Communication is key

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One of my Five Principles of Good CX is Communication.  You can screw a lot of things up with your Customers and they’ll still forgive you, but if you’re keeping information from them or leaving them in the dark, there’s really little excuse.  Sometimes you don’t know things, but letting them know you don’t know is at least better than leaving them to wonder if you’re even paying attention.

With all the disruption of travel this spring, I’m not alone in having had to cancel flights.  Of course, the airlines came through with more-generous-than-usual policies when it came to refunds and credits (the latter of which they’d prefer to issue for cashflow purposes).  Between that generosity and what inevitably would have been a large number of cancellations anyway, naturally they received a lot of backlog in their refund process at that stage of the game.

My initial call to cancel was incredibly easy and efficient.  It may have been due to my frequent flier status, but the whole interaction was very straight-forward with little effort required on my part (apart, that is, from their maddeningly ineffective voice-recognition IVR, but that’s either story for an entirely different post, or such an enduring and universal failure within CX that it needn’t warrant its own article).  Now, I’d been canceling lots of reservations, not just airlines but also rental cars and accommodations, during this time.  And given the state of the world then, I was trying as best I could to keep up with all of them and make sure nothing fell between the cracks (refunds, credits, etc.).  Usually, when I’d ever canceled in the past, within the next couple minutes I’d receive an email confirmation as well as codes and instructions on how to use the credit at a later date for another flight.

When I didn’t receive any notification in what I thought was a reasonable amount of time (a week or so) I called back.  This second agent was similarly pleasant and efficient, which is great.  She informed me that the process was so backlogged that I shouldn’t expect to receive any sort of notification for three weeks.  Now, surely that says something about the inefficiency and lack of scalability of their refund/credit process, but as I’d mentioned, I totally understand that it’d likely take longer, so there are no hard feelings that way.  Plus, I was glad to now have that information, and I put a pin in that refund and determined simply to check back on it in a couple weeks if I didn’t hear anything from them.  (By the way, this fall I also had to cancel another flight and the credit went right through nearly instantly while I was still on the phone, so the backlog seems to have been resolved.)

I was very grateful to the second agent with whom I spoke for explaining the hold up, and while of course I’d have preferred to have had the whole thing buttoned up much sooner, I understood that we were in non-ordinary times.  Now, while I hadn’t lost any sleep wondering why I hadn’t heard, it was a show of good CX for the second agent to explain to me where things were (which, in reality, included at least an acknowledgment of her not really knowing exactly herself, which was also fine).  But given the delay was so long compared to usual, I do wonder why the first agent didn’t mention anything to me about what I should expect when I got the ball rolling with my first call.  It may have been a long day for him and surely they were all pretty overwhelmed with cancellations at the time, so perhaps he just missed that detail.  And of course, it wasn’t the end of the world, but I wonder if setting expectations was part of his original script that he missed on my call, or if the airline really considered it a priority to make it known in the first place.

The point being, it’s a relatively small thing, but had expectations been set from the start, I’d not have spent any time or effort at all wondering, and instead would have set myself a reminder for whatever time in the future I should have expected resolution to check in (by which time it was solved after all).    Again, I didn’t lose any flesh, but the airline did miss an opportunity to make the experience just that much better and stand out in a challenging time.

In the end, the second-best place you can put your Customers (second to making them whole in the first place) is in-the-know.  They’re much more likely to forgive even things that you really should have taken care of if you’re at least honest with them and keep them informed.  So don’t be afraid to share bad news (or even an imperfect version of your best guess)…it’ll show that you’re at least taking into account the questions your Customers have, and thereby emphasize your interest in what’s important to them.

(Originally Published 20201207)

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