Customer Service in the Airline Industry

The airlines have not been getting kudos lately as far as their customer service towards passengers goes. For a while, it has been one thing after another.

I have been traveling quite a bit and been spending a fair amount of time in airports and on planes. In November, I was scheduled to fly from Spokane to Seattle and then home to Sonoma County, after being away for two weeks. On day one, the flight to Seattle was late due to a mechanical problem, so late that there was no chance that I would make my connection. So the airline booked me on a flight for the next day. The bag I had checked was retrieved from the airline and, after five hours in the airport, I headed for the hotel.

The next morning, I was up at 6 a.m. to catch the 7 a.m. shuttle from the hotel back to the airport for a 9 a.m. flight. Unfortunately, the flight was coming from Seattle, which was in the midst of a winter storm and low visibility. This was causing delays in planes being able to take off (337 planes delayed and 41 canceled) so, again, everything was late. This put me back in the queue, with a long line of other disgruntled travelers. To add to the travails, it was also Friday, which meant that the airport was very busy with people heading home, and heading out for the weekend or longer.

So what does this have to do with my blog? The answer is customer service. The airline representatives for Alaska Airlines that I spoke to were absolutely terrific. They had long lines of frustrated customers, who were handled with patience and courtesy. Never once did the young woman I dealt with ever respond to the frustration of customers (including me). She got on her computer and moved travelers to other flights, and other airlines, bumping people up to better seats and generally doing everything she could to make it work. After retrieving my bags once more from Alaska (the check-in people knew me by name by that time) I was assigned to United Airlines (first class, woohoo!) coming to San Francisco rather than Sonoma County, but at least I was close to home. I also got a credit from the airline to use on my next flight.

I have to congratulate the airport personnel at Alaska Airlines in Spokane, who did a great job in sorting out hundreds of travelers in difficult circumstances.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Reviewing Your Customer Service

The beginning of the year is a good time to review your customer service and your customer retention. How did you do at holding on to customers in the past year? Who has dropped off the radar and why? Most managers know how many customers they gained over the past year, though less of them know how many customers they lost or why they lost these customers.

If your business has a slow time, those involved in customer service can spend this slower season going through customer records, finding out who has gone AWOL and picking up the phone to find out why. There are lots of reasons for customers to stop buying and not all of them have anything to do with your business or products. If customers have dropped away for personal reasons (illness, a lost job or a move for example) a phone call to tell them that you haven’t seen them for a while and hope everything is okay will make them feel appreciated and missed. That way, when their lives are back to normal, they will be back.

If the reason they have left you is because of a bad experience, the sooner you find out about it the better. Especially as 95% of consumers talk about poor customer service experiences with other people, though they probably won’t tell you.

The winter is also a good time to make changes that might be necessary or improve the experience you provide to guests and customers. Get together with key staff and define the ideal experience that you would like to deliver to your customers and guests. Give your employees the opportunity to present their ideas of how things can be improved. When employees have a hand in shaping the experience they are much more likely to follow the template that is created for the experience.

Once you have a new template for the customer experience, put in place processes that will promote the change. Train some of your employees to be mentors so that when you hire new staff in the spring, there is someone they can turn to for help and guidance if you are not available.

This work during the winter will pay off in increased sales and greater customer satisfaction come the busy season.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Engaging Customers

I have been doing research lately on how to genuinely charm and engage customers. For those of us who serve the public, being charming to our customers should be at the top of the list. Shown below are some of the ideas.

Interest in People:  During the time the customer is with you put them in the spotlight by showing an interest in what they are saying, why they came into your business, and what you can do to help them.

The first thing when dealing with a customer is to introduce yourself and ask for their names. By giving someone your name, you have shown a willingness to have a more personal relationship with these customers, even if it is only for twenty minutes. When people give you information, follow up with an open-ended question to find out more.

Authenticity:  It’s usually easy to tell when someone is not being authentic. If you have no interest in your customers they will recognize it on some level. Even if you are pretending that you do. If you love what you do it will come through to the customers. If you don’t love what you do, it may be a good idea to find something that you enjoy more.

Individual Experiences: Vary your interaction with each customer and focus on things that are most important to them. To achieve that, it’s vital that you start the engagement by finding out his/her wants and needs. You should be looking not only to make a customer but also to make a friend.

Body Language: Your body language is just as important as the words you speak. A smile makes a difference, especially if you smile at a customer s/he will usually smile back at you. That makes them feel good and should make you feel good too. Be open in your body language, arms should not be crossed and your hands should be open. Make eye contact with the person to whom you are speaking.

Belief in the Product: If you can speak with and exude confidence about the products or services that you sell, you are much more likely to make the sale. This does not necessarily mean overwhelming people with facts, but letting customers know the things that are most likely to interest and influence them.

All these things will lead to a better experience for your customers and a better experience for you.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Keep Customers Coming Back

Yesterday, I gave a talk at the Wine Tourism Conference taking place in Sonoma County.

The subject of the talk was Keep Customers Coming Back, which should be the goal of most businesses. However, I have noticed that many businesses do not have the processes or procedures in place to ensure that when someone visits they have a desire to return.

Research shows that keeping customers coming back is important:

  • A 5% increase in customer retention can improve company profitability by 7.5%
  • Engaged customers buy more frequently and spend more per transaction
  • Your business benefits from more word-of-mouth promotion
  • Regular customers bring their friends to meet you
  • A loyal customer is less likely to be lured away to other companies by discounts
  • It gives you an edge over competitors.

How do you keep customers coming back?

