Delta Air Lines sends frontline staff back to charm school

We’ve all been there – standing face to face with an airline employee that has the customer service skills of a can of beans, completely unwilling to provide any form of assistance in a time of need.

According to the Vice President of Delta, his airline completely fit that description when they so badly failed at customer support last summer.

To fix things, he’s sending 11,000 of his staff to be retrained. Everyone that is directly involved with customers, from gate and baggage agents, to ticket agents and supervisors will be sent to charm school.

One of the driving forces behind this speedy retraining project is the number of complaints about Delta Air Lines sent to the Department of Transportation. Delta beat every other airline in the nation – a first place hardly worth bragging about. Add to that scoring second to last in on-time arrivals and baggage handling, and you see why they are spending $2 billion on improving things.

With role-play games and other hands-on lessons, the staff will be retrained on how to deal with complaints, how to explain baggage fees to customers and tips on how to put the focus back on the customer.

According to the Wall Street Journal, these are the core elements of the retraining plan:

  • Make it personal. Focus on the person in front of you, not the long line of people. Greet each one memorably.
  • Be empathetic. Put yourself on the other side of the counter.
  • Listen, ask, listen again. Customers tune out routine announcements. Agents tune out customers.
  • Solve together. Involve customers in solutions by offering choices.
  • Be there. It’s a lot easier to check out than check in. ‘If you don’t remember your last three customers, you are just processing,’ said Delta facilitator Michael Hazelton.

To me, these are all things staff should have been doing all along, and retraining them in such basic things seems rather odd. Also, retraining staff to greet customers won’t help if the policies at the airline are the bigger issue – and without providing staff available options to be empowered and override rules, customers will still be aggravated when things go sour.

Question is – is this all too little too late? Have you switched carriers because of lousy service from Delta Air Lines?


[Photo: AP]

Travel professionals: stop going the extra mile

It sounds counterintuitive, right? Normally, customers expect that extra effort, and we complain constantly that we don’t get it enough. What we sometimes don’t understand, though, is that the extra effort is at the root of many of the customer service problems we encounter. Going the extra mile at the wrong time can be a disaster.

I remember a case presented at a conference I attended back in 1999 (yeah, it made an impression), when I was a consultant in the hotel industry. Some customer service guru was teaching us how to better serve our clients – which was pretty important, since our clients, the hotels, were in the service business. She discussed with us a bank teller who spent extra time with a customer – going that extra mile” – even though there was a long line waiting. The guru couldn’t summon enough praise for this teller. Even though everybody else was waiting, this teller put forth more than was necessary to make a customer happy.

Almost as soon as the story was over, people in different parts of the audience barked almost in unison, “What about everyone else?” The service aficionado spent several minutes ducking and dodging as a growing number of attendees hurled the lines of “I’d be pissed,” “That’s not good service!” and “Do you really believe that stuff?” She eventually recovered and finished her session, but the discussion at the bar that night was all about whether to please the one at the expense of the many.

Just about everyone has seen this problem from the three perspectives involved. I know I’ve had to serve the idiot, wait in line behind the idiot … and, of course, been the idiot. The last time I was the cause, I inadvertently looked over my shoulder and noticed the line behind me. Immediately, it dawned on me. The person helping me – because of my stupidity – was screwing everybody else.

That’s what prompted me to dig into this issue. I realized that, on occasion, going the extra mile for one customer can alienate many others.

If you’re on the service side of the desk, instead of rushing to help, consider the following criteria before committing plenty of time:

1. Is the problem legitimate?
If the customer/passenger has been wronged somehow, do everything it takes to fix the problem. If this isn’t the case, go to #2.

2. Can the situation reasonably be resolved?
A problem with no solution isn’t worth everyone else’s time. At some point, the madness has to stop.

3. What was the customer’s role in all this?
Is this a situation of the customer’s own creation (e.g., late for a flight)? If so, take this into account. Personal responsibility should be considered.

Speaking of personal responsibility, we have some obligations as customers, too.

1. Admit when you screw up
Don’t try to shift the blame and extract the best outcome reasonably possible. Confess, make it as easy and fast as possible to remedy the problem (that you created) and accept whatever alternative can be supplied.

2. Know when it’s time to quit
Don’t push for the answer you want when it’s clear you won’t get it. When defeat is obvious, move on.

3. Use other resources
Complaining at the airport, for example, is a waste of time after a while. Instead, call customer service, write a letter to the CEO (they are read) or turn to social media. Facebook, Twitter and blogs can be great ways to spread the word. Many companies monitor these environments, and the good ones will respond quickly (props to OGIO and Babies “R” Us).

We all love the thought of doing everything possible to help a customer, but sometimes, it just doesn’t make sense. “Reasonable” can do a lot to keep the lines moving and make everyone much, much happier. The best customer service, from time to time, is as little as possible.

[Photo by Larry Myers via Flickr]

Ryan Air to forbid booking through third parties

I heavily rely on multiple booking sites like Atrapalo, WeGoLo, Kayak, Rumbo, Orbitz, Expedia and CheapTickets. I find that 80% of the time, they are the best way to choose a route and flight to a destination. So reading that Ryan Air is not going to accept bookings from these sites, was an annoying blow.

Starting August 11, Ryan Air has announced plans to cancel all flight bookings through these intermediary sites (also called “screen scrapers”). Why? Apparently, these sites function against their terms and conditions, and are illegal. In addition, they want to ensure that passengers get the lowest rates, to avoid the Ryan Air’s website server be overloaded, and to be able to have direct contact with their customers. On the business front: When people book flights on intermediary sites, websites like Ryan Air lose sales on services such as travel-insurance, hotel-bookings, car-rentals, etc — probably the main reason for this action.

For the moment, BravoFly, V-tours, Opodo, Atrapalo, and OTbeach, are the main ones Ryan Air is taking action against.

I think passengers have the right to choose how they want to book their flights. There are more pros than cons booking with third parties, and if the customer is willing to pay the extra buck, the airline is no one to interfere with that. Anyhow, only 0.5% of Ryan Air’s bookings come through these booking engines; since Ryan Air will no longer appear on the flight options of these “screen scrapers”, they are bound to lose that business. Looks like they are just making an unnecessary inconvenience for everyone.