What in the world can a guy who was the sole resident of his own town in Wyoming possibly teach today’s airline industry? A good lesson in customer service, that’s what.
We are taught in business training to “put the customer first” but what does that really mean and how does that play out in real life situations? Is the customer always right? Do I meet every customer’s demand? Is that a sustainable notion?
The airline industry is grappling with these questions today on a global stage and they are not doing a very good job of addressing the underlining problem. Thanks to downsizing of staff, cramming more rows and seats into airplanes, and a practice of overbooking seats to ensure revenue goals are achieved, tensions are high on both sides of the aisle. Flight attendants are tired of passengers ignoring rules, signs and instructions, and passengers are tired of being cramped, talked down to and not having a say. There are no winners in this fight as it is currently being played out.
Whether you are running a one-man town like I did, or a global airline, a good lesson to learn when it comes to customer service is to “empathize” with your customers. Empathy will take you and your business farther and will be more rewarding in the long haul. The airline industry needs to empathize with their customers and their employees and to let that drive problem resolution. If the crew empathized with the Kentucky doctor who needed to get home the same day, maybe the situation wouldn’t have escalated to an unreasonable level. If they would have empathized with the mother holding two infants and who refused to give up her stroller, they may have come to an agreement before a flight attendant ripped the stroller from the mother’s hands. Empathy is very important to positive human interaction.
Before I became the sole owner and resident of the town of Buford, Wyoming, I was in the moving business. The moving business afforded me good insights into customer service. I learned very quickly to value the fact that I was working for people who were putting a big part of their “life” into my hands, and into my van. I knew more about moving than they knew, but I also knew that I was moving beloved possessions and prized purchases. I had to empathize with that.
When it came to my running a store many years later, I discovered that the “formula” was very similar. I knew more about the Buford Trading Post and Buford Wyoming and the items in the store than the customers knew, but I was seeking to serve people – to provide for them items they would value through the months and years ahead, and to make their travel easier or more pleasant. I had to put myself into their shoes.
Let’s face it, people, customers, can sometimes be very rude and it’s how you respond to them that controls the outcome. In my moving business, people were sometimes very rude when it came to their telling me how to load my truck or handle their possessions. At the Buford Trading Post, people could be very rude at times in telling me what they thought of my gas prices.
In both of these cases, and whenever I found myself facing a difficult customer issue, I had to realize that there’s no changing what other people say or do—not really. I could only control my attitude and responses. That’s the important lesson for anyone dealing directly with customers.
A good lesson in customer service is to empathize with the customer’s situation first, and then approach the customer with this emotional understanding and acknowledgement of the situation. This emotional understanding will change the tone of your response, soften a hard stance and, in most cases, result in a mutually agreeable resolution.
For more on this topic and other insights, I invite you to buy my book, Buford One, now available at amazon.com.