United Airlines suffered a very public viral humiliation last week with the release of YouTube sensation United Breaks Guitars. As of this writing, more than 2.6 million people have watched the video and more than 13,000 people have left scathing comments about United’s lack of compassion and minimal care.
So, when I returned yesterday from a 3 day trip to Tulsa, OK on Continental Airlines and my suitcase (an orange Tumi bag, naturally) failed to circle the baggage carousel, I was wondering if I was about to suffer a similar customer service nightmare. Fortunately, Continental did just about everything right – with the exception of actually delivering my bag, along with me, to Cleveland.
Rule 1: Accept Responsibility
Don’t try to shift blame to another department, another city’s staff, heavy airline traffic or aberrant weather. Your client doesn’t want to hear excuses. United took their beating largely because they refused to accept responsibility for what was undeniably their staff’s fault.
Continental’s baggage claim rep, unlike United’s, was cordial and professional, acknowledged the airline’s error, immediately discovered where my bag was (Houston) and expressed concern whether there was anything in the bag that I needed that night. She then adhered to Rule #2, looked me in the eye and I listened to her…<p>
Rule 2: Apologize
I’m constantly amazed how few businesses actually apologize for their errors. Dry cleaners, waiters, mechanics, cable installers. No matter who you are, if you or your company screw up, the first words out of your mouth should be “I’m sorry.” Even if it’s not your fault. Even if it may be partially or largely your customer’s fault. Your apology isn’t an admission of guilt, it’s simply an acknowledgement that you have sympathy for the customer having to deal with their situation.<p>
At 11 at night, after traveling for 7 hours, I was tired and annoyed, and Ms. Robinson’s sincere apology and concern salved my irritation. She knew my bag’s sleepover in Houston wasn’t her fault, and I knew it wasn’t her fault, but by apologizing for the company, she shifted the focus from the mistake to…<p>
Rule 3: Explain How You Will Correct The Mistake
Everyone screws up sometime. We understand. What’s crucial is how will you correct your error? What’s your plan? How will you resolve the problem without introducing more inconvenience or disruption in your customer’s life?<p>
After accepting responsibility and apologizing for Continental’s mishandling of my bag, Ms. Robinson told me exactly how they were going to resolve my problem: my bag was going to be flown up in the morning and they would deliver it to any address I specified. Then she provided me with all the contacts and phone numbers of anyone I might need to talk with the next day and I left the terminal hoping that they would actually…<p>
Rule 4: Correct the Mistake
Promising to correct the mistake is an important step, but actually taking the promised action is essential. So, when I received a call from the third-party service that dropped my bag off on my front porch I knew that I wouldn’t be writing a viral song about Continental’s baggage handling miscues.
What more could I expect? They screwed up. They admitted it, apologized, promised to fix the problem quickly, and did what they promised. No hard feelings, Continental. Now, can you send Ms. Robinson over to United to show them how it’s done?