March 14, 2014 – Vicki Pero - Insights

When Customer Service Is Optional, No One Wins



I was recently at the airport waiting at my gate, and noticed agroup of passengers who were going to miss their connection working with a desk agent who was attempting to rebook them on an alternate flight.  She was at one gate and the flight she was attempting to book them on was next door and already boarding.  As she keyed the itinerary changes into her computer, she said to the group, “I am doing everything correctly in the system, but she,” thumbing toward the other gate agent, “may not let you onto the plane, because it’s so close to the end of the boarding process.”

Once she wrapped everything up, she sent the passengers to the other gate.  Much to their astonishment, and mine, that gate agent told them their flight transfers hadn’t been properly entered into the system and abruptly turned them away.  This group of passengers literally ran back to the original agent who proceeded to share a list of complaints about her colleague and punctuated it with there was nothing else she could do for them to get on that flight.

Anyone who travels for a living can probably recall a similar story about being at the mercy of an airline as a result of poor customer service.  In witnessing this situation where the customer came up on the losing side for all the wrong reasons, I was reminded once again how paramount service is, its affect on customer retention and company reputation.  And ironically, how easy it really can be to let the customer “win” or more specifically, receive the service she/he is actually paying for.

1.  Fixing the Problem is More Important than Being Right. 

Both of these employees were so focused on being right that they lost sight of the primary goal, which was to ensure their customers reach their destination in a safe and, efficient manner.  If they had put their differences aside and actually partnered together, they could have resolved any issues that were preventing the customers from boarding the new flight

2.  Common Sense is not Always Common Practice.

I have facilitated more customer service training sessions than I can remember at this point in my career, and quite often participants will make the comment that most of what is being covered is common sense.  True, but what’s discussed in a classroom training session doesn’t always translate to what employees choose to do on the job.  In this example, it seemed so obvious to me that these two employees needed to regroup with each other for a brief moment to determine the best way to assist the passengers.

If customer service matters within your organization, provide your employees regular training, and follow up the training with frequent refresher sessions and activities.   Make positive examples of employees through reward and recognition as well and hold yourself accountable to the same standards when you interact with customers.   This is the best way to bridge the gap between expectations and performance.

3.  The Biggest Price of All.

I’m certain that the airline in this situation lost the business of those customers.  It’s also likely that they lost numerous other potential customers who were told this story or perused Trip Advisor.  In addition, the employees involved still had to work together after this exchange.  Given their dysfunctional relationship, this is likely not the first or last time something like this will happen.  The toll this type of relationship must take on each of them personally as well as on their coworkers is likely to be significant.

We can’t change the weather or the impact it has on flights, but every company has the opportunity to instill customer service expectations into their cultures through training, reinforcement and reward & recognition.