Mistakes happen, but this industry is built on customer service

Don’t be like an airline

You might not think that an airline has a lot in common with a credit union. But when you think about it, people come to both airlines and CUs because they want to do something else. No one I know rides commercial airlines or takes out loans because they enjoy doing those things. Both airlines and credit unions are necessary services that enable people to get to the parts they really enjoy.

But it shouldn’t be painful to get there.

It was painful to get there

I recently took a trip to Alaska. To make a long story short, getting there and back was not an all-around pleasant experience. There were delays, scheduling mistakes, technical difficulties, and the whole thing felt overly expensive for what we were getting. I have flown quite a bit, so these inconveniences wouldn’t normally merit a response, but then something unusual happened.

Our final flight was delayed due to a seat’s broken tray table.

This was considered a safety issue since the tray table was near an emergency exit, so our liftoff was delayed. Okay, not really a big deal – but it took well over an hour to get it fixed. And, as many frequent fliers know, the air conditioning won’t be turned on until the plane is in the air, and without AC the cabin is going to get rather warm. Soon enough the plane was full of grumpy, sweaty passengers. I’m sure there was a flood of complaints that evening, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more than one person said “I’ll never fly ______ airline again!”

So as I sat in an uncomfortable chair, in unpleasant conditions, surrounded by unhappy people, I started to pick apart the series of unfortunate decisions that led to such a poor user experience.

Here’s a few things that any CU, and probably every company, should avoid doing:

Tell nobody what’s happening

In my experience, nearly every instance of poor airline customer service is accompanied by a severe lack of transparency. Nearly every complaint I’ve ever had or witnessed has included the phrase “what’s going on?” When the airline has a problem, passengers often aren’t told much, and more than half the time another passenger tells them something vague and likely inaccurate.

This is a super prevalent issue across industries, and a lesson that nearly every company seems to learn the hard way: When you don’t communicate about an issue, the rumors are going to spread. Transparency helps you control the narrative and set expectations for resolution.

Pass the buck to your employees

It wasn’t the crew’s fault that a tray table was broken, just like it wasn’t the employee at the gate’s fault that the plane was overbooked, or that there weren’t enough flight attendants. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know mistakes happen, but remember that this is happening in an industry that is (supposedly) built on customer service.

The omnipresent issue seems to be the disconnect between management’s decisions and the employee’s power to resolve the issues those decisions might cause.

Flying with most any airline is rife with these situations, where public-facing employees are covering for mistakes beyond their control. Meanwhile airlines seem to be getting more expensive with less comfort and convenience. Is it any wonder people have been traveling less?

Offer meaningless, expensive upgrades

Flying is expensive, and I’ll admit I’m guilty of trading my comfort for a lower price. However, on this recent trip, the upselling became so absurd as to be laughable. We were frequently offered minor upgrades that would cost us more than our original tickets. I’m sorry to say that we weren’t interested in spending twice as much money for two more inches of foot space and a different color headrest. In all honesty, I’d be rather peeved if I’d paid for it ahead of time.

I’m honestly not sure how those prices made it to the public. It’s hard for me to believe that enough people pay for them to be worth the effort and the criticism. It’s as if no one stopped to consider the added value of the upgrade in order to price it accordingly. You don’t want to give people the impression that you’re out of touch and out of line.

Put obscure, obtuse rules at every step

There are a lot of potential stress points when you’re traveling by air. And as a passenger, it doesn’t feel like a lot of this stress is necessary.

Everyone who flies knows that you have to follow TSA regulations, but airlines also set their fair share of seemingly arbitrary rules. Passengers might forget to check-in online, get bumped to another flight, missing a connecting flight or lose their luggage. The airline might even require you to check your carry-on to save on overhead compartment space.

With a more-or-less captive audience, the airline gets to set and enforce pretty much any rule. But like most of the above, the difference comes in how it’s presented to the consumer. Unexpected difficulties make the company seem aloof and uncaring. Smoothing out these pain points would do a lot to improve both reputation and member experience.

Sam Dicken

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