Response Crafting

The one thing you should never do to your customers

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I’d like to think that most all businesses strive to make sure that things go as planned, and that unexpected mishaps are managed and mitigated. That being said, things are always bound to happen. And when they do, it’s not the fact that they happened, but rather your response to them, that ultimately matters to the customer. And the one thing that always matters the most in your response: never, ever lie to them.

I was on a United flight recently, and we arrived early to our destination.
And that’s great, I agree… right up until everyone on the flight realized: we had “arrived” only in the sense that we had landed.

And right about the time we all expected to head over to the gate, we realized that we were parking instead.

As we came to a stop, the pilot came on overhead with the following information:

“The flight departing from our gate is being de-iced. It should be about 15 minutes.”

Okay. No big deal, right? The weather did seem to warrant de-icing and we were early, so this seemed like a reasonable statement. So we all sat patiently.

Ten minutes went by, and the pilot came on with a new message:

“The flight at our gate is just finishing up with the boarding process. Once they complete that, it’ll take about another 15 minutes to de-ice.”

Now hold the phone. How are they “just finishing up with the boarding process” and not yet started with the “15 minute de-icing business” if they started all this mess ten minutes ago!?

Suddenly folks started to get impatient. We began shifting, grumbling, talking to each other. Bear in mind: we were still early, and had still only been sitting for ten minutes.

So why the frustration?
Because nobody likes to be lied to!

There was abolutely no reason for this communication fall-out. Here’s the thing: that plane was never de-icing when they told us it was. De-icing is not a subjective state. A plane either is or is not de-icing, and that plane wasn’t. Plain and simple.

The message that is was should’ve never gotten to us.

So whether it was their pilot, our pilot, or somebody in the middle, United Airlines is seriously underestimating the severity of communication shortfalls like these. By allowing utterly untrue messages to be delivered to passengers, they’re effectively saying: we don’t care.

And if they think we don’t notice we’re being addressed as though we’re not important enough to hear true statements, they’re wrong.

It’s one thing to simply “not know” when the gate would clear – and if that’s the case, it’s okay to say! I think most of us would rather hear someone admit that they “don’t know” when the gate will be open rather than feed us information that someone, somewhere knows is bogus. It’s generally preferable for an airline to deliver something undesirable but true than something only slightly better and absolute garbage.

Everyone – even the simplest individuals and probably even those responsible for this at United- knows what it feels like to be outright bullshitted.
 Furthermore, a good majority of us also understand: you don’t lie to those whom you truly care about.

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