A Tale of Two Airlines and Delighters

Last week, I managed to get myself stuck in the great American Airlines System Outage that grounded the entire AA fleet for several hours and cancelled hundreds of flights. “Black Swan” events like this and how companies respond are a real teller of their true soul, and there’s something to be learned.

I did manage to rebook in 10 minutes on US Airways1 using the delightful Hipmunk iPhone app, which I highly recommend keeping around.

However, once I arrived at the US Airways terminal, it was all down hill. There was no Air Conditioning in the terminal, and zero acknowledgement from the US Airways staff. As boarding started, the gate staff asked multiple times for everyone to “board quickly” because the flight was running late. As people boarded, the overhead bins were full and people would have to go 10 rows further back, and then return to their seats. The attendants were visibly frustrated and constantly telling people to “hurry up”, as if people were boarding slowly because they didn’t want to take off.

In short: US Airways knew how to put everyone in a foul mood, just feeling generally upset about being on that plane. There was nothing wrong with the experience, it was just a matter of the travelers having a positive or negative association with that portion of their trip.

Turn that back around to American Airlines, who is definitely not known as one of the “hip” carriers like Virgin America or Southwest. They’re about as “average” of a flight experience as it comes. Even so, they still found a way to delight after causing headaches. Submitting a refund request was as simple as filling out a form on their website. I expected it to be a week and I’d have to follow up with a phone call when it wasn’t processed. However, 15min later I get an email back from a service representative that the flight would be refunded.

That was enough for me to walk away just annoyed with the added stress from the trip day. However AA said they wanted to make it up to customers, so they issued a $150 flight voucher for the inconvenience. All of a sudden, the entire situation became one that made me feel good about the airline. I knew it wasn’t their fault, but they still went above and beyond.

Black Swan event or not, it’s the day to day minor interactions that will define who your company is, not mission statements and pretty logos. Take the time to find out what people expect when they interact with you, and then surprise them with a delighter that will bring unexpected joy to their day. Even if they don’t explicitly thank you for it, the positive associations they will form with your company are priceless.

  1. If you want to get technical, they are now the same airline. []
April 22, 2013