Over the weekend, political commentator Ann Coulter flew on a Delta Airlines flight. Prior to flying, she selected the seat she wanted and paid the additional $30 for it. For some reason, before takeoff, she was asked to move to a different seat in the same row. To say she was not happy about this is an understatement.
For the next 24 hours, she went on a Twitter tirade detailing her version of the events, posting photos of the flight attendant who asked her to move, and even the passenger who received the seat she had previously claimed.
This issue here isn't whether Delta Airlines crew should or shouldn't have moved Ann Coulter from a seat she selected and pre-paid for.
The issue is how to respond when a legitimate customer complaint escalates into something many people have zero tolerance for: bullying.
How Delta Airlines handled a complaint that got ugly
We've all been there. A company has done something we don't like. We feel like we've been wronged. And with social media, it is easier than ever these days to let the company and everyone in our online circle know exactly how we feel about the situation.
Plenty of bad behavior by companies has been brought to light as a result of a customer complaint on social media, or even posting video evidence of less than fortunate events.
But a customer's right to complain does not make it OK to insult.
In the case of Ann Coulter versus Delta, in the midst of expressing her discontent with how she was treated on the flight, the commentator hurled insults at the Delta employees and even the passenger who received her seat.
Hey @Delta, if it was so important for the dachshund-legged woman to take my seat, she should have BOOKED THE SEAT IN ADVANCE. Like I did.-- Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) July 16, 2017
Eventually, Delta Airlines decided they'd had enough of the tirade and put their foot down. They issued their response to Coulter in two tweets. The first:
@AnnCoulter We're sorry you did not receive the preferred seat you paid for and will refund your $30. (cont.)-- Delta (@Delta) July 16, 2017
And the second:
@AnnCoulter Additionally, your insults about our other customers and employees are unacceptable and unnecessary.-- Delta (@Delta) July 16, 2017
A Delta Airlines spokesperson said that they responded publicly to Ann Coulter only after reaching out to her privately through a Twitter direct message, and by calling her.
What to do when a customer complaint gets out of hand
Business is about belonging. Your customers need to feel like you get them, and that the experience you provide for them is one that makes them feel cared for. This won't happen consistently if your employees don't feel the same way.
The people on your team need to know that you have their back, both publicly and privately.
Delta demonstrated their commitment to supporting this type of environment in the statement they issued on the incident soon after responding to Ann Coulter on Twitter.
We are sorry that the customer did not receive the seat she reserved and paid for. More importantly, we are disappointed that the customer has chosen to publicly attack our employees and other customers by posting derogatory and slanderous comments and photos in social media. Her actions are unnecessary and unacceptable.
Each of our employees is charged with treating each other as well as our customers with dignity and respect. And we hold each other accountable when that does not happen.
Delta expects mutual civility throughout the entire travel experience.
No business is perfect. Mistakes will be made and customers will be upset. But that is when the opportunity comes.
When a customer complains, you have an extraordinary opportunity to rectify the issue in a way that makes the customer have more admiration for you and the way you operate.
But if that isn't possible, make sure you don't let that customer's discontent unravel the relationship you have with your other customers and your team.