It's almost never a good thing if you have to call an airline. It's not that airlines are necessarily any worse at customer service than other types of companies, it's that if you're calling an airline it's probably because something went wrong.
For example, Monday morning, I had to call Delta Air Lines. My flight had been delayed, and then -- just as I arrived at the airport -- it was canceled. Not only that, I had been automatically rebooked on a flight the following day, which wasn't going to work. I called to find out whether there were other options available that would still get me where I needed to be.
Unfortunately, this has become a much more common occurrence. As someone who flies regularly, I've been calling Delta Air Lines a lot lately. That's obviously not good, but it's also not surprising considering the number of delays and cancelations this year.
Over the past few months, however, I've noticed that every person I speak to from Delta says the same nine words: "Thank you for being the best part of Delta." I really can't imagine they're just talking to me, which got me thinking.
The first time I experienced it was actually in a text message. (Did you know you can send messages to Delta using iMessage or Android Messages?) The representative ended the conversation with that phrase and I almost didn't even catch it. It just seemed like a throwaway phrase at first.
Then, I heard it again, this time on a phone call. I've probably heard it a dozen times now -- which tells you what my air travel has been like lately. After the first few times, I started to think about it, and it's actually kind of brilliant. It's obviously a thing Delta is training people to say, and it's a great example of how to talk to your customers -- especially when something goes wrong.
Look, it goes without saying that most people just want to have their problem solved as quickly as possible. The less time they have to spend talking to someone on the phone fixing whatever went wrong, the better -- even if the person is saying nice things.
The thing is, running an airline involves a lot of moving parts. Sometimes things go wrong. When that happens, there is only so much a person on the phone can do to make things right. If a flight is canceled, for example, there are only so many seats on so many planes, and once they are full, there's very little that someone who answers a phone can do to change the laws of physics.
That means some customers are going to be inconvenienced. What matters then is how the airline handles the experience. What you say -- and how you say it -- is often just as important as what you're able to do. Even if you can't change the law of physics and put two people in the same seat, you can manage the chaos.
It goes without saying, then, that the people who answer the phones have a pretty important role to play in the overall customer experience. They can salvage a poor experience, or turn it into a nightmare.
That's what I think is so smart about Delta's response. The way you talk to your customers matters. That's always true, but never more than when things go wrong. Part of the reason this is so brilliant is simple -- it reminds your customer service team that the person they are talking to is, well, a person. They're not a passenger, or a reservation, or a call in a queue. They're a person was expecting a great travel experience that somehow went bad.
The good news is, you can turn a customer experience around even when you can't "fix" their problem. You can treat people with respect and make them feel valued, even if you can't work magic and get them on an otherwise full flight or find their luggage.
That doesn't mean you don't have to make things right -- if you sell someone a ticket from point A to B, at some point you need to get them there. If you lose their luggage, you need to find it or make them whole. If you delay their flight a few hours, you might want to break open the snacks.
But you might be surprised how much of "making things right" starts with making customers feel valued. Those nine words are a good place to start.