When a company like Continental Airlines keeps customers essentially trapped for six hours on grounded plane, good customer service can seem beside the point. But customer service is one of the most effective ways a business can turn lemons into lemonade.
Unlike Continental, Southwest Airlines turned a similar scenario into a winning situation. Weather conditions, de-icing procedures, and FAA pilot regulations led to a five hour lock-down for Southwest customers in St. Louis. Bob Emig was one of the passengers stuck on the plane. He told Business Week about his experience and was surprisingly—well, gracious.
Emig praised the flight staff for being extremely courteous. He added that the pilots walked the aisles answering passenger questions and that the flight attendants gave as many connection updates as possible. Upon returning home, Emig received two round-trip vouchers for future flights.
According to Fred Taylor of Southwest Airlines, this kind of service is the Southwest way. Taylor explained the reasoning in Business Week saying, "It's not something we had to do…It's just something we feel our customers deserve."
Like a major airline, business owners can't control the weather, or even a metaphorical storm like the current recession. But you can retain and even grow your customer base by providing good service in tough times.
Top Three Tips for Retaining an Unhappy Customer
Even if you don't agree, give them a chance to voice their opinions and concerns and ensure they know you're listening and you care.
Don't be afraid to say "We made a mistake." Or, if you didn't make a mistake, you can simply express your sympathy with a genuine "I'm sorry you didn't have the kind of experience we aim to deliver."
3. Exceed Expectations
You may not be able to offer free products like Southwest, but you may be able to do something on a smaller scale. Depending on your customer, you may want to send them a gift card to a coffee shop, tickets to the local game, or a simple "thank you for your business" note in the mail. Refunds, discounts on additional products, and any free products are also a winner, but you can keep it simple and affordable.
The Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain is another member of the customer service winner's circle profiled in Business Week. According to Gerard van Grinsven, Vice President and Area General Manager for The Ritz-Carlton, "We are in business to wow people."
Recent customer Gregory Smith told of visiting the Ritz with his wife for their anniversary. Shortly after check-in, where he casually mentioned their anniversary celebration to the guest services staff, there was a knock at their door. It was the concierge, Susan, bearing a piece of cake. As Smith tells it, "This time she surprised us with a luscious piece of cake carefully presented on a plate. In icing was this inscription, 'Happy Anniversary.' Wow!"
Any company that gets a "wow" can count on repeat customers and priceless referrals.