As airlines contract their schedules and jam their cabins, business travel continues to become more frustrating.  Recently at Charlotte Douglas Airport, when it was time to board my flight, attendants discovered that the Jetway had a flat tire.  Not the plane—the Jetway—and they could not figure out how to deplane the arriving passengers.  Over the period of an hour they tried to re-inflate the tire—no air in the portable tanks, apparently, and then to jack up the Jetway to change it.  Another dud attempt—how do you remove the lug nuts from a Jetway wheel?

Eventually, the passengers left the DC-9 by the tail door stairs, and the workers finally realized they needed to push the plane back and roll up a staircase.  When we subsequently boarded, the pilot tried to comment on the situation but ultimately was speechless.

To the credit of Northwest/Delta, those of us at the gate were kept apprised of the situation, but a lot of passengers missed their connections in Detroit that evening. (The flight took even longer because the aircraft was routed through Indiana to avoid thunderstorms.)

The whole experience reminded me that customer service involves more than just being responsive to customer complaints and concerns.  It entails preparation—measures that will forestall potential delays, defects and/or debates from impacting customers.  To reduce complaints and enlarge compliments, think strategically about what could/might happen and take steps early on to avert negative tweets, posts and YouTube videos:

  • If you’re in a business like transportation or technology, maintain the backup supplies and systems you may need if you experience a sudden “flat tire,” and advise teams of where and how to access them.  Better yet, duplicate the systems when practical so you can switch servers or staircases rapidly.  Virtualization, for example, has enabled companies to duplicate the functions of multiple servers on just one piece of hardware.

  • Monitor social media like Twitter and Facebook to discover what customers are saying about your company.  Many free monitoring and tracking applications are available online; and by taking advantage of them, you can reply in real time to upset customers or those spreading false information, avoiding a punctured brand image.

  • Watch local and regional online news media for articles relating to your company, product or service. Digital newspapers and broadcast outlets really are social media these days.  You can post explanatory information, opinions or corrections of factual errors right under each story in the online edition.  You may be able to share photos, post videos or even write your own blog on the news outlet’s site.  See what is available and use it to shape your image and put a halt to any building consumer concerns.

I’m flying to O’Hare soon and…well, imagine the possibilities.

–Steve Friedman