How To Improve Customer Service With The Compassion Mindset®Share via
When I travel I get to experience a whole range of customer service. When things go well, customer service often gets overlooked. It takes exceptional effort and special touches to stand out. But when things don’t go as planned, that’s when customer service really gets tested.
Crisis and unexpected events reveal the truth about a company brand.
Brand is a lagging indicator of the quality of your culture. Culture is the sum of every interaction between the people. Customer service, the interactions between employees and customers, reveals the culture and influences the brand.
Recently I was flying to Orlando via Chicago on United Airlines. I’m a tall guy, 6’4″, and I am pretty cramped in most seats on airplanes these days. I splurged for an exit row seat to give myself a little more legroom for the flight. When we boarded the plane and I found my much anticipated exit row seat, I was dismayed to discover that it had no more legroom than all the other standard economy seats. In fact, it might have been even tighter.
I noticed there were three consecutive exit rows on this aircraft, mine being in the middle. So I checked to see the legroom in these other exit rows. As I expected, these other rows had ample legroom. A little claustrophobia set in as I anticipated the nearly three hour flight jammed in this seat, not even able to open my laptop far enough to see the screen. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like of the person in front of me decided to recline!
After the flight attendant came by for the exit row briefing and obtained “verbal consent” of my willingness to assist in the event of an emergency, I asked her about my conundrum. I’m guessing by her response that she had experienced this before. Almost reflexively she said, “I’m sorry. I can text the gate agent to see if they can move you. But this is a full flight, so you’ll probably just have to ask for a refund when you get to your destination. You can do that through the United App.”
Customer Service Mistake #1: Jump into problem-solving mode without showing empathy for the customer’s situation. This undermines the customer’s value by ignoring their experience.
I didn’t feel heard, and I didn’t see how her “solution” would provide any real help in this situation.
Little did I know that over an hour later we’d still be sitting at the gate waiting on mechanics to fix an air handling problem, and that it would get really hot and stuffy in the plane. Or, that we’d be given the option of getting off the plane to wait while they worked on it.
I took my chance to get up, get off the plane, walk around, and talk to the gate agent about my seat.
Here’s our dialogue:
Nate: “I’m confused and wanted to check with you about something. I paid extra for an exit row with extra legroom and when I got to my seat, I realized that there was no more legroom. I was really looking forward to a little more comfort on this flight. Will you help me understand?”
Gate Agent: “Let me see your boarding pass. [She looked at the boarding pass] That’s not an exit row,”
Nate: “Except is says right here on the boarding pass that it’s an exit row.”
Gate Agent: “Well, it’s not an exit row.”
Nate: “I’m even more confused now because when I just passed an hour ago and scanned by boarding pass it beeped red and you asked me if I was aware I was in an exit row. Then I had to give verbal consent to assist in the event of an emergency and I literally saw the word EXIT on the door next to me with a bright red handle.”
Gate Agent: “Well, maybe so, but that row doesn’t have more legroom.”
Nate: “Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to say. In all the years I’ve flown and sat in exit rows, I’ve never experienced this. So why did I have to pay more for it?”
Gate Agent: “Because it’s closer to the economy plus section.”
Nate: “So I have to pay more to be closer to the seats with more legroom even though my seat doesn’t have more legroom?”
Gate Agent: “Yes.” [with a disgusted look on her face]
Customer Service Mistake #2: Not being curious, not taking the customer seriously, and making stuff up instead of admitting when you don’t know. This discounts a customer’s capability and dismisses them from having any part in coming up with a solution.
My travel partner and I looked at each other, scratching our heads in bewilderment. “Am I being gaslighted?”
The dialogue continued:
Nate: “That seams a little misleading when booking the seat online.”
Gate Agent: “I can’t help you with that. You can request a refund via the United App.”
Customer Service Mistake #3: Not taking responsibility for their part of the problem or for helping to find a solution, and not helping the customer clarify their responsibility in the situation. This invites customers to feel like they are being blamed for the problem, or that the company really doesn’t own up to their mistakes.
I gave up on trying to find a resolution with the gate agent. But I did go to my United App to apply for a refund.
Several days later, when checking in for my return flight from Orlando back to Chicago, I did a little sleuthing. When initially booking my flights I had selected the exact same exit row seat on the way back. So I tried to move seats. When doing so, I noticed some fine print,”This exit row seat has limited legroom.” I researched some more and found out that this particular aircraft has the unique distinction of having just one exit row with limited legroom.
“I guess I should have read the fine print,” I said to myself. “But I still don’t understand why they charge more for a seat with less legroom.”
Turn On Your Compassion Mindset for Great Customer Service
If United flight attendants and gate agents adopted The Compassion Mindset, they would maintain focus on just three things in every interaction: Affirm a person’s value, capability, and responsibility. These are the three switches of The Compassion Mindset.
The Value Switch
Affirming value means acknowledging a person’s experience and showing empathy. It might have sounded something like this: “I can certainly imagine how surprised you are since you expected more leg room. I hate feeling cramped as well.”
The Capability Switch
Affirming capability means being curious, taking the customer seriously and learning about what’s going on. It might have sounded something like this: “May I see your boarding pass? Oh, I see. This is a unique exit row seat, only on this type of aircraft. It does have limited legroom. I can see why you were confused. Do you recall being notified about this when you selected the seat?”
The Responsibility Switch
Affirming responsibility means adopting the attitude, “No matter what happened before, we share responsibility for what happens next.” It might sound something like this: “I am really sorry you are going through this. It is misleading to think you are paying more for legroom, only to find out that’s not the case. It is mentioned on the website, but it should be more obvious so you know what you’re getting into. Although I can’t change your seat now, I’d be willing to share your experience with our customer service team because I don’t want anyone to be surprised by the seat they picked. Also if you want to apply for a refund, I’d be happy to show you where that is on the app once we figure out if we are going to transfer planes or not. How does that sound?”
This template can apply to any customer service situation. How would you treat people if you saw them as valuable, capable and responsible? How would you treat yourself?
The Compassion Mindset is a framework for achieving Compassionate Accountability – building connection while getting results. You shouldn’t have to compromise, especially when things don’t go as planned.