The Airline Captain who Taught me a Lesson in Customer Service

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong. ~ Donald Porter Click To Tweet

We all know that customer service is important.

In fact, it’s one of the most important aspects of any business.

But when you’re looking for great examples of customer service, don’t travel by air. Delayed flights, lost luggage, crowded airports, long lines and disinterested employees seem to be the norm across the country. There appears to be little effort or desire to take care of the flying customer. It makes traveling for business depressing, discouraging and disheartening.

I remember an experience I had on one of my business flights.

My day started with an aborted take-off from a frozen runway on an uncharacteristically cold Monday morning. The 10-degree weather froze the plane’s systems and caused them to malfunction half-way down the tarmac. We all noticed something was wrong when the plane powered down from 120 to 0 MPH in what seemed to be several short seconds.

This is when we met our captain and learned 3 valuable lessons.


  1. If you screw up, let the customer know what happened.

    If you screw up, let the customer know what happened. Once the plane was stopped and off the active runway, our captain let us know exactly what happened. He explained in detail why he had to abort the take-off and what he planned to do next.

    Customer service is all about building relationships. The more open and transparent you are with your customers, the better they’ll feel about working with you. And when things go wrong, transparency is key to being able to fix them quickly and get back on track.


  1. Take ownership and do everything you can to make things right.

    As we returned to the gate, our captain informed us of what he was going to do to try and get us out as soon as possible. After we deplaned, he appeared to be personally working with the airline to get the plane fixed or get us another aircraft.

    Great customer service is not just about fixing problems, or even making it up to the customer. It’s about taking ownership of the issue and working to solve it as soon as possible, all while doing your best to ensure that the customer has a positive experience. If a customer comes to you with a problem, don’t pass the buck. Don’t blame others for something that happened on their watch—take responsibility, apologize sincerely, and work quickly to resolve the situation.


  1. Apologize and be sincere.

    Our captain eventually got us another aircraft and had us boarding only a few hours after the aborted take-off. He continued to keep us informed and apologized for all the delays as we continued our journey. After we safely landed, he stood at the front of the plane and sincerely apologized to each of us personally.

    When it comes to customer service, it’s critical that you’re able to apologize sincerely if things haven’t gone according to plan. The best way to do this is by caring deeply for your customers and their experience. When you have that kind of compassion, it should personally hurt when that experience is poor.


Customer service is not a single encounter. It’s a series of interactions that build your brand and make customers feel like they matter.

When a problem occurs in a customer experience, you have an opportunity to make it right.

Great customer service begins with transparent communication. You need to let the customer know what is happening and what they can expect next. You need to be honest and open with them, so they feel like they can trust you.

It continues with taking ownership and fixing the problem. You can’t just say “I’m sorry.” You need to take responsibility for what happened and let them know what steps are being taken to correct it. This will help build trust between you and your customer, which will lead to more loyal customers in the long run.

It ends with a sincere apology. The last thing customers want after being wronged is someone who doesn’t seem sorry about what happened—so make sure you really mean it! Sincerity matters! Don’t just apologize because you have to.

If you can do this consistently—if you can put yourself in your customers’ shoes and truly empathize with them—you will build lifelong relationships with them through trust, loyalty, and goodwill!

Things to think about:

  • How does your company measure up?
  • Do your forward-facing employees care deeply for the customer?
  • Do they communicate transparently?
  • Are they empowered to fix the problem?
  • Are they sincere?
  • Have you experienced great customer service after a problem? How did that change your thoughts of the company?



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