At Sea-Tac airport in Seattle yesterday, many slept on the floor or in chairs, while other bleary-eyed passengers again stood in lines that snaked around the terminal, some counting their delays by days rather than hours. All this, caused by some of the worst snow-storms during the peak travel period in the Northwestern US.
To rub salt to the wounds, “Horizon and Alaska Air left customers fuming because they were unable to get through to Alaska or Horizon reservations agents on the phone or on the Web site to rebook travel”, the Seattle Times reported. Under normal circumstances, these services would have worked fine. Unfortunately, Alaska wasn’t the only airline badly affected by the mess, but also others like United Airlines. Though I haven’t heard too many good things about United, Alaska Air has certainly impressed in the past when it came to caring for their passengers. But things like these still happened. So, what can the airlines do to capitalize on externalities like these to actually build their brand further?
In case of inclement weather, passengers should be provided with up to date information (can’t emphasize this more!). Call center staff and website servers should be beefed up in advance. Items essential for the successful operation of a flight must be stocked up – like the de-icing fluids Alaska Air ran out of. It wasn’t that this snow storm came out of nowhere. There was ample warning given to the airlines.
I know, this is easier said than done, but in tough times, the preparedness of an airline must be clearly visible to the customers, in order to prevent a complete depletion of trust. A brand that stands by their customers in tough times commands their loyalty.
The most important factor for building confidence in a brand is the ability of a company to bounce back from a shock. If Alaska Air and others had made alternative arrangements for the passengers to get to their destinations, or at least put them up in hotels for those flying coast-to-coast, some passengers might have been less furious. But this didn’t really happen. Again, the lack of preparedness and advance planning was be visible for all to see and spoke volumes about the management.
It is difficult situations like these, which if handled well, can turn into hidden opportunity for airlines.
Show some empathy
Tempers generally run high during unexpected emergency situations like these, in which no one can do anything about it but sit and wait. This is when the airline staff has a crucial role to play. They will only aggravate the situation further if they simpy react and only go by the book.Simply, they can appear in control if they smile more, as Patrick Hanlon recommends.
There is a need for the staff to put themselves in the passengers’ shoes and comfort them a little. If it takes bending the rules a little, so be it. The goodwill generated will go a long way in building brand loyalty. Most importantly, airlines should empower the employees to take decisions on their own to a certain extent, when the situation demands it.
Stop being a faceless airline, add some personality
Rohit Bhargava mentions in his new book, “Personality not included“, that it’s very easy to get angry at and attack a faceless corporation. But once you add personality to the brand, people see the individuals behind the company and tend to empathize with them. After all, suddenly the company is more human, and humans make mistakes.
A prime example of an airline that has done a great job at this is JetBlue Airways. Having faced with a much worse crisis in Feb 2007, David Neelman, the then CEO, posted an apology on the blog for the massive delays caused due to severe weather in New York. At the end of the day, JetBlue’s efforts resonated well with customers, who lauded the personal touches from an airline.
Response to externalities is a crucial, but often overlooked, strategy that can be utilized by airlines to win the hearts and minds of their passengers. Do you have any instances to share when an airline dealt with an emergency in a professional manner and totally impressed you? How could the airlines have dealt with this particular situation better? Let’s discuss in the comments section.