What NOT To Do When Faced With A Customer Service Issue


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Don’t Throw Customer Service Out the Window at 30,000 Feet!

I was making my way back to Toronto from Southern Africa last week after a short, but unbelievably successful business trip. The journey being a long one(12 hours), I was looking forward to the comfort of Business Class on the Air France flight. A long flight is also a good time for us business people to catch up on the movie scene, so I was definitely very disappointed by what happened next. Upon boarding, we were informed that there was an issue with the in-flight entertainment system but they were confident it would be fixed. Soon after we took off, it became apparent that the system would not work at all. The Chief Flight Purser made the announcement and apologized profusely, and to his credit, he did that a few times.

By the time we landed at Charles de Gaulle in Paris, I was expecting Air France to be proactive by informing us about our options since we did not get what we paid for. Instead we had one last apology over the PA just before landing. I decided to take matters into my own hands and asked one of the attendants what Air France is doing to acknowledge the issue and only then did they weakly attempt to set things right. The attendant apologized again and this time, he handed me a form to fill out. It was a compensation voucher on which he wrote “150€”. The voucher is valid for a year and I can use the compensation amount towards a travel discount on Air France, KLM or Delta Airlines.

Okay, thank you, apology accepted. What about the rest of the passengers on that flight—did they get any compensation? I can safely say that no one around me received a voucher. Not only that, the public announcement apologizing one last time also told me that Air France’s policy on that flight was to only take care of people who voiced their concerns. I could not believe that such a big international airline had failed so badly on customer service.

What the airline should have done, in my opinion, is two things:

  1. Have the senior most staff member on board proactively take care of the situation.
  2. Every passenger on the flight should have been given the compensation voucher.

Of the 20 or so passengers in Business Class, I was the only one who asked what the airline was going to do about the issue. And so I was also the only one given the voucher.

The airline should have realized that the redemption rate on such vouchers, especially if they only have a 1-year validity, is not that high. And even if many passengers do use the voucher, isn’t that an investment in keeping the business of your existing customers? It’s funny how such simple fundamentals of customer retention and customer satisfaction get thrown out the window… especially at 30,000 feet.

There’s Only One Way to Win Customers: Be Open, Be Honest, Be Humble …do the right thing and take care of them

I know this sounds like too much of a coincidence, but on my next flight, I had a similar problem. This time I was flying Air Canada from Charles de Gaulle, Paris to Toronto. The in-flight entertainment system had to be reset 4 times as some passengers’ video did not function properly. Mine was working but the reset happened sometimes right in the middle of an interesting scene! Air Canada did eventually get the system to work properly about 2 hours into the 7 hour flight. To my pleasant surprise, halfway through the flight, everyone was handed a form to fill out. An announcement was made explaining how the voucher could be redeemed via Air Canada’s website and how passengers would receive a 5% discount on their next flight. No wonder Air Canada has been voted the Best Airline in North America three years in a row; I now understand why.

Two different airlines, same problem, two completely different approaches to customer service. One tried to hide and definitely lost customer loyalty; the other was open, honest and humble and did the right thing. One failed on reputation management and customer service; the other scored big on its brand image and upped its customer loyalty several notches. No matter how you choose to say sorry, there’s no denying that being open, honest and humble will go a long way towards customer retention. Hiding or pretending a problem is too small to be given due attention by management will damage your brand and your bottom line in the long run.

It is not about the problem most of the time but how you handle a problem; do it wrong and suffer the consequences.

B2B customer serviceSome of you may have read a blog post I wrote in January this year about a not-so-great experience I had with Air Canada. I’m happy that this time around, even a negative situation was turned into a positive one with a proactive approach to customer service rather than a reactionary one like I experienced with Air France. It certainly looks like Air Canada had a set process to deal with this issue, while Air France dealt with it at the discretion of the senior staff on board. Inconsistencies in customer service will hurt you in the long run.

I found an interesting article on Inc.com with 5 really simple steps on how to say sorry. Basically, what you need to do is:

  1. Be proactive. Identify the problems in detail.
  2. Listen to the customer’s side of the story.
  3. Accept ownership of the problem and apologize.
  4. Offer options on how the problem can be resolved and let the customer choose.
  5. Follow-up in the near future to regain the customer’s confidence and reinforce the trust.

Does your B2B organization have a policy on problem resolution with customers? What are the ground rules you expect your staff to keep in mind when apologizing to customers? Is customer retention the focus of your compensation measures? Let’s talk about it on my blog. You can also email or call me, Louis Foong, at (905) 709-3827.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Louis Foong
Louis Foong is the founder and CEO of The ALEA Group Inc., one of North America's most innovative B2B demand generation specialists. With more than three decades of experience in the field, Louis is a thought leader on trends, best practices and issues concerning marketing and lead generation. Louis' astute sense of marketing and sales along with a clear vision of the evolving lead generation landscape has proved beneficial to numerous organizations, both small and large.


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