Customer Service is like the Autopilot on your Flight

As you sit on board the aircraft, the pilot comes onto the public address system to advise that the final checks are completed, all passengers have boarded, compartment doors are closed and you are almost ready for departure. The plane will be pushed back, then the pilot will taxi along the apron before requesting ATC clearance for the route and then to take off. The plane speeds down the runway and is airborne. You are now in the air on the way to your destination. Within moments the captain engages the autopilot. This will now remain on for the majority of the flight. Have you ever wondered that with all of the training required to be a pilot and the complexity of an aircraft how the autopilot can be responsible for so much of the flight? This analogy is exactly the same when it comes to running a business. Only, this time, your organisation is the complexity of a plane, and the autopilot is as simple as your customer service. Your life is in the hands of the pilots, yet it’s the autopilot that gets you there. Your business and product is what your customers want and therefore it’s the service that helps you sell it. There are four similarities that we can draw between service and autopilot.

1. Autopilot needs to be engaged 

As a customer, when we are looking to make a purchase we can do it alone with no help, or with the assistance of a staff member. Some things we buy regularly, like bread and milk, carry little or no risk — that is, what it says on the packet is what’s inside. It’s highly unlikely we make the wrong decision, which is why we make the choice on our own. Other things we buy carry a lot of risk — that is the more expensive things like clothing and furniture. It is these types of purchases that, with the assistance of a staff member, the risk can be reduced. Basically, the staff member makes the sale and purchase worthwhile. This is pretty powerful to think that the service has such an effect. So, it is we, the customer, who are seeking service, even though we could technically do it alone. The pilot operates in the same way. He or she could fly the plane the whole flight on their own, but they engage the autopilot to reduce the risk and make the flight worthwhile.

2. Autopilot keeps you on track 

The service will make sure that we as customers get what we need in the end. Think about times that you’ve relied so heavily on the staff member serving you to help get you something. After all, you are blind in unknown territory, which is why staff members have expertise to help navigate you in the right direction and help you get what you’re after. Have you ever been served by someone and then they go away to answer a call or serve another customer? How do you feel when they leave you? Sometimes you get lost and can’t get back on track until the staff member returns. Well, autopilot works in exactly the same way. A pilot can only see the sky, clouds and the horizon. Without a map and navigation, it is impossible to know exactly where you are from the viewpoint of the cockpit. But, you see, the computer does know where you are at all times. The autopilot makes sure you stay on the right course — that destination or where you need to be.

3. Autopilot is not fool-proof

There is no training in the world that can prepare you for every customer service situation. Even the best-trained organisations would still receive customer complaints and need to learn to respond in different ways. We can only try to make sure our staff have the ability to think of ways to serve the customer based on their specific and unique situation. The problems we face along the way with customers are like pockets of turbulence during a flight. Sometimes you can avoid them, and other times you have to go through them. The autopilot is pretty good, but when things get really rough, it can’t stay on. That’s why you have the pilots standing by to take over if there are any bumps too big for it to handle. The autopilot is not fool-proof —it is capable of going wrong and misused, which is why we need to have structured safeguards in place in the event of this occurring. What escalation or back-ups do you have in your business in case the customer service fails or if the situation becomes too big with customer service not the only solution?

4. Autopilot gives you peace of mind 

Most passengers know that the autopilot is engaged for most of the flight. But you wouldn’t think about it much. Why? Because you have peace of mind. As a passenger, your experience isn’t the autopilot; your experience is the whole flight. The autopilot is only part of it, yet you don’t think about it too much. When you are purchasing something, a lot goes through your mind before, during and after. There are questions and concerns that relate to the product or the sale, but as long as we continue to receive exceptional customer service it alleviates all of our worries. After all, that’s why we engaged the autopilot to start with. The plane could crash if the autopilot stopped working — and so could the sale. Think about the number of times you’ve taken your business elsewhere because quite simply the customer service was just not there.

Chris Smoje is a customer service speaker, trainer, facilitator and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Chris works with organisations and their people to develop a common interest and excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results:

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