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Intelligent complaint handling

I was on a flight back from Dublin recently and saw a great example of how to handle a complaint. A female member of the cabin crew was having difficulty stowing a piece of luggage in the overhead locker. So, she moved down the cabin and stored it further back behind the passenger who it belonged to. He immediately called her over and told her that when the plane arrived in Birmingham he would now be the last person off the plane because he would have to wait for everyone to get off, before he could retrieve his bag, and that was going to be her fault. She apologised.

A few moments later the same passenger called over the Senior Cabin Purser and proceeded to complain about the attitude of the other cabin crew member. Everyone’s ears pricked up as we had all heard the earlier altercation. The senior Cabin Purser again apologised. Then someone in the row behind me commented: “She was just trying to be helpful and store the luggage safely”. Someone else added: “That’s right, she was doing her best but she couldn’t reach any further.”

Then the Senior Purser asked the ‘killer’ question: “What would you like me to do about the crew member, sir?” At once there was a hush as we all waited to hear the answer. There was a short amount of huffing and puffing and then the passenger said: “Well nothing, but I just thought that you should know about it”. At that point the complaining passenger sunk down into his seat and no one heard another word.

Brilliant. The Senior Purser had put the ball back in the complainant’s court and there wasn’t really anywhere for him to go. What was he going to do, ask for her to be removed from the plane? Ask for her to be sacked? Of course not. The best way to deal with these situations is not to try and defend the action but to ask how the person would like to see it resolved. Often, they’ll want nothing more than to have had the chance to let rip and when you offer them a chance to suggest a remedy they have no idea and the situation is diffused. Try it next time someone complains.

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