This is hardly a good thing if you have to call the airline. It’s not that airline customer service is necessarily worse than other types of companies, but if you’re calling an airline, it’s probably because something went wrong.
For example, on Monday morning, I had to call Delta Air Lines. My flight was delayed and then – just as I got to the airport – it was cancelled. Not only that, I was automatically rebooked on a flight the next day, but that didn’t work. I called to ask if there were other options available that would still get me where I needed to be.
Unfortunately, this has become a more common phenomenon. As a frequent flyer, I’ve been calling Delta Air Lines a lot lately. That’s obviously not good, but not surprising given the number of delays and cancellations this year.
However, over the past few months, I’ve noticed that everyone I talk to Delta says the same nine words: “Thank you for being the best at Delta part.” I really couldn’t imagine they were just talking to me, and it got me thinking.
My first experience with it was actually in text messages. (Did you know you can use iMessage or Android Messages to message Delta?) The rep ended the conversation with this sentence, which I barely understood. At first it seemed like a one-off phrase.
Then I heard it again, this time on the phone. I’ve probably heard it a dozen times by now – it tells you what my recent air travel has been like. After the first few times, I started thinking about it and it was actually kind of awesome. This is clearly what Delta is training people to say, and it’s a great example of how to talk to customers — especially when something goes wrong.
Look, it goes without saying that most people just want their problems solved as soon as possible. The less time they spend on the phone trying to resolve a problem – even if the person has nice things to say.
The thing is, there are a lot of moving parts involved in running an airline. Sometimes things go wrong. When this happens, there is only so much the caller can do to correct the problem. For example, if a flight is canceled, there are only so many seats on so many planes, and once the seats are full, the people answering the phone can hardly change the laws of physics.
This means some customers will be inconvenienced. What matters then is how the airline handles the experience. What you say — and how you say it — is often as important as what you can do. Even if you can’t change the laws of physics and put two people in the same seat, you can manage chaos.
Without a doubt, the person who answers the phone plays a very important role in the overall customer experience. They can salvage a bad experience, or turn it into a nightmare.
That’s where I think Delta’s response was very smart. The way you talk to your customers matters. This is always true, but never past the time when something goes wrong. Part of what makes it so great is simple – it reminds your customer service team that the person they’re talking to is a human. They are not passengers, they are not reservations, and they are not calls in line. They are someone who was expecting a great travel experience, but somehow it turned sour.
The good news is that even if you can’t “fix” their problem, you can turn the customer experience around. You can treat people with respect and make them feel valued, even if you can’t do the magic and get them on an otherwise full flight or find their luggage.
That doesn’t mean you don’t have to do things right – if you sell someone a ticket to get from point A to point B, at some point you need to put They are sent there. If you lose their luggage, you need to find it or make them whole. If you’re delaying their flight for a few hours, you may need to open up a snack.
However, you might be surprised how much “getting things done” starts with making customers feel valued. These nine words are a good place to start.