Don't Look the Customer in the Eye

by Jeannie Walters

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I flew today. And it’s gotten worse. I’m small time, but it’s even gotten worse for Chris Heuer, who shared his lack of trust for American Airlines here. My experience today, plus Chris’s harrowing one, makes me think there are so many things wrong with how customers are treated that the airline industry should start over.

$25 to check a bag. $6 for a lame snack on a 4 1/2 hour flight. Delays. No communication about connections. Then the maintenance issue that caused us to deplane and wait until something(?) happened so we could board again.

All in all, it wasn’t the worst airline experience I’ve had. But it wasn’t the best, either.

I’m here to address one small piece of the customer experience puzzle. Communication.

I’ve found that attendants and pilots like to share information with passengers on planes. I believe that even when it’s bad news customers appreciate hearing what’s going on. I’ve never been upset with a pilot who explains why delays are happening or says “I don’t know but I’ll let you know when I do.” It’s hard enough for us control freaks to be sitting passively as cargo. Let us in on what’s really going on.

But those gate agents…

What’s their problem? Why do they act as if we are nuisances? I understand they might not have information, but it would do a world of good to look at us – in the eyes – and say something. Something about what to do or what they do or don’t know. But I swear some of them are trained to act as if they can’t hear or see the customers around them.

At the same time, the flight attendant on my quick trip from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara was attentive, kind and went out of her way to communicate when we had the issue with the plane that caused us to return to the gate. She also struck me as a nice person. I thought – she’d be fun to have a beer with.

So this makes me think there is a fundamental problem with WHO the airlines are hiring as gate agents and just who is training them. This is so consistently an issue there is something bigger going on.

This all circles back to communication. Find people who are naturally helpful, friendly people and give them guidelines on how to communicate in critical situations.

So I guess I’ve had 2 rants this week. How many am I allowed!?

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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