August 18th, 2016

Managing Customer Service & Logistics Nightmares

If the recent Delta power outage and subsequent air traffic supply chain disruptions taught the business world anything, it’s that having the right staff members in the right place and at the right time is a key component of business success. Going a step further, ensuring that customer service employees are trained to handle crisis management in times of extreme stress can literally mean the difference between unhappy customers and those who at least understand the company’s plight and its attempt to make things better.

Win at #CustomerService and build a #BestInClass workforce: via @ajilon #Delta

“We’re feeling OK. We’re excited to go to Disneyworld. We just want to catch the flight,” the Joseph family posted on its Twitter account, along with a group photo. “Delta is just saying that the systems are down and we are going to be late.”

What Happened?

Delta’s problem started on August 8th when the company’s Atlanta-based backup systems went down, causing the airline to cancel or ground thousands of flights. And even though the system was back up and running six hours later, the damage was already done. Around the world, large-scale cancellations wound up stranding hundreds of thousands of passengers and wreaking havoc on their travel plans.

Delta’s initial response left customers wondering how they would ever get from Point A to B that day. “During the worst of it early Monday morning, getting information on the status of flights was particularly frustrating for passengers,” according to CNN Money’s Travel nightmare for fliers after power outage grounds Delta. “Delta conceded during the ground stop that it had trouble providing accurate flight status on airport departure boards, at, the Fly Delta App, and from Delta representatives on the phone.”

Delta CEO Ed Bastian apologized to customers in a video, saying that the airline’s employees were “working around the clock” to restore normal operations. “I apologize for the challenges this has created for you with your travel experience,” said Bastian, in the video message. “The Delta team is working very, very hard to restore and get these systems back as quickly as possible.”

Bastian also spoke about how airline employees were working “all hands on deck” to bring flight schedules back to normal and about the system-wide travel waivers that customers could “access either through or by talking to any of our reservation agents.”

Developing a Strong Customer Service Team

The Delta reservation agents that Bastian mentioned—and the airline’s customer service team—undoubtedly played a key role in helping Delta manage the crisis, quell customers’ concerns, and get the overall company back on track and operating normally. At Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, for example, the airline says it activated its Peach Corps, a team of Delta volunteers from the airline’s corporate headquarters who regularly support the Airport Customer Service team during peak travel days and adverse weather events.

Also, Delta reported that more than 200 employees provided more than 600 volunteer hours at the airport, helping with everything from guiding customers through the check-in process to way-finding in the concourses. They also delivered more than 4,000 Krispy Kreme donuts to customers in the concourses and to employee breakrooms.

“Delta employees have been doing a great job under the circumstances,” said one customer in a Facebook post on the day after the shutdown, having just boarded a flight in Atlanta. “They’ve got employees all over giving out Krispy Kreme.”

Showing Your Company’s Value

The Delta shutdown illustrates the value of good, caring customer service staff not just during times of crisis, but also 24/7/365. By hiring, nurturing, and retaining a strong customer support staff, your firm will stand a better chance of cultivating a large and loyal base of customers who realize that mistakes and missteps happen from time to time.

“Great service is about getting your customers to trust you and count on a consistent experience, but that doesn’t mean you’re always going to be perfect,” said Eric Schiffer, CEO of, in 4 Steps for Handling a Customer Service Crisis. “In a crisis, you can elevate your stature with how well you handle the situation. A negative experience can be the best time to show your value.”

A Best-in-Class workforce, one that responds to a crisis with ease and expertise, can be nurtured using these tips.

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