Unhappy Customers

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The Inconvenient Truth About Following Procedures – She called me “Madam”

Processes and procedures are essential for accomplishing goals efficiently and effectively, but is your organization implementing them in a way that erodes customer relationships? Case in point: a recent experience I had with an airline that shall remain un-named.

Procedures Over Customer Relationships

The flight from Charlotte, NC to Washington, DC should take around 90 minutes. I expected to be home well before bed time. Instead my trip took 22 hours and an unexpected overnight stay at an airport hotel.

It began with bad weather in Charlotte. Fair enough. No one can control Mother Nature (See below.) And the pilot was somewhat communicative – after the initial delay – “weather in D.C.” We were periodically told “another 20 minutes…another 30 minutes.… etc.” Federal law requires airlines to allow passengers to deplane from domestic flights if they are going to be delayed over three hours. So, after the first two hours when the pilot announced that it would be another 40 minutes before we would be able to take off, he added that we could leave the plane if we wished.

Given that there was neither food nor water on the plane, my colleague and I decided to take the opportunity to get some supplies. When we got to the door, the flight attendant officiously informed us that we would have to remove our baggage and that we would be leaving at our own risk. After hearing “you will be leaving at your own risk” repeated several times rather antipathetically, I began to have some concern.

“It’s going to take another 40 minutes before we leave, right?” I asked.

“Madam, I cannot control Mother Nature,” she said.

I asked again, “I know that. But didn’t the pilot say it would be another 40 minutes before we take off?”

Frowning and with a stern voice, she repeated, “Madam, we cannot control Mother Nature. You leave at your own risk.” I got the message. We waited on the plane. After 4 ½ hours, the flight was cancelled.

Condescension. Robotic responses. Not listening. Not answering the question presented. Lack of empathy. We could have had a conversation. She could have given me time window for returning to the plane, let me know if there would be an announcement to re-board, or expressed some understanding about the difficult conditions. Instead, she showed no interest in trying to understand my question, present options or facilitate my request.

How are you treating your customers?

As you evaluate your own organization, what is the likelihood that similar interactions are taking place between your customer-facing employees and your customers or clients? Do your representatives have the emotional intelligence necessary to apply your procedures in ways that adapt to changing conditions and engender customer loyalty? Are your processes designed to be responsive to your customers or for the convenience of your company? Are you managing your company’s relationship with your employees so they are motivated not only to follow the “letter” of your rules, but the “spirit” of a company that cares about its customers and realizes that they have options in the marketplace?

Whatever your business, ensuring appropriate, human interactions between your employees and your customers is strategic for your brand. As the inflight announcements often remind us, we have a choice of airlines. Your customers have a choice from among your competitors as well.


Feel free to share this article with other business leaders and associates by clicking one of the links below. To improve your organization’s outcomes contact me, joanne.irving@i2aa.com or  301-943-3074.

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