Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Strange Curious Case of Missing Empathy and Sympathy in Customer Service





The Strange and Curious Case of Missing Empathy and Sympathy in  Customer Service 









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A Guitar, a scorpion, a baby stroller, a mom with babies, an injured passenger, an old lady, a honeymoon couple and a premium category business traveler..... were in the news recently.


Yes -You are right...they all relate to experiences of airline passengers. ( especially United Airlines and American Airlines).

Online media is full of critical comments (Twitter and Facebook ).

Today Airline Industry  is one of the most competitive and capital intensive industry.There are hundreds of airlines competing for the share of the market and the competition is very intense.And survival of the fittest is the rule and norm among the airlines.All airline have rules and procedures in place. No  deviation from these is considered or allowed and rules are strictly enforced.

The travelling and paying passenger is not a commodity. He is a human being with real needs, emotions and a consumer of services provided by airlines.

In the process for earning profits, the airlines forgot the basic principle.....satisfied customers ensure growth  and profits.




In each of the cases mentioned above the service staff of airlines were found wanting in one basic factor - empathy and sympathy.

Empathy - The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

When the passenger (a doctor) was forcibly removed because the airline needed the seat for its employees......the staff forgot...that the doctor was a passenger who had paid for services, had patients to attend  and who was entitled to travel on priority because his patients needed him ( needs of society).

In the case of an old lady....the staff forgot that she had special needs...which had to be attended to.

In case of scorpion stinging the passenger....the patient needed empathy and sympathy and an assurance which was missing.

The mother with children are sensitive customers.The staff forgot that in every family the children are accorded special care and support.(again empathy and sympathy missing)

The honeymoon couple are customers looking for an enjoyable experience.Last thing any couple want is an experience which can spoil their vacation.The staff failed to empathize with this couple.

The guitar is an important professional tool. Damaging it can lead to serious customer dissatisfaction.

A business customer pays a premium and flies business class. He has professional duties to attend. Not only bumping him and forcing him to deplane and also threaten with arrest or handcuffs showed total lack of empathy.

In case of United Airlines - The CEO worsened up things by blaming the passenger initially.

Having empathy and sympathy for customers is a good business investment. 

Lack of it can lead to serious financial consequences ( the airlines can be sued for huge compensation and also lead to negative brand image as well as declining business as passengers might shift to better customer friendly airlines).

The airline employees should be trained in effective customer care .




Person with right attitude and personality should be selected wherever direct customer interaction is involved.

Creativity in problem solving and decision making are important skills.

Above all effective communication skills (with empathy and sympathy) can make a huge difference .....it can lead an organization from customer satisfaction to customer astonishment.... 


Post Incident  Changes from United Airlines

Learning from social media marketing disaster



United Policy Changes Made or Forthcoming

1. United will limit use of law enforcement to safety and security issues only.

2. United will not require customers already seated on the plane to give up their seat involuntarily unless safety or security is at risk.

3. United will increase customer compensation incentives for voluntary denied boarding up to $10,000.




4. United will establish a customer solutions team to provide agents with creative solutions.

5. United will ensure crews are booked onto a flight at least 60 minutes prior to departure.

6. United will provide agents with additional annual training.

7. United will create an automated system for soliciting volunteers to change travel plans.

8. United will reduce its amount of overbooking.

9. United will empower employees to resolve customer service issues in the moment.

10. United will eliminate the red tape on lost bags.


Tips  on  social media marketing strategy

Hire a consultant
Have a mission and vision
Be clear and effective in communication
Think before you post
Have a back up plan in case of crisis
Have empathy and sympathy
Do not insult, rant, troll or abuse
Keep track of  comments and posts
Follow the cyber laws and policies




You cannot afford to ignore the social media. But taking precautions and safety measures you can ensure that the threats to you and to your organization are minimized. 






S.Swaminathan is a Power Motivator, Author, Motivational Speaker, Soft Skills and Corporate Trainer, HRD Consultant and Director – Asktenali Technologies Private Limited. 

Thousands, have benefited through his seminars, workshops and lectures on Effective Leadership, Soft Skills, Motivation, Sales and Customer Service Orientation ,Human Resources Development, Personality Development and related topics conducted for Senior Management Professionals, Executives, Faculties and Students of educational institutions.

Swaminathan's workshop topics are creative, innovative, and inspirational and focus on shifting perspectives on leadership and life. He has influenced thousands of people through his influential and entertaining training programs and workshops.



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S.Swaminathan is a Power Motivator, Author, Motivational Speaker, Soft Skills and Corporate Trainer, HRD Consultant and Director – Asktenali.com. He has held several senior management, positions in the Information Technology Industry.









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