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Trusting Your People | Superpowering Your Customer Experience

Customer experience is best defined as the perception of your customers based on all the interactions they have with your brand. Some of those perceptions extend beyond their direct interactions with you.

Take United Airlines, for example, my perception of the brand goes beyond the flights I have taken with them. It’s shaped by the experiences of others – those of friends and even the purported experiences of strangers.

Somewhere in my perception of United is the image of Dr. Dao – the passenger who was bloodied-up as he was removed from an overbooked United flight in 2018. How unfair is that?

I am still affected by media and social media posts about an incident that occurred almost two years ago. However unfair my perception might be I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, according to Craig Bloem, “84% of people trust online reviews as much as friends.”

Given my muddled perception of United Airlines, I was pleasantly surprised by a recent experience I had during a return flight from Singapore. Having flown on Singapore Airlines for the bulk of the trip, the final leg from San Francisco to Tampa was booked on United.

Things did not start well with United, as the red-eye flight was delayed for mechanical problems. When the plane departed, my issues continued when the airline seat did not stay in a fixed position, essentially creating a rocking motion for the five-hour flight. At this point United was not doing much to improve my perception; however, when the seat problem was brought to the flight attendants’ attention, her service recovery and the system United leaders had created to empower that flight attendant dramatically shifted my view of the airline.

Before I get into the specifics of my United Airlines problem resolution, let’s look at five steps needed for you to craft trust-building service recovery for your customers:

  1. Share a genuine and compassionate reaction to the other person’s distress
  2. Offer appropriate apologies
  3. Assure the person you will take care of the issue
  4. Individually, and through resources, see that the problem is taken care of in a way that meets the satisfaction of the customer and does not recur
  5. Go one step further and make a gesture that respects the person’s loss or frustration

In addition to following these five steps listed above, brands like The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company (the focus of my book The New Gold Standard) empower their people to take needed action without having to seek approval from their supervisors. Specifically, leaders at the Ritz-Carlton give every employee (referred to as the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton) authority of up to $2,000 per day, per guest to address service recovery or service elevation.

Service recovery is also discussed in my upcoming book about Airbnb (which is available at a special pre-order discount using the coupon code THANKS through the following link).

business book

In The Airbnb Way, I talk about the importance of empowering team members to address service breakdowns with clear communication and service urgency, “Most customers are calculating the cost of an experience based not only on how much money they pay but also on how much time and effort they must expend to receive their goods or services. Airbnb hosts report that service speed is a significant factor in delivering value and maintaining guest trust [particularly when service breakdowns occur].”

On my United flight, I was appreciative of service recovery which included a heartfelt apology for the inconvenience, an immediate notation of the problem (so it could be taken care for the next passenger), the provision of a choice as to fair compensation, and a swift email reiterating the apology and confirming the service recovery resolution. Those actions went a long way to not only repair my United experience and brand perception but also prompted this post, which might favorably affect the perception of others.

Some people have suggested that when it comes to customer loyalty, it’s good to create service breakdowns that you can resolve well. I have unsuccessfully looked for data to support that recommendation and never advise my clients to willfully inconvenience customers (there are enough breakdowns occurring naturally). I do, however, recommend empowering your people with trust and instructing them on the steps of service recovery.

Turing breakdowns into breakthroughs is an art that is seldom executed well.

How are you doing with your service recovery efforts and team member empowerment? I would love to talk to you about extending trust to your team members to drive customer trust. Simply reach out to me, and we will talk soon.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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