3 Steps to Managing Customer Service Expectations

I’m sure the airlines are having a “what the…?” moment. According to an Associated Press article the companies did better at arriving on time and not overbooking planes. They lost fewer pieces of luggage, the lowest rate in 20 years.

But complaints were up 28% from 2009.

Several possible reasons were cited but it seemed that the airlines changed the way they run their business. They scheduled fewer flights decreasing the available seats in an effort to match supply with demand and keep from flying empty seats. They didn’t tell the customers what to expect from this change or even that a change had been made.

This meant that there were more passengers per plane and it was more difficult to rebook a flight that was canceled (not to mention the fees that have been added on lately).

Well, you can’t fault the airlines for trying to run more efficiently. Fuel prices are up for them too, they have more ways to incur fines (like trapping people on the tarmac for too many hours), and, as if that weren’t enough, a Boeing 737-300 lost part of its roof….in flight. Meaning more cancelations and more inspection costs.

What airlines need to do is stop herding cattle…er, people long enough to communicate what level of service people can expect. It may be that with the current state of technology the supply and demand matching is impossible to implement for 100% of flights.

It’s the same problem contact centers and customer service centers have in trying to determine how to staff the phones. You can figure out traffic trends and peaks and valleys but you will never determine the perfect number.

This is how the airline dilemma relates to customer service and support.

No matter how well you do business you are risking complaints from those who feel that you are not fulfilling the contract you made with them when they paid for your product or service. You change your ways in an effort to make the business run smarter but get slapped in the face with increased numbers of complaints instead.

You will never please everybody, but you can keep the level of complaints down if you manage your customer’s expectations of service.

  • Be transparent: Make very clear where your service policies can be found. Better yet, give a copy to the customer and quickly highlight them at the time of purchase.
  • Communicate: Spell out the service levels. Will it be 24/7 live support? Self Service after 5 PM? Phone only? Email complaints allowed? Tell people what channels they have available and when the complaint will be reviewed.
  • Follow Up: Maintain the level of service you did promise while reminding the customer about the service policy. If the customer emails a complaint, send an automatic email back confirming the receipt and gently reminding the customer when it will likely be worked on.

You know what you can and can’t do and still stay in business. And it is up to you to educate the customer, as gently as possible, about the limitations to your availability. People actually can be reasonable, so if they know ahead of time what to expect, you won’t be put in the position of having to say no.

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