As we were ready to pull away from the gate for takeoff, the pilot announced that someone noticed fluid on the wing of the plane and there would be a short delay while it was investigated. A few moments later he came back on to tell us they had not yet determined the problem and it would be a little longer. He added that, to keep us informed, he would come back on every 15 minutes to provide updated information or advise us that nothing had changed.
Here is where it starts to get interesting. Sitting next to me was Kathy Nolfo, a wonderful sales professional with Concur Technologies. She had an app of theirs called Tripit. It consolidated all itinerary information and provided updates whenever anything changed. She opened it and started getting updates on the flight status with revised departure times.
As we talked about her business, she kept me posted each time the departure was delayed a bit further. After some time, the pilot came through the cabin to tell us that nothing had changed and they had no updates. It was nice of him to do this but it was significantly longer than the promised "every 15 minute" update. When Kathy asked about the delay in getting back to us, he quickly dismissed her by saying she was wrong in her estimation of the lapsed time and moved on.
A few minutes later, Kathy got information through her app that this fight was, in fact, being cancelled. It provided the new departure time and gate details. A few minutes after that, the pilot addressed us through the intercom announcing to all passengers that we would be deplaning and giving the new departure gate and time. Of course this was the same information Kathy and I has at least 15 minutes earlier.
Any lessons here?
I want to compliment the airline for spotting the fluid, investigating the problem and keeping us safe. I would also point out that the two hour delay provided some excellent opportunities to strengthen the airline's relationship with its passengers.
A bit of creativity might have made the wait more tolerable. Moreover, some missteps actually lowered the airline's image regarding customer care. First, the pilot reached out with concern but failed to meet the expectations he established (updates every 15 minutes). Second, rather than acknowledging that and apologizing, he rudely corrected and dismissed the passenger that pointed it out. Finally, and perhaps most important, accurate and available information was delayed in its journey from source to pilot to passengers.
How often does your rumor mill get out in front of the truth? How do delays in getting out information impact the image of your organization or the opinion employees have of management? When this happens you may, in the best case, look inept or negligent. In the worst case you may look devious or inconsiderate.
Providing timely and accurate information to those you serve will always show concern for them and for your relationship with them. This can apply to everything from product recalls to the service tech's arrival time to preparation time on a meal. Just remember that your image depends on meeting any expectations you establish.
The pilot put an excellent spin on the event by pointing out how well the airline performed in "doing the right thing" regarding the leak and keeping us safe. Somehow, I just didn't feel any better about the airline's real concern for me as a customer.
Thanks to Kathy for a great conversation, accurate information, and a blog worthy interaction.