What Losing My First-Class Seat Taught Me About Customer Service

As a person who prides himself on giving great customer service, I learned three ways to create superb customer service after a recent experience I had with Delta Airlines. I made three observations: 

  • It doesn’t matter what happens. It’s all about the recovery.
  • If you hear it, you own it.
  • Customer service is not a department, it’s a mindset.

Let me explain.

Recently, I was in Palm Springs and Los Angeles, California USA with my two young adults for a week-long vacation. It was probably our last trip for a while as my children are transitioning into graduating from high school, driving, starting a job, going to college and shifting into less dependence on me and their mother. Making sure the experience was perfect for them was very important to me.

Our last meal was at Jean George, an exquisite restaurant located in the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills. We were floating on a cloud of magical memories as our trip was coming to an end.

How could this amazing time with my two favorite people in the entire world get any better?

Well, imagine my surprise when we checked into Delta Airlines Sky Priority Lane at Los Angeles International (LAX) for our return flight back to Orlando, and both my daughter and I were upgraded on flight #1649 to first class for our five-hour cross-country trip back to Orlando, FL. 

Then, as the last group of passengers were boarding, the Delta gate agent came to me and told me that my daughter and I had to give up our seats in first class and move back to seats 26 A & C. This was the last touch point of the trip and this moment created disappointment for both of us and a feeling that something gained was now lost.

This may seem like a small issue, but the devil is in the details, and moments like this can often make or break a customer’s experience. Going the extra inch beyond the extra mile is what creates customer love and platinum service

Justin Simmons, the lead Delta Airlines agent, understood this idea. He came back to apologize for what happened and said that when he closed out the upgrades, he neglected to see that two first class seats were purchased at the last minute.

I understood what happened. However, many customers take opportunities like these to turn to social media or Yelp in order to feel heard. It was significant that Justin took the time to acknowledge our disappointment and mitigate any hard feelings.

Beyond this, when I called the Delta SkyMiles Diamond desk and explained what happened, the agent immediately empathized with my situation and deposited 10K miles into my account and 10K into my daughter’s account.

Here’s what losing my first-class seat taught me about customer service:

It’s all about the recovery. Although Delta Airlines was unable to undo the mistake, they recovered by gifting some airline miles into our accounts. We felt like we had gained something despite our initial loss, and Delta was now assured that we would fly with them again using the miles, giving us another chance to interact with their service.

If you hear it, you own it. Once Justin heard about the hiccup, he took ownership of the experience. He could have passed the buck or let us continue on without acknowledging what happened. After all, we did not purchase the first class seats, they were given to us, and it would have been easy to discount our experience.

Customer service is not a department, it’s a mindset. Justin did not work in the customer service department, but he made sure to discuss the event with us, making us feel acknowledged and like our experience mattered. The SkyMiles Diamond Desk did not transfer us to another customer service department. They righted the wrong right then and there.

About Simon T. Bailey
Simon T. Bailey
Simon T. Bailey travels the world speaking to audiences about how how to build a bridge from their current reality to their brilliant future. He is the author of the best-selling books Shift Your Brilliance: Harness the Power of You, Inc. and Brilliant Living: 31 Insights to Creating an Awesome Life. When he’s not working, he enjoys rooting for the Buffalo Bills (hometown team), going to movies and eating hot apple pie.