After boarding an American Airlines flight early Monday morning at LaGuardia Airport, I found myself doing what thousands of other people sitting on the runway were doing: listening to their pilots announce that the flight was being delayed.
Apparently, the budget cuts from Washington went into effect right on time – and it included air traffic controller layoffs – resulting in the “sequestration delay” of flights at airports across the country.
This was not good news. I had an important business meeting in Toronto that day. My staff back at the office were trying to get in touch with me about upcoming projects. And there were almost 25 planes ahead of mine waiting to be cleared for takeoff.
So I did what any normal person with a Smartphone would do in this situation – I tweeted my frustration on Twitter and linked it to the American Airlines feed. The message read: “Sitting on the plane, they just announced we are number 23 in line for takeoff.”
As one of the many passengers that day sitting on a delayed flight, I wasn’t really expecting anybody to respond to my tweet or commiserate. How surprised I was when a few moments later American Airlines answered my tweet with one of their own: “Our apologies for the delay, Meny. We hope to have you on your way soon.”
Suddenly, being stuck on the runway for an hour didn’t seem so bad. Well, it actually did – but at least I wasn’t fuming at American Airlines anymore. Their personalized response to my tweet comforted me. They too, were just victims of the same sequester-based circumstances. And yet, they tried to reassure me by saying that things would get better soon. A reassuring pat on the back, if you will. One person to another, feeling what I was going through and showing that they recognized my irritating predicament.
In a word: humanizing the situation.
Think about it. Instead of sending out a generic, pre-scripted email blast with a canned apology, somebody at American Airlines actually took the time to write me a personal message. In fact, they even included my own name in the response. It transformed a potentially negative experience with American Airlines into a very positive one.
The important lesson I learnt that day (other than realizing how I should try out those high-speed Amtrak trains), was to humanize business with customers. To consistently provide a genuine human touch during the course of each interaction. Because at the day’s end, it’ll personalize your brand – and bolster the loyalty of your customers in ways previously unimagined.
Here are a few ways for your business to implement basic processes that will help to humanize the overall brand.
Listen More – Your customer always has what to say, whether it’s a compliment, question or even a complaint. Show that you truly want to hear their opinion and provide them with an easy way to do it. It could be via social media; a small questionnaire to be filled after each purchase; or even by simply asking them at the checkout counter, “Hi, were you happy with our service today?”
Respond More – While email and letters are both acceptable forms of response, nothing shouts “humanization” like a direct, one-on-one phone call. And whichever method you choose, remember to always write or say the recipient’s name during the correspondence. After all, it’s supposed to be personal.
Show More – Reveal the human side of your company by, well, revealing it. Show off some behind-the-scenes photos or videos of your team in action. Customers will connect better with your brand when they see the people-oriented side to it and actually witness firsthand all the hard work involved.
Best of all, it really doesn’t take much to begin implementing these basic processes. Just a few minutes of your time and the desire to reach out to each customer on an individual level. And lastly, be thankful that you’re reading this from the comfort of your home or office. Some of us had to learn this lesson the hard way – while sitting on a crowded American Airlines flight.
Onwards and upwards,
P.S. Want to see my actual conversation with American Airlines? Feel free to check it out now: @menyhoffman on Twitter.