Right Day But The Wrong Month

The day before my return flight to Florida, I tried to check in on a computer provided by the hotel. I accessed the Delta Airlines’ website and found my itinerary but when I went to check in, I was blocked from doing so. Realizing that part of my trip was on Northwest, recently merged with Delta, I went to the Northwest website. Again, I found my itinerary but this time, the site redirected me to Delta. I believed  I was trapped between the two computer systems; however, I had seat assignments and I wasn’t worried.

To obtain boarding passes, I arrived at the airport early. When it was my turn to do so, I stepped up to the counter and informed—perhaps somewhat assertively—the young man waiting on me their computers were messed up. After checking and rechecking, he very politely informed me I had reserved a seat on the 12:00 PM flight to Atlanta for November rather than October 30th.

I understood  I couldn’t check in because you can’t do so  more than 30 days in advance; it was clear to me that I had better get my wallet out because it was going to cost to rebook. I explained there was a mistake and as much as I liked Grand Rapids, I would much rather be in sunny Florida and I had plans for Thanksgiving. In return, he informed me he didn’t know how to handle the problem and would have to get a supervisor to help.

Now, I knew this mistake was going to be expensive, so I put on my best, pleading smile and spelled out the problem to the supervisor. He was quiet for a moment and then said, “I don’t know if the computer will allow me to make a change but let me see what I can do.” After a few minutes of  typing, he grinned and printed boarding passes for flights out of Grand Rapids and Atlanta.

I don’t know if the supervisor had the authority to do so, however his making the change led to my spreading this story of good customer service and convinced me to make Delta my first choice for future travel.

Eager to increase revenues, many companies have enacted fees for service that they would not have contemplated in the past. To collect the fees, they have  become bureaucratic and inflexible. An example is the airlines decision to allow no exception to the fee charged for changing flights.

Smart companies empower employees to use common sense when dealing with customer problems. Their focus is on long-term relationships rather than short-term profits. They know that a story about good service will travel far and wide and a story about bad service will travel even further.

Years ago, I learned a lesson about long-term thinking from a story from my father. In 1936, my dad’s best customer confronted Dave Tullis, my father’s company manager. Holding an invoice he had received, the customer emphatically stated that it was over priced and he wasn’t going to pay it. Without a moment’s hesitation, Mr. Tullis grabbed the invoice, tore it in half and told the customer that if he didn’t believe it was correct, then it wasn’t.

When I sold the company 50 year’s later, that customer was still using our services. Of course, Dave re-invoiced the customer for a reduced amount; and, over the years we added a little to each bill to recoup the credit given. I learned by responding positively to a customer complaint and giving a little, in the long run you gained far more.

Like my booking a flight for the wrong month, customers make mistakes. Sometimes, they believe they are charged too much; or service was slow; or the wrong materials were delivered. When such mistakes and understandings are responded to with common sense and empathy, relationships are built that last long into the future.

Customer Service

If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” – Jeff Bezos

Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.” – Donald Porter

“You’ll never have a product or price advantage again. They can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can’t be copied.” – Jerry Fritz


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