High Priority!

Being Something Special to Your Customers

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  April 30, 2012

This article originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

You never get a second chance to make a first impression – so the saying goes.

All the social media monitoring and response isn’t going to make up for negative impressions and low C-SAT. Monitoring will let you know it’s out there, and will allow you the opportunity to make amends, but it doesn’t change what has happened, especially when customers have had a less-than-satisfactory encounter. That’s why it is paramount for customer service staff to be at their best from the moment an interaction is transferred to them. 

The problem is that those live interactions might not actually be the first customer service impressions between your organization and your customer. In fact, your agent may already be behind the proverbial eight ball at first contact.

Let’s go back for a moment to grade school math and those wonderful word problems.

If a plane is scheduled to depart San Francisco at 11 p.m. heading to New York, it takes 6.5 hours for that plane to get from New York to San Francisco, and you check in at 9 a.m. in San Francisco, should American Airlines be telling its customers their flight is leaving on time when it hasn’t yet left New York?

That was my experience recently. I had checked in in New York that morning – since I was traveling round trip on the same day, I wasn’t given an option and was automatically checked in for both flights. When I arrived at the airport in San Francisco, I had just received e-mail confirmation that my seat upgrade had been granted and signage indicated an on-time departure. Evidently, it wasn’t necessary to let me know that my flight had been cancelled.

I’ll give credit where it’s due – both the call center agent and the ticketing agent at the airport were as helpful and compassionate as they could be. Unfortunately, there was nothing they could do. However, had I been appropriately notified of the cancellation, there were several alternatives that would have gotten me back to the East Coast in a similar timeframe.

Now, regardless of what they were able to accomplish, my frustration level was sky-high as I dialed the first digit. 

The agent is instantly placed in a no-win situation, since there is no way to avoid inconvenience at this point. In this age of social media proliferation, there’s a reasonable chance the unhappy customer has already tweeted and Facebooked about the situation multiple times. And it’s a safe bet this isn’t an isolated case and there are many others in similar situations – the airline can only hope none of them has the time and talent to put together a United Breaks Guitars-style video that goes viral.

With all the talk about social media and the tools and strategies being developed around it to help businesses succeed, what is often overlooked is the best social media strategy is to avoid negative social conversation by doing things right the first time.

Perhaps the reason this particular example is so frustrating is the technology and user data was all available to the airline to have made the situation as comfortable as possible. In this case, all it would’ve taken is automation combined with some common sense. As ironic as it seems, with all the focus on human sentiment being expressed in the social channel, is it possible the human element is what failed here?

Why has nobody at American Airlines figured out that this is need-to-know information? Why not use the technology already available to ensure customer satisfaction, at the very least, doesn’t erode? With the unified communications capabilities that can be integrated into other existing infrastructure to communicate critical information quickly and effectively.

Why do businesses feel it necessary to engage customers and technology reactively? Yes, social media is out there and growing, and tools are being developed and enhanced to monitor these networks and engage customers via them. And it’s true that many social threads are based on positive experiences. The end game, though, is to create the maximum number of positive experiences while reducing the negative. The easiest way to achieve that is to not give customers a reason to become dissatisfied. Don’t give them a reason to start using competitive providers.

It takes a combination of customer service skills, technology, and management.It seems American Airlines has the agents and technology, but it is far from something special these days when it comes to management.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi