An Upset Customer Tweeted at Delta Air Lines. Its Response Was the 1 Thing No Company …

Delta Air Lines had a rough start to the Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday, the airline canceled 254 flights and delayed another 530. Delta Air Lines wasn’t the only airline canceling flights, but it was among the hardest hit.

If you were one of the people who thought they were going to show up at the airport, get on a plane, and spend the weekend barbecuing with family–only to find out your flight was canceled and now you have to wait to be rebooked–you’d be pretty frustrated.

The problem for any company that serves so many people at scale, is that when you cancel that many flights, you’re going to end up with a far greater number of people than usual calling with problems.

Some of them are going to be pretty mad. Some of those people might tweet about it. When they do, they might even say mean things. That’s where things can get complicated. 

For example, this Twitter exchange went viral over the weekend. It appears that the original post came from a customer who found out on Friday evening that their Saturday morning flight had been canceled. 

That’s frustrating. As someone who flies pretty regularly, I can empathize. No one likes to have their plans ruined, which is generally what happens when you find out that your flight 12 hours later is canceled. 

They contacted Delta, and apparently waited on hold for a long time, before tweeting again. It seems pretty obvious by now that they are pretty frustrated. That said, the tweet wasn’t particularly rude. 

To which, someone tweeting for Delta (Daisy, maybe?) responded: “Can you calm down and allow me some time to work please??”

Yikes. Maybe it was the fact the tweet called someone out by name, but still, that’s… never the right response on Twitter. For one, the tweet doesn’t even need a response. If you’re already addressing the customers’ concerns, a follow up once the problem is solved would have done a lot more good. 

Look, I have no idea what kind of conversation this customer had previously had with Daisy from Delta. Perhaps they were rude and threw a fit. Perhaps they said mean things. Neither of those things would be surprising considering they were obviously having a bad day. They would also be a poor way to try to resolve your problem. 

No one should be mean or rude to the people who answer the phone when you call a company with a problem. Clearly, whatever went wrong with this customer’s flight wasn’t Daisy’s fault. They were just the employee who happened to be on the other end of the phone. In fact, there were some people on Twitter who seemed to think this was the right response. It was not. 

It’s true, customer service people have a very difficult job. Almost always, if you work in customer service, when you’re interacting with a customer it’s because something went wrong. When things go wrong, it certainly doesn’t bring out the best in people. 

Or, perhaps Daisy was having a bad day. I suspect they spent a lot of time talking to similarly angry customers over the weekend. Trying to take care of all of them is overwhelming, no doubt. 

There are a lot of things in life you cannot control. You can, however, always control how you respond. You can always decide that you’re going to treat people professionally and with respect, even if they don’t extend the same courtesy to you.

But, the worst thing you can do–the one thing you should never do–to a customer who is upset is to minimize their level of frustration. Telling them to “calm down,” does that. It suggests that you don’t think they should be as frustrated or impatient as they are about whatever went wrong. The thing is, that’s not up to you. You can’t get to decide how someone else feels. 

There are a million other ways to respond to that tweet. “I’m so sorry this is taking a long time and I know you are super frustrated. I promise I’m working on this as quickly as I can so we can get you to your family plans,” would be one way that acknowledges the customer’s frustration, while reiterating that you’re committed to fixing their problem. 

There’s actually another reason this response is such a bad thing–which is that Delta’s support team on Twitter used to be the very best customer service you could find anywhere. Seriously. There were times when I’ve been delayed in the past, and I would both call the customer service phone number, and send a DM on Twitter, and my issue was always resolved faster and with a better result on Twitter. Every time. 

To be fair, Delta apologized in the same thread. In this case, the customer appeared to be satisfied what the outcome, thanking ‘Daisy’ who “worked your magic and made things happen.”

If your job involves interacting with people, you have to remind yourself that very few of them are truly terrible. Most of the time, when they seem terrible to deal with it’s because they aren’t handling their current circumstance well. That’s why they picked up the phone and called you.

Don’t ever take it personally. They aren’t mad at you, they’re mad about whatever problem they have. Your job simply is to treat them with respect, acknowledge their frustration, and do your best to solve the problem. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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