In the Trenches: Taking the Blame

BrettSnyder by Brett Snyder on October 2, 2013
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Being an intermediary between two parties can create some very strange and uncomfortable situations for us. When things go wrong, people tend to look for someone to blame. I used to think it was best to make it clear who is truly at fault, but recently my strategy has become a little more complex.

Who should take the blame and accept responsibility for making amends when something goes awry? As is often the case in professional situations, it depends.

In our flight monitoring business, the most important determining factor is understanding who is angry at what entity. On one side, we have our client, who is often an individual traveler. But we also do bookings for companies and must follow their corporate policies, which can frustrate individual travelers. On the other side, we have the airlines, which operate in a very complex industry where a million things can go wrong.

When an individual traveler is unhappy with what Cranky Concierge is permitted to provide due to company policy, we explain that we’re just following orders. We always offer to submit an alternate itinerary for approval by the company, but the final decision isn’t usually ours.

When a traveler’s best laid plans fall apart and things go wrong while they’re traveling, however, we happily step in. For example, a corporate client recently hired us to book airfare for a customer it was flying to an event. On the way back, the customer encountered problems with the shuttle service back to the airport, and he missed his flight. We hadn’t booked his ground transportation, but it seemed like he was mad at us. That was fine. We gladly accept the blame for incidents like this — and work to resolve them — because it does no good to do otherwise. Nothing can change what’s already happened. And, in this case, I got the feeling that having someone to yell at was cathartic for him. No problem, especially if it helps our client!

If a traveler is mad at an airline, then we’re less likely to take the blame, especially if the mishap is the airline’s fault. It may be that a fare went up or a flight is no longer available. With some airlines, we can advocate on the client’s behalf. But, ultimately, the airlines set the rules, and we try our best to explain them to our clients. But we won’t take the blame for something that we have no control over.

We’ve also had airline agents get really angry at complicated changes we’re trying to make for clients. By pushing some blame to a particular client and painting that person as “difficult,” we can create a sort of customer-service bond with the agents that helps us get things done. We don’t use this tactic often, but at times, a human connection makes a difference.

What I’ve learned is that every situation is different. We have to evaluate what to do each time on a case by case basis.

BrettSnyder

Brett Snyder is President and Chief Airline Dork of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. Snyder previously worked for several airlines, including America West and United, before leaving to create a travel search site for PriceGrabber.com. Snyder did his undergrad at George Washington and earned his MBA from Stanford.

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