goodwill and conversation on the front end vs. attempts at reparation on the back end with vouchers at the tune of $500 each? Oh, maybe the vouchers are less trouble. Think again. Your employees, and customers, need to see what you’re doing to help them get unstuck. Why leave them to fend for themselves? All ready to go, and no place to go to.

Valeria Maltoni • Conversation Agent • Philadelphia, PA • ConversationAgent@gmail.comwww.conversationagent.com

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