After a week long family trip to Park City, Utah, my family and I returned to the Salt Lake City airport, eager to get back home for the holidays. (There were four of us, seven bags, and a connecting flight through Denver, to be exact). Sure enough, our flight was delayed. Not to worry, though - it was only delayed forty-five minutes and, with a two-hour layover in Denver, we'd be OK. And then the announcements started. Every once in awhile an announcement would let us know the flight was going to be a little later than expected. In the end, we took off almost ninety minutes late. That's pretty normal.
Except that it wasn't.
For a change, the gate agents told the truth. Instead of keeping us in the dark like most airlines, the women at the counter gave us frequent updates about what was happening. For a change, the gate agents were empathetic, understanding, and helpful. They made announcements specific to those people with connecting flights and explained what the options were. They calculated the revised layover times, and showed passengers how far their next departure gate was from our Denver arrival gate. For a change, they put four people at the gate to answer our questions, rather than leaving the counter empty. I was pretty impressed with what I was witnessing.
And then things got really interesting.
The gate agents proactively began making announcements with timesaving ideas. First, they made it known that we had five passengers destined for New York that would have the tightest connection. They asked that when we land, all passengers remain seated until these five passengers got off. It's not the first time I've heard of that concept, but is the first time I've seen it happen prior to boarding the flight.
Then, the gate agents asked for anyone willing to gate-check bags to come forward and turn them in right away (this was 30 minutes before our plane had even arrived in Salt Lake City). The agents explained that anyone willing to do this would still get their bags on the jet bridge when we landed, but this process would speed up boarding by approximately ten minutes because less people would be trying to jam their carry-ons into the overhead bins. People lined up with pleasure.
When we boarded the plane, the flight attendants greeted us with smiles and expedited the takeoff by helping with bags and seat assignments. We were in the air before we knew it. The pilot came on and apologized for the delay with a compassionate tone and delivered a little something unexpected. "Because of the inconvenience, folks," he said, "we're going to go ahead and allow everyone to enjoy all twenty-four channels of DIRECTV with our compliments." This might not seem like a big deal, but to the 150 passengers onboard it was pure gold.
Just before our initial descent, a flight attendant made an announcement reinforcing the earlier request to let the New York-bound passengers off the plane first. She even had those five passengers raise their hands and asked the rest of us to look around and find the five - so that we knew to let them pass. Guess what? The folks headed to New York made their flight.
So did we.
Let's review what just happened here and make it repeatable for your company. In other words, when things don't go as planned (maybe you don't fly airplanes for a living, but I'll bet you've had to tell your customers about a late delivery at some point), here's what to do:
1. Be pleasant. You're already delivering bad news; there is no need to deliver it with a bad attitude. In fact, being friendly will go a long way to earning the understanding of your inconvenienced customers.
2. Be empathetic. If you don't care about your customer, they're certainly not going to care about your explanations (er, excuses). Put yourself in their shoes - imagine that what's happening to your customer is actually happening to you. Once you know how your customer feels you'll be better prepared to help them. Which leads me to my next point...
3. Be helpful. Your customer needs your help. Your customer is depending on your help. Your customer wants your help. So...help them! Even a little bit. Your mission is to help them the best (and the most) that you can.
4. Be solution-oriented. Nobody wants to hear what you can't do. Nobody wants to hear that "there's nothing anyone can do." There's always something. Always. So focus on what can be done and deliver that right away.
5. Be consistent. Be sure that everyone on your team knows what's happening and how you're solving the problem. Your customer will automatically feel better if the entire company is on the same page. Just think of my story above...the gate agents, the flight attendants, the pilots were ALL focused on making things right.
6. Be thankful. Thank your customers. Thank them for their understanding. Thank them for their cooperation. Thank them for their business. Thank them for trusting you. Thank them. Thank them. Thank them. Oh, but don't just say it. Do it. Show them that you're thankful by serving them well and by doing your best. Go above and beyond to make them feel your gratitude.
7. Be better next time. There are two ways to be better - either by preventing the problem from happening in the future, or by being better prepared to react and respond to the problem in the future. I suggest you work on both strategies.
That's a lot to learn on a layover, no? Put this one down in the history books, folks. An airline gave great service. They just might be on to something here!
Just in case you're wondering what airline I flew - it was Frontier Airlines. And the crew working the flight both on the ground and in the air were top notch. If you're planning a trip, give Frontier a try. I hope your experience is just as remarkable as mine.