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Lessons From a Delayed Flight: Tale of a Negative Customer Experience Turned Positive

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Leadership
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Usually, when someone talks about a recent customer experience, it’s more on the lines of American Horror Story than Happily Ever After. Recently, my flight from Mexico to the US was delayed by over 10 hours. But let me tell you beforehand, what this story is ABSOLUTELY not – #WorseExperienceEver. As consumers, we’re captivated by the stories where businesses overcome sticky situations to deliver great customer experiences, and here’s how Delta managed to do just that.

My “customer journey”

So the pilot announced on the runway that there seemed to be an issue with one of the airplane’s flaps. While we waited, we were offered sandwiches, as the pilot continued to give updates on the developing situation. After three long hours of wait on the tarmac, we were told that there was an unidentifiable problem and that we would have to head back to either change flights or rebook.

The airline crew was at hand for assistance as we were ushered through a special queue back out to the counters. We were told that there was no need to collect our checked bags. Meanwhile, I received a text asking me to call a number to rebook my flight. I was connected in just a few minutes, though I was expecting a 45-minute wait. While on the call, I was informed that the airline will send me a check as a small token for the inconvenience. I was also swiftly connected with a counter agent when I asked for an upgrade.

Delta also informed passengers that it would pick up the tab for any food they wish to order. In the evening, as we were getting ready to board the flight, the gate agent reached out to all passengers to request complimentary miles on the airline’s website. I sent in my request, and by the time I landed in the US, the email was already in my inbox. The airline team also guided us to the immigration line where we were served beverages and refreshments.

Lessons for improving your customer’s journey

So, what did we learn from this? What could have been a negative experience was transformed into an amazing experience by Delta. This tells us a lot about how to drive great customer experiences.

Good communication is very important: While we all waited for the flight, the pilot could have easily maintained radio silence. Instead, by giving us constant updates, he gave us a measure of comfort, knowing what was going on. Same goes for the subsequent events.

Make the right decisions, even if they might not be the most popular ones: While we were waiting for the flight, the pilot mentioned that he didn’t see anything wrong with the flaps, so it might just be a case of sensor information not sent correctly. However, since they couldn’t pinpoint the problem, they made a tough call to take us back. It resulted in severe delays for the passengers and probably more overhead for Delta, but a lot of passengers, including me, felt that it was the right call, despite the discomfort.

Acknowledge the problem and take corrective actions: Delays and missed connections happen all the time. I’ve seen various carriers react to it in different ways, mostly negative or bad. Each time, I felt that it would have been better, if the problem was just acknowledged and resolved in the best manner possible, instead of being dodged. This was one of the very few occasions, where I felt that there was a genuine effort.

Understand the mood of the customer: In my previous instances of travel, an already bad situation (delayed flights, missed connections etc.) was compounded by a two-hour wait at the booking desk with a rude agent and no support from the airline. By expediting the process (immigration, rebooking and food), Delta demonstrated a deeper understanding of the customers’ mood and the need to alleviate their pain.

Delta’s actions demonstrate a path to providing a strong customer experience, which can be emulated across the board by any organization in the service industry. They certainly won me over and left me inspired.

Do you have an awesome or inspiring customer experience you’d like to share with us?

Editor's Note: Aditya is not a paid spokesperson for Delta Airlines. He is "just" a happy customer. 

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