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As anyone who flies on a regular basis will tell you, sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and wait it out.

Recently I had an experience flying home from Hawaii that was the worst I have experienced in 15 years of regular business travel.

Now Hawaii is a wonderful place to visit! One of my favorite places definitely. However if something goes wrong with your scheduled flight, it is a not so easy a place to get off of (or so I found out!).

What happened was the flight I was scheduled on to fly home was canceled due to mechanical issues. Frustrating but I would much rather be on a plane that was working properly!

That wasn’t the issue – the issue was how the airline handled it.

Things go wrong in any business. And in any business there are challenges that are part of the business. For example in a restaurant the waiter spilling food on a customer, or the wrong food coming out, or the food is cold.

Obviously you try to prevent mistakes or issues happening, but sometimes they do, and when that happens how you deal with it makes all the difference.
So back to my canceled flight – of course there would be inconvenience. But in that type of a situation what customers want to know is “How are you going to take care of me?”

I was flying on Air Canada, and I was shocked at how poorly the canceled flight was handled. The staff just didn’t seem to know what to do.
First of all at the gate, the staff were flustered and giving out poor direction and information. All they needed to say was “We have everything under control and are working to take care of you”.

Instead we were getting partial information and what came across was they didn’t know what to do – hmm.

Next we were directed to pick up our luggage and go upstairs to the check in counter and they would take care of us.

I stood in line for over two hours just to be given a hotel voucher and an information sheet with a phone number to call to be rescheduled on an alternate flight.
I’m still not sure why the line took so long other than people were frustrated and anxious about getting booked on a plane.

When I called the phone number the first person I spoke to was cold and not understanding (it makes a big difference if your customers feel that you understand their frustration). The only thing he could offer me was to reschedule me on the same flight 24 hours later!

I have had a couple of people say – well, another day in Hawaii, that’s not so bad! True, but I had projects and commitments that I needed to get home for.
So I check into the hotel, got back on the phone (I will add that I was on hold for over 30 minutes each time I called the airline’s help number).

This time a very helpful woman took care of me. It took over an hour to get it sorted out, but if I flew to Maui, I could get a flight to Vancouver mid-day, and then fly overnight from Vancouver to Toronto.

Excellent! I would only have to cancel a couple of meetings.

Needless to say I managed to get home, but there was an issue of some kind on each of the flights to the point that I was ready to kiss the ground when I finally landed in Toronto about 18 hours later than originally scheduled.

So what is the lesson in all of this? Other than to take a deep breath and ride out the challenges when flying?

The main lesson is that every business has things that can go wrong – that isn’t the issue. The issue is how you deal with them.

Canceled flights and flight delays are normal fare for airlines. Obviously the airlines can minimize the issues by keeping their planes in good repair, but still there are some things that come up and have to be dealt with.

What shocked me was how unprepared the staff were. Most of them were friendly and trying to be helpful but there were poor systems in place.
It was as if they hadn’t thought about how to streamline the process for customers, or even what the experience was like for customers.

And yet this is a situation that happens on a fairly regular basis.

And there is a huge cost. There were a lot of unhappy customers on the canceled flight. I know because we were all talking in the line and on the way to the hotels.
Not to mention the staff cost, the hotel cost and the rescheduling cost.

If airlines want to be more profitable, then they need to develop better systems for taking care of customers when things don’t go smoothly.
And then practice the systems so that everyone knows what to do and how to treat their customers.

Interestingly if you look at which airlines are profitable, they are the ones that have good systems for creating a positive customer experience.

Several people on the canceled flight with me commented that Air Canada’s unofficial motto was “We’re not happy until you’re not happy”. Not so good!

Take a look at your own business. What are common issues or mistakes? Either in your business or in your industry.

Develop a recovery plan for each issue or mistake. Take into consideration your customers experience of the mistake. What are their concerns?

Of course you want to minimize that mistakes happen – but the reality is that even with great systems, training and care, mistakes still happen in every business.

Another way to look at it is when a mistake happens, that is your opportunity to turn a customer into a raving fan.

An interesting statistic is that most raving fans of a business are raving fans not because everything has gone perfectly, but instead something went wrong and how the team handled what went wrong had the customer feel so taken care of, they became raving fans.

The focus of your business needs to be on relationships, not transactions. It costs a lot to attract a new customer, think through their experience of doing business with your company so they become a life-long customer.

 

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