Why You Need a Customer Service Crisis Plan

On Monday, a power outage caused Delta Airlines to cancel 450 flights by 1:30pm ET. 

Thousands of passengers were stranded. Others couldn't start planned business trips or planned vacations. People struggled to get updated information.

This wasn't the first time flights were cancelled at Delta. It also won't be the last. Flight delays and cancellations are an unfortunate part of being in the airline business.

Stuff happens. That's why companies need to have a customer service crisis plan.

Unique Situation, Similar Results

Every company is at risk of something bad happening that involves customers.

Airlines face mass cancellations. Manufacturers face defective products. A hotel guest might decide to commit suicide by jumping off a balcony. A restaurant patron may have an allergic reaction to something in her meal.

These things happen. Even if they haven't happened to your business, they might.

Take Delta as an example. Their cancellations were easy to foresee, even if the specific cause wasn't. Two weeks ago, Southwest Airlines had to cancel 2,300 flights due to a computer system issue. The same thing happened to both Southwest and United in 2015.

Delta also faces weather-related cancellations on a regular basis. So, there is really no excuse for an airline like that to not have a plan.

The key is deciding what sort of crisis is your business likely to face. (More on that in a moment.)


Care For Your Key Stakeholders

Another angle to consider is the stakeholders who will be affected.

Sure, there's your customers. That's a pretty important group. How your company handles a crisis can define whether your customers make a vow to be customers for life or if they head straight to your competition.

Your employees are also affected.

Think about the Delta flight crews. They had little information (sometimes less than passengers) yet had to find a way to put a good face forward. 

One enterprising pilot bought pizza for passengers on his plane. Come to think of it, that may have been part of a plan. Or, at least there was past precedent in 2015.

There's also Delta's reservation agents, ticketing agents, gate agents, customer care representatives, and social media care representatives who all had to assist passengers whose travel was interrupted.

It's safe to assume many passengers in that bunch were less than pleasant.

There's also the media. Delta's outage has gotten widespread media coverage. When a disaster like this strikes, you want to be able to provide the media with helpful resources. It makes their job easier, but they're also more likely to go easier on you.

Like, sharing this video from Delta's CEO, Ed Bastian.

A crisis plan gives these key stakeholders some confidence. It lets people know what to do (or, what not to do). Most important, it gives people essential resources to serve those who need help.


Don't Over Complicate It!

Creating a crisis plan doesn't necessarily have to be complicated. Here are a few basic steps you can take:

Step 1: Identify a list of potential risks. You might not think of everything, but you'll have a good list. And, many items on your list can be applied to unforeseen developments.

Step 2: Assess the risk of each item. There's always someone on the team who insists on including "Zombie Apocalypse" on a list of potential risks. Fine. Let them have their fun. You'll just rank it as an extremely low risk.

Step 3: Create a plan to handle the top issues. Decide on your first few steps for each one. For example, there should be a clear process to follow if a customer or employee gets injured. (Side note: do you know what to do if someone gets hurt?!)

It remains to be seen whether Delta did a great job. Early indications are that passengers are naturally upset, but Delta handled it well. One thing that's obvious is they had a plan in place and they're acting on it.

**UPDATE 8/12/16**

Well, it looks like things got worse for Delta as the week went on. Here's a great blog post on the One Mile at a Time blog with a comprehensive (and quite fair) review of how Delta handled things.