4 Things Airlines Should Do Immediately to Reverse Negative Customer Service Trends


Welcome to the 2017 summer travel season. The airline industry has definitely started it off with a “bang” of bad press. With the recent issues experienced by passengers of several major airlines, including Delta, United, American and even Southwest, many of us are wondering what is going on and longing for the days when nice meals were served on planes and people actually dressed up for the occasion.

It can certainly be argued that the level of service across all industries has taken a significant decline in recent years. In preparing for this blog I was shocked at some of the horror stories I found. Feel free to share yours or good ones you have found in the comments below.

For most of us, all we know is what we gleaned from the press coverage or social media about these recent issues so please do NOT construe what I am about to say as “insider information.” As I looked at the coverage is seemed to me that employees were acting without ANY thought as to the impression they were leaving on other customers. There also seemed to be no commitment to acting like an owner of the business. To the degree that the training these employees were provided and their company culture expected them to take ownership and accountability for the level of service they provide and the long term impact of any failure to provide excellent service, there may not have been a single negative news story aired. Instead we could have heard stories about how children and babies were accommodated by airlines and how passengers who could not get a set on an oversold flight were upgraded on the next available departure.

There is a great saying that “Culture eats Strategy for Breakfast.” If you create a culture of fear and disempowerment in your organization, team members may attempt, as we saw in at least one viral video, to intimidate your PAYING CUSTOMERS. As an executive in your organization or the founder of your business you may be asking yourself what you can do to ensure your customers have the signature experience your brand represents.

Here are 3 things you can be do to enhance your customer service experience:

1. Invest in customer service training. One news outlet reported that one of the airlines hadn’t had customer service training in over 10 years. If that’s the case, it’s no surprise that employees were not empowered to handle potential problems. When we have worked with leaders of customer service teams we spend lots of time talking about empowering those on the front lines engaging with customers the most authority possible to create the best experience possible for the customer.

2. Engage employees especially in the context of brand ambassadorship.

The most successful organizations understand that every employee is a brand ambassador. For many of your clients it is actually written into their annual performance expectations. I choose this photo because it reminded me of my most recent travel experience where several ticket agents were simply standing around while about 50 of us were trying to self check in. There were machines malfunctioning and confused travelers many of whom were left to figure it out on their own. It would not have taken much for a ticket agent to come assist a few people and get the lines moving. As I watched this interchange I was reminded that becoming an ambassador takes training. It is not an innate skill for all your employees so defining the roles and behaviors of your brand ambassadors and rewarding them is critically important.

3. Empower your people to provide great service and demonstrate your core values.  Even if you are small business with just a few employees your business has a set of core values (even if you have not done a values exercise :-)!  Every organization from one employee to more than 100,000 worldwide has a set of values they ascribe to. As a leader in your organization it is critical that you train and demonstrate to your team how to behave in ways that are consistent with your core values. Sure, you can give your team scripts that will cover a variety of situations but things will happen outside the scope of those common scenarios. By demonstrating daily your expectations for how to live out your values with your customers, when the unexpected circumstance occurs they will be clear about the value(s) at play and will likely respond accordingly.


As an Empowered Leader, take this opportunity to meet with your team and discuss a poor customer service incident either in your company or in the media and talk about how something similar could happen in your organization and your expectations about a service oriented solution. Leverage this as a teachable moment in your journey as a leader, and let me know below how it goes and what questions you have!