Ask any business owner what's one of the hardest things they deal with and you'll most likely hear "the customers." Providing a good product is only a small part of the process -- filling and supporting your customer's needs can take more time and effort than you may be prepared for.
One of my earliest jobs was as a flight attendant. I personally experienced that when customers complain on an aircraft, you need to take immediate action on how to correct the situation, with whatever resources you have at hand.
Once, after a mechanical issue caused an initial three-hour delay, I had a perfect storm for unhappy passengers. I made the decision to offer everyone free snacks and drinks throughout the flight, which initially helped keep everyone calm. However, once we landed at our destination, we had to wait an additional two hours for a gate -- in 95-degree heat without air conditioning, and without the ability to stand up, and before the era of smartphones.
My solution? I started a sing-a-long with the passengers. My quick thinking turned an unpleasant and potentially dangerous situation into a fun anecdote -- and resulted in a customer service victory.
Here are some tips on how you can handle potential customer service nightmares with startup resources.
1. Don't panic.
The best and most helpful advice for handling any situation I've ever received was given to me by Douglas Adams in my favorite book, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Whenever you're faced with any difficulties at all, these two words -- "Don't panic!" -- should be your starting point. The less emotional you are, the more rational you will become, and the better you'll be able to handle what comes next.
2. Evaluate the situation.
Now that you're calm, you can look around and see what the actual problem is. Mine was having 150 passengers who were in various degrees of discomfort, both emotional and physical. What's worse, after hours of drinking and eating in the terminal and on the plane, some had to use the restroom and were not allowed by FAA regulations to leave their seat.
At this phase, take in all the information. Acting rashly without a full picture can cause the situation can get worse instead of better.
3. Identify your resources.
As a separate task, you'll need to list every resource you have available, no matter whether you think it is relevant or not. You are not trying to solve your problems directly at this step -- rather, you're only determining what you have at hand.
On the plane, we had only two bags of ice and had run almost completely out of soda and water because of the free-drinks service. We also had two professional singers on board. After conferring with my crew mates, I also found that they were all willing to risk FAA fines and corporate reprimands to allow passengers to at least stand while the plane was on an active taxiway.
4. Take action.
The first thing I did was explain the situation to the passengers. While we couldn't let people stand up, we would escort those who asked to use the restroom, and likewise we would provide drinks or ice. Then, with no other entertainment system on-board, I started singing Beatles songs to lighten the mood. People joined in -- reluctantly at first. By the time we got to the gate, they were clapping and laughing and had all but forgotten the heat.
Exceptional customer service begins by taking action and solving the most pressing, immediate issue. You may not be able to provide an answer for the overall problem, but there's almost always something you can diffuse with the resources you have available to you.
By mastering these steps, you'll be the kind of company that customers come back to time and again.