Read the memo: What United is telling customer service agents to say.

 How can United's customer service improve? Photo: InSappoWeTrust/Flickr. Creative Commons.

How can United's customer service improve? Photo: InSappoWeTrust/Flickr. Creative Commons.

After last week's United Airlines reservations system meltdown, experts took to the internet to write negative stories about the airline's customer service mishaps. 

"Customers are saying loud and clear that where it matters—service, reliability, value and overall quality—our nation's airlines are failing," Matt Andersson wrote in Crain's Chicago Business. "In United's case, it may be especially frustrating as its junior merger partner, Continental, famously went from 'worst to first' in passenger satisfaction. Now the merger seems to be going from 'trying to dying.'"

For The Huffington Post, Ken Gruberman was even more harsh about how United treated him when its systems failed. "I, and many others, were getting more frantic and upset, and the United personnel did nothing to deal with this understandable human dynamic," he wrote. "Questions like 'Should I stay or try and find another flight? Should I go home? Are flights being re-scheduled? Are we under attack?' were all met with shrugs and 'go ask someone else.' It was ASTOUNDINGLY bad customer relations."

So what's the problem? I don't know. But I know United is trying. It recently shared some customer service tips with front-line employees in an internal document. I have copied part of that document below. 

What do you think of the advice? My favorite part is the last section, detailing what agents should tell you when they grab your bag at boarding. 

Summer Customer Service Tips

Be the brand by welcoming customers. How do you feel when trying to navigate a new place? Confused or overwhelmed? Seeing a welcoming face can help to ease a customer’s anxiety. This is especially important during the busy summer travel period, when customers who may not often travel are taking a vacation. Whether it’s a greeting in the lobby, Customer Service Center, United Club or gate area, make this first impression memorable by greeting customers warmly and reassuring them, such as asking if assistance is needed.

Be the solution by providing relevant and timely information Providing relevant and timely updates about delays (even when nothing has changed) goes a long way to ease customer anxiety, while ensuring our customers we are looking out for them. When making announcements, keep in mind what customers are thinking:

  • What is the Customer Service Representative (CSR) telling me?
  • Why is this is happening?
  • What does this mean to me and the rest of my itinerary? Keeping their perspective in mind helps to ensure announcements are clear and understandable.

Be gracious by using the customer’s name Using a customer’s name goes a long way in making someone feel appreciated instead of just the next person in line. Studies show people tend to like you more if you use their name a few times during conversation — without going overboard to ensure it doesn’t become unnatural.

Companion benefits for EconomyPlus It’s important to always acknowledge a customer’s MileagePlus status and to deliver their earned benefits. Did you know a 1K or Premier Platinum customer may have up to eight companions in EconomyPlus without an upsell charge?

Be positive when handling gate checked bags When it comes to gate check baggage handling, the way you deliver the message is key. Instead of telling customers that they will need to be separated from their carry-on, focus on what's in it for them, such as: 

  • If the customer needs to go to the carousel to retrieve other bags anyway, they can remove anything needed for the flight and enjoy a stress-free connection or walk to baggage claim. 
  • Avoid the hassle of looking for overhead bin space, or having to wait to deplane when your bag is stowed away from your seat.

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