By providing an individual experience for each person who visits. For that, you need to create a plan, which will be your blueprint to design, deliver, manage and measure the results.  To make your plan successful:

  • Understand that your customers need to be more than satisfied
  • Put processes in place
  • Hire people who value customer service (remember that they are your ambassadors on and off the job)
  • Create an employee handbook with an in-depth section on customer service standards and guidelines
  • Implement customer interactions that will meet and exceed expectations
  • Review the people, products, services interface and interactions with customers.

Create the kind of atmosphere that results in individual experiences for all your guests. This means that procedures need to be customer-centric:

  • Processes around sales and returns need to be set up to focus on the needs of the customer
  • Conduct regular and interactive customer service training sessions with staff
  • All employees should be genuinely interested in customers as individuals
  • Create memories for customers.

Finally, I am going to say something that you have heard many times, though I think it is worth saying again: Attracting new customers cost more than retaining the customers you have.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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What Makes Customers Happy?

There was an interesting article in a Marketing Profs email a month or so ago about customer service and what customer service issues annoy customers the most. I am sure that most of us can guess what they are because they are the same ones that annoy us when we were on the customer side of the equation.

The article by Ayaz Nanji talked about the customer service issues most likely to make people stop doing business with a company. The two that customers found most frustrating were talking to company employees who were uninformed, and if they had to wait a long time to talk to someone.

I know, myself, that dealing with recorded messages that ask me to press this and press that and go on for minutes before I can get to an actual human being tends to put me in a bad mood before I even speak to the customer service person, who may well be doing his/her best to help me. When you have a simple question a recorded message can be quite helpful in getting you the information you need.

However, it is the uninformed employees that are most likely to result in the customer abandoning the company or product for another. It’s important that everyone knows that if they don’t know the answer to a question a customer is asking or they cannot solve the problem a customer has, then as quickly as possible get the customer to someone who can answer the question or solve the problem. If that is not an option, take the information about the problem and tell them you will get back to them.

Customers want issues they have to be resolved quickly. It is the most important thing about good customer service. So, whether it is in person, on the phone, through email or online chat, do everything you can to solve the customer’s problem quickly and efficiently, it will pay dividends in the short and long term.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Easy Ways to Increase Sales

If you want to increase your sales quickly and simply, good customer service is your biggest asset. It will increase customer good will, willingness to buy, and return visits. We talk a lot about sales skills, but if customer service is not the major part of sales, the sales skills are not going to help much.

I have been into many businesses where sales people try to push me, bully me and sometimes even shame me into buying. I don’t buy. If you provide me with good customer service, show you are interested in me and engage me, I will willingly and happily buy from you and come back to buy more.

Customer service is a compilation of different skills that help you, the sales person, focus on the customer, find out what s/he wants, and meet their expectations with not only your service but your products.

  1. Introductions: Welcome your customers to your business and immediately introduce yourself. Usually, if you introduce yourself the customer will introduce him/herself. If you don’t have a good memory, silently repeat the customers’ names three times and say to them: “John/Julie it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
  2. Ask A Question: Any number of questions can be asked:
  • Are you enjoying the lovely weather?
  • Is this your first visit?
  • Did you have anything special in mind today?
  • Are you visiting the area (if you are in a tourist area.)
  • You look familiar (if you think they may have been in before.

3. Listen to the Answers: It may be information you can refer back to that will help close a sale. People respond to people who pay attention, it makes them feel important. Don’t present a new query until your customers have finished answering the one before.

4. Be Patient: We all work at different speeds. Allow the customer the time to formulate an answer to your question or to make a decision. Count slowly and silently to five.  Use the same 5-second rule when you ask customers if they have any questions. A lot goes through people’s heads before they ask a question. They may have trouble formulating the question or don’t want to ask a silly question or appear ignorant in front of others.

5. Relax when you are around customers. You know that you have fifty things you need to get done by the end of the day, but your customers don’t. It’s not appropriate to make customers uncomfortable because they are taking up your time.

6. Don’t Assume: You don’t know whether a stranger who walks into your business is going to buy or not. You might think you do, but truly you don’t. It is very human to judge people, we do it all the time. So, if you find that you are judging, tell yourself that you may not be right. Then go about helping them to the buying decision.

Look for more customer service ideas next week.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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Stop Before You Start

Julie Pedroncelli St. John from Pedroncelli Winery sent me a great article by Barry Stuckey who has spent much of his career in Hospitality. The article was about a waitress he encountered in an eatery at Heathrow Airport. I have pulled out some of the key points, as the article was too long for this blog. The article really encapsulated a lot of the finer point of excellent service, whether you work in a retail business or are selling B2B.

The first point, which to me is the most important, is to be conscious of what you are doing before you begin speaking to a customer. Before you approach the customer or pick up the phone to call them, STOP… Clear your mind of what you have been working on or thinking about and focus your attention on the person to whom you are speaking. As you are approaching the customer or waiting for them to answer the phone, put yourself into listening mode (you are probably already in talking mode). Once you have approached the customer smile, and tell them your name. You should also be smiling if you are on the phone, people can tell.

This small act of separation from what you were doing, or from the last customer allows you to move on to a new customer. Your focus on them will transmit itself to the customer. You will appear engaged and ready to help them. The customer will also become engaged as they realize that your attention is directed to them. Because you are more engaged you will be more apt to listen and really hear what your customer is saying. You will also be more likely to pick up non-verbal signals such as their tone of voice or the fact that their stance shows you they are or are not interested.

When a customer asks you a question, smile in response and, before you speak, lean in just slightly. This creates an impression that you care what your customer is saying.

These are small things that will make big differences to the comfort of your customers and to their connection with you, the business and the products.

A tip of the glass from me to you!

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