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How to Be Quick in a Crisis: Lesson for Delta from Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Why does it take so long? Delta Airlines recently found themselves eerily ready to play out the “United Breaks Guitars” nightmare again when they required prodding to replace an expensive guitar damaged in flight. According to an account in PR Daily, “Delta eventually offered to pay for Schneider’s guitar and give him two free passes, but only after weeks of what he calls ‘the runaround.’”

There are two very ugly magnifying circumstances here: the airline forced the passenger to check the guitar which was supposedly carry-on size, and the Gibson guitar was worth around $10,000. Imagine the customer’s horror when he found the guitar damaged after the flight.

Recently, I wrote about the importance of being quick in a crisis rather than hurrying. I said that quickness is the result of training and preparation, where hurry is a reactive, emotional response. The difference in a crisis can affect everything from your reputation to your bottom line. Quickness comes from organizational culture—it is the result of mission. If you have a mission to make your customers happy, your tactics will flesh that out. Airlines have a notorious reputation of dragging their feet when it comes to making right their wrongs. They would do well to take a page from the Enterprise Rent-A-Car school of customer service:


In this short commercial, we see the DNA of being quick in a crisis:

  1. Take customer complaints personally. They should be the bane of your existence; the sour milk on your cereal.
  2. If there ever is a problem, on-the-spot employees should have the power to make it right. Sure it’s costly to write a check for $10,000 after a guitar’s worth has been verified, but the benefit of being able to do this immediately is priceless. Even so, it shouldn’t take weeks. What if the customer’s livelihood depends on the damaged item?
  3. “Let us show you what that means.” Delta can run all the commercials they want about how their planes are on time, their seats are more comfortable, whatever. Until they make customers a priority from ticket purchase to luggage pick-up, it is really just noise. You’re not done when the plane touches down.

Now what remains to be seen: will Delta change their culture, and will Enterprise live up to their promises?

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