If You Make a Rule for the Customer, You Better Be Willing to Follow It Yourself


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Rules for CustomersBrand Promise

This will seem like a rant… because it is. I don’t like complaining about specific companies, so I’ll keep that private. What I do like, however, is sharing the lessons we can learn from their mistakes and sometimes customer-abusive decisions.

It’s customary for the airlines to expect their customers, also known as their passengers, to be at the gate, ready to board on time. Some airlines even ask you to be on board ten minutes before departure time as they want to close their doors to ensure an on-time takeoff. So far, I’m totally cool with this request.

Until they don’t practice what they preach!

I understand a mechanical delay. I would much rather the airlines figure out there is something wrong with their plane while it’s on the ground instead of in the air. While I’m never happy when there is a delay, that’s a good reason and I’ll accept it. I also understand weather delays. If it’s not safe to fly, I don’t want to fly. It’s that easy.

However, what I don’t agree with is that passengers are forced to wait if the airline personnel are late. When the roles are reversed and a passenger is late, the airlines shut the door and turn them away.

Now, I recognize that we can’t change this. It’s just the way it is. And, I get it. The airlines can’t hold a flight because one passenger is late, thereby taking a delayed departure and making the rest of the passengers late. But barring the obvious, if the flight is delayed because of a late crew or any other reason where the airline has some control, the passengers should be compensated.

So, what kind of compensation is fair? Maybe compensation is the wrong word. What friendly gesture can the airlines do to make amends for the mistakes over which they have control? It doesn’t have to be much. Here’s a great example.

One day, I was waiting for my weather-delayed flight and noticed that another airline was experiencing similar delays. Since this is a positive example, I’ll share that it was Delta Airlines. Now get this. Even though it was delayed due to weather, an airline employee pushed a cart full of sandwiches, candy bars and soft drinks into the gate area and offered a snack to all of those waiting. I had to go over and congratulate them for empathizing with the passengers for their situation. And remember, it was weather related. Not even their fault. And by the way, they also do this when it is their fault.

Enough of my airlines rant. Imagine you have a reservation at a restaurant and show up 30 minutes late. Do you really expect them to hold the table? They might if you call ahead, but if you just show up late, eventually they will probably give it to the next customer. Sure, when you finally do show up they may accommodate you by finding a table for you fairly soon. But you can’t expect them to hold the reservation. So what happens when you are on time for your reservation and the restaurant doesn’t have a table for you? What then?

I’ve experienced the manager apologizing, buying a round of drinks or offering an appetizer. While not that big of a deal, it is a very nice gesture. They are proving that they are aware of the situation, working to resolve it and making amends of sorts by giving a little something for your inconvenience.

I like it when people honor their customer commitments. And when they don’t, they step up and do the right thing. When I pay FedEx to ship a package using their two-day program, and they fail to get it there in two days, which, by the way, seldom happens, they quickly refund the charges. Can you imagine an airline refunding the price of a ticket if they get you there later than scheduled? (That’s a rhetorical question!)

So, here is the point. I am disappointed when a company doesn’t practice what they preach, fails to live up to their brand promise or seems to have a double standard that implies they don’t follow their own rules.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shep Hyken
Shep Hyken, CSP, CPAE is the Chief Amazement Officer of Shepard Presentations. As a customer service speaker and expert, Shep works with companies who want to build loyal relationships with their customers and employees. He is a hall of fame speaker (National Speakers Association) and a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author.


  1. So, i understand most of the rant here. However, have you considered that 90% or more of the time the reason why your flight crew is delayed is either because 1) Delays the previous day ate into their mandatory down time which is required by The FAA or 2) that their previous flight they were on was delayed.

    However, I believe they should give out some goodies if the plane is significantly delayed on the last two occurrences I’ve been delayed with United, the first time they gave my 7,500 mileage plus points and the second they gave all of economy free drinks and food (we had a continental crew, which imho are much more friendly) and gave a 50% refund to those in economy plus for their seat “upgrade”.

    Here is the counter I’m sure they will come back with “well if we did that to anyone who delayed we would have to raise ticket prices.” Gone are the days they they truly want your business by any means and here they are now profitable and they want to remain that way.

    If only someone who could balance the two forces could come in and change the industry.

  2. I’ll give the airlines a pass for bad weather and even a mechanical. But when I hear the flight attendant was caught in a traffic jam on the way to the airport, well that is another issue. Just the other day the flight attendant wouldn’t let me bring my carry-on baggage on the plane, claiming it wouldn’t fit in the overhead (small plane). I knew it would as I’ve been flying on these planes longer than she has. I wanted to prove it to her, but instead complied and left it outside the plane for a gate check. Then another flight attendant came on with bigger carry-on luggage and put it right in the overhead. I admittedly have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the airlines. They usually get it right, but when they don’t… Thanks for stopping by with your comment.


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