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Because It’s Policy

One of the things we’re known for (perhaps the biggest thing) is our outstanding customer service.  We work hard to make sure our customers rarely (if ever) need to reach out to us for technical support, and when they do, we treat them like they’re our only customer.  So we were pretty stumped when we read about Southwest Airlines allegedly kicking a user off their plane for voicing a complaint.

reviewsIn case you haven’t heard the story by now, the gist of it is that a customer was unhappy and used Twitter to voice his complaint.  Upon discovering this, a Southwest Airlines employee allegedly pulled him and his family off the flight and threatened to call the police.  In the blink of an eye, one rogue employee allegedly upgraded the situation from “forgettable” to “national media coverage”.

At first glance this story looks a little suspect, if only because it’s so lopsided.  But at the same time, I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty egregious behavior at airports myself.  That makes the store entirely plausible.

Since customer service is such a big part of our focus here, we find stories like this fascinating.  Not that they happen, but that companies sometimes do the dumbest things possible in response to customer dissatisfaction.  Consider this:

  • When you pull the “that’s our policy” card, you’re telling the customer that there’s no other reason for your decision.  At this point, you have to ask yourself:  what’s the cost of bending that rule for this customer, and how does that cost compare to the potential fallout for sticking to the rules?  In this case, it didn’t fare well for Southwest.
  • The Southwest employee, for reasons I can’t really wrap my head around, gave the guy a much worse story to tell.  If you can’t address that customer’s concerns — perhaps because they’re asking you to do something illegal or unethical — let it go.  By angrily confronting the customer, you’re just giving them an even bigger story to tell and adding weight to their complaint.
  • This whole process could have been deescalated in 30 seconds flat.  What would have been the cost of just giving in?  Sure, it’s bending the rule, and you might have a handful of frustrated customers.  By choosing to not only stick to their guns but to actually fire back at the customer, Southwest threw gas on the fire and made a bad situation far, far worse.  Compare the cost of saying “okay — we’ll make a one-time exception” with the cost of saying “no.  Because we said so.  And you’re a jerk.”

It’s important to consider the full weight of your actions when dealing with customer service issues.  To be clear, there are times when rules are rules and a line needs to be drawn.  This is especially true when there’s an issue of safety or legal compliance in play.  But in this era of social media (and Yelp, and TripAdvisor, and…), if you’re reduced to saying “because” or “that’s policy”, your customers now have the power to turn your blunder into a major expense.

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