THE CHINESE DOMESTIC AIRLINE INDUSTRY is at a turning point. Earlier this month the Chinese government asked airlines to reduce flight traffic by as much as 75% at two of the country’s busiest airports. Their reason? Military exercises. But it is not the enormity of the cancellations that has got Chinese passengers talking, but rather that Chinese airlines are now providing reasons for delays.
China’s airlines have a history of following the ‘no news is good news’ mantra. This, of course, is a complete fallacy, as proven by many incidents across China’s airports, most notably one at the Shenzhen airport in 2008. The China Eastern flight was in its second hour of its delay when the tipping point of discontent occurred. Some 30 frustrated passengers surrounded the boarding gate desk, demanding an explanation. Even though the nervous staff gave the answer, “poor weather” – which was most likely true – the staff did not share the possible departure time. The 30 passengers grew frustrated at the lack of any clear information and decided that they had had more than their fair share of delays. Within minutes, a megaphone miraculously appeared and chanting began. When the delayed plane finally landed, docked and unloaded its passengers some three hours late, four of the protesting passengers refused to board. Ironically, this delayed the plane further, as their baggage was located and removed from the Shanghai-bound aircraft.
Obliterate the ‘No News is Good News’ Myth
So, how can airlines – or any other service provider for that matter – improve their communication and maintain a high-level of service?
First, let’s obliterate the notion that ‘no news is good news’.
Don’t Trigger a ‘Flash Point’
Second, employees must be trained to see themselves as part of the total customer experience. Waiting for a table at a restaurant, being placed on hold by an energy company, or sitting in an airport lounge are all part of the customer service, or disservice, experience. By the time the customer speaks directly with a live human, their frustration could have built to a ‘flash point’, and any misstep in tone, wording, or body language could result in an eruption of anger , which could continue onto social media sites such as TripAdvisor, FourSquare, Facebook or any number of rating websites. Employees can douse a flash point, return a situation to calm, and build loyalty in the process. But only if they know how to.
Unfortunately, the total and informative customer service approach is not easy to introduce. It takes leadership from above to initiate a total customer focus before it can become ubiquitous within an organisation.
It takes leadership from above to initiate a total customer focus before it can become ubiquitous within an organisation.
China’s customer service has certainly improved over the years, with exposure to best practice from both international companies entering the market and Chinese travelling abroad. That being said, it is has a long way to go before it surpasses regional competitors such as Japan, the Philippines, and Thailand. So unfortunately for now, you may have to suffer unannounced delays as you wait in the airport lounge on your way to experience this better customer service.