While browsing the news recently, an article about a disgruntled airline passenger caught my attention-mainly for its quirky headline. But I kept reading as I noticed that some aspects in the process of dealing with the upset customer could have been avoided, instead of leading to worldwide headlines of, “Woman says she flushed an ‘emotional support hamster’ down the toilet on advice from Spirit Airlines”. The airline denied this advice was ever given.
The story goes that a young lady had called the airline ahead of her flight to enquire whether her pet guinea pig, Pebbles, could fly with her-to which they responded, “yes”. Upon arriving at the airport the airline informed her that flying with comfort pets in the cabin was against company policy and gave her a couple of options, one of which, allegedly, was to flush her pet down the toilet. Having exhausted the alternative travel options for herself and her pet, she made the difficult decision to flush away the guinea pig and board her flight.
With the moral issue aside and the PR issue in focus, we look at how the airline handled the situation: the passenger complained and was offered a travel voucher as compensation. The customer was not satisfied with the offer, so she went to the media, who wasted no time running the story-which made for a juicy headline for morning commuters.
So was this inevitably going to end up in news columns, or could the airline have avoided it? At Scotwork, we’d say that this situation could almost certainly have been circumnavigated by, in the first place, simply asking the customer how she would have liked to be compensated for the fact that her guinea pig could not accompany her on the flight-rather than giving her their options. Of course there was the risk that she may have asked for the sky, but the airline could, in turn, have asked what the basis of her request was, simultaneously avoiding the allegations of the advice to flush Pebbles down the toilet. In dealing with the complaint the airline seems to have used a default, one-size-fits-all remedy, rather than addressing it in a more personal manner.
My point here is that when you’re dealing with a disgruntled party, don’t try and guess what form or amount of reparation may suffice. Be very specific and simply ask them what they would deem to be reasonable compensation. If Spirit had simply asked the customer what it was that she was seeking in recompense in the first place, they would have had a better chance at resolving the issue quickly and almost certainly have avoided the ensuing negative press coverage.
Our advice is that if a customer has a complaint, ask them exactly what it is that they would like in order to settle the grievance. Most of the time they will be reasonable and perhaps they may only want a simple apology.
In the event that their request is unreasonable, have your argument well prepared so that you can counter their claims and simply trade with them until an agreement that leaves the customer feeling adequately compensated for their grievance is reached.