4 Leadership Secrets to Retain Customers During Disruption

82 minutes…

This is how long I waited for a customer service rep at Virgin America when my flight was canceled.

If you know me at all, you’re waiting for me to rant about how unacceptable this wait was, and bellow about how Virgin America took their eye off the ball. Or to insist that consumers just aren’t going to stand for this anymore!

But, guess what?  

After that ridiculous wait, I actually stayed on the line to provide a positive review of my experience…


On that day, I was just one of thousands of customers caught in the crossfire of two company disruptions:

          1) The acquisition of Virgin America by Alaska Airlines, and

          2) The unpredictable spring weather hitting the East Coast.

Needless to say, both the people and processes involved were breaking down. And like any major disruption, both the customers and employees were caught in the middle.

Imagine my surprise when, after an hour and a half of hold music, I was greeted by a friendly voice on the other end.  

I was expecting an exhausted “It sucks to be me” employee. Instead, I was met with a considerate, kind and humorous representative who greeted me, listened to me and patiently worked through various technology challenges.

I just had to ask her… “What is your secret? After dealing with massive changes and stressors, how are you still so positive?”  

Her response was simple: She loves her job. She loves her bosses, who chipped in to do anything and everything they could to help the situation. And she loves how time just flies when she’s busy.

I was flabbergasted.

So, what was Virgin America’s secret?  Here’s what I heard from that amazing representative:

1. Leaders Show Up During Crisis

As leaders in organizations facing both expected and unexpected disruptions, it’s easy to fall into the “nothing I can do about it” trap. But, courageous leaders know that they need to show up when navigating the storm.

Here’s how Virgin leaders were showing up for their employees that day:

2. Setting Crystal Clear Expectations

Having a crystal clear vision of what the team was trying to achieve that day was the key to a successful customer experience. The employee didn’t rush me off the phone; rather, her goal was to focus on my needs and to take the time to make it right. As she said, “I’m successful if you feel a little bit better after we talk.”

3. Hiring for Values

Leaders who use values-based hiring know that skills and knowledge are important for the team’s success… but they don’t stop there. They look for the essence of an individual when making hiring decisions.  Clearly, the leaders had taken the time to identify what values were important for this role (i.e. caring about others, having a positive outlook, compassionate problem solvers) and hired employees who were a ‘values’ fit first.

4. Getting in the Trenches

All hands on deck doesn’t mean that you get to sit by and watch your team handle stressful situations. It means getting into the trenches and fighting alongside them. The leaders on that team were on the floor, taking calls, handling questions and doing what they could to help. Employees need to know that we leaders have their backs.

5. Creating the Right Behaviors by Using the Right Metrics

There’s an old adage: What gets measured gets managed. In most call centers, average handle time is one of the leading metrics used to manage a rep’s performance. Customers can often ‘feel’ this expectation as they are rushed off the line (sometimes without problem resolution).  But leaders who have the right behavioral-driving metrics in place—whether it’s resolving a problem in one call or ensuring customer satisfaction—make sure the metrics are driving the right behaviors.

So how are you preparing to show up when your storm hits? Share your stories here!

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