Tag Archives: customer service

Fly With Us? US Air Grounds Itself With This Passenger

As many of you know, the airline industry is at a difficult cross roads:  vying for customers, increasing fuel costs, profitability eroding, some airlines even emerging from bankruptcy filings.  Seems like a time when focusing on the customer would be a top priority, no?  Well – not for every airline, apparently.  Perhaps US Airways needs to communicate that imperative more effectively to their front line staff.  Here’s what it was like trying to be a US Air customer last week.

The situation begins at Continental.  I had an initial flight with Continental, which was delayed, causing me to miss my connecting flight.  So, Continental re-booked me on Delta (they have an agreement with them) to get me out on their next flight.  I went to Delta to check in, who claimed not to have the reservation.  A set of flight vouchers and a copy of the reservation showing me booked on the flight didn’t seem to impress them.  They still said they didn’t have me in their system.  Go back to Continental, they told me.  But Delta did have my luggage – which was transferred to them by Continental.  I told Delta that, who still insisted they never had my reservations or bag.  I was exhausted after a long week, and frankly didn’t want to get caught in between airlines.  I needed to get a flight out. So I decided to see if I could get a flight at US Air. I had vouchers that would allow me to fly on any airline.

So off to the US Air ticket desk I went.  The US Air agent looked at my vouchers, said there was a flight, started to book me, and then informed me that I would have to get my bags back myself, and have them rechecked before being put on the plane.  One small problem:  I didn’t have my bags. They were already in the baggage loading area, having been checked at Continental, and then transferred to Delta.  And I was not quite sure where they were currently.

So I tried to explain the situation, and the US Air agent kept interrupting, his voice getting louder and louder. I was not successful in explaining – so I took a deep breath and said “We’re not communicating well here.  Can you let me explain the situation and the help I need?”

He interrupted me, stated that he was trying to help me, but that I was being rude.  Given his treatment of my request for help with locating my bags, I found that a bit ironic.  I tried to explain again that I didn’t have access to the bags and needed his help.  Could he call down to the baggage area (which I had no access to) and ask for my bags to be located? He kept telling me I had to get them myself. This wasn’t possible because they were in an area which is not open to passengers! He cut me off again, tossed my vouchers onto the counter and said:  “You know what? You’re not my customer.  Go back to Continental.”

Needless to say, I was pretty shocked by that – and asked him, “Is this how US Air treats someone who is trying to be a customer?”  He got very angry at this point – put his head down, raised his arm and waved me off.  “Go!  You’re not my customer. You’re Continental’s problem.”

So I asked to speak to a supervisor.  He told me that he was the supervisor.  I then asked for his name (his badge was turned so I couldn’t read it).  “I’m not going to give you my name.” he said.  So I asked to speak to someone above him, which of course, he refused.  I told him that I was shocked that I was trying to buy a ticket and ask for some assistance and that he had treated a potential customer that way.

His response was to snatch my vouchers from the counter, come from behind the counter and march away with them.  No explanation or word to me.  He just took them and left.  I followed him – and told him that I would be speaking with Customer Relations at US Air.  He looked back at me, and said, “I don’t give a damn who you talk to.”  And then he marched up to the Continental desk, which was empty, and he walked behind the desk and threw my tickets onto the counter.  The tickets slide across the counter and hit me.  Then he slammed the door and marched back to the US Air desk.

US Airways’ current tag line – displayed prominently on their website – is “Fly With Us.”  Apparently this ticket agent didn’t know that US Air actually WANTS more passengers.  If asking for some help, and wanting to be heard until you’ve finished a sentence is unacceptable – then how many of us will fly with someone else?  I know that this passenger now believes what the US Air ticket agent said is right – I am not their customer.  Not now. Not ever.

Oh – and I did make it home the next day with the assistance of an amazing, helpful and thoughtful ticket agent at Continental.  She tried to book me on the US Air flight – since it was the only and last flight out that night.  Unfortunately, my friend at US Air noticed the reservation, called her back and said, “We don’t want her.”  So he canceled the booking.  The last flight out – and he knew it.

My Continental agent felt really badly.  She even apologized for the behavior of the U.S. Air agent.  Apparently, my friend at US Air has a bit of a reputation at the Charleston Airport.  A ticket agent, a gate agent, AND a TSA supervisor there told me that he does this to people all the time.  Mary, the Continental agent, apologized for him – even though he was not with her company, and not her co-worker.  She still apologized that I had gone through something so awful in “her” airport.  Mary Platt, ticket agent with Continental, was fabulous. She booked me a hotel room without being asked, arranged for a shuttle to pick me up – and got me a tooth brush!  Oh yes, she went to find my luggage and confirmed that Delta was wrong.  They did have my bags – which flew off to my destination without me.  God, I love to travel!  I can say that in over 20 years of flying for business – I have never experienced the kind of customer “service” that US Air had to offer me.

So “Fly With You?”  Not a chance.  Continental got it right.  Empathize with the customer’s problem.  Anticipate the help they will need.  Do it without being asked.  Cover all the details.  Own the problem – even if you didn’t create it.  Make it all better!   And she did.  Thanks, Mary Platt.  The more you helped me, the worse Jeff, the U.S. Air ticket agent looked.  He obviously doesn’t know what a repeat customer looks like – and it’s clear that you do and you will!

— Lisa Dennis

A Visit to Customer Service Heaven

Knowledgence Associates is not in the business of reviewing food and restaurants, nor do we typically shill for other businesses.  But since our work is centered around dedication to the customer experience, we feel the need to share with our readers a magnificent example of a business that obviously “gets it,” and how our experience with this business made us feel.

 

 

On a recent trip to Seattle, Lisa and I decided to go out for dinner.  We had no idea where we wanted to go, or what we wanted to eat.  The hotel where we stayed had a shuttle bus, so we asked the driver for his recommendation.  After a few suggestions were considered, we finally decided on Daniel’s Broiler, on Lake Union.  This was to be serendipitous.

 

 

We walked into the restaurant, and I immediately thought that this was a far nicer restaurant than we had planned.  We were not seeking fine dining, just a decent meal at a decent price.  However, the hostess made us feel welcome, and directed us to the lounge, where we could get a drink while waiting for our table.

 

 

Before we got halfway through our drinks, we were told that our table was ready for us.  One small detail that foreshadowed what we were to experience was that the bar did not insist we settle up before being seated.  The waitress simply told us she would arrange to have the drinks put on our dinner bill.  Simple, effortless, but it made a great impression.  Why do other restaurants act like you are going to dash out the back door instead of going to your table to eat?

 

 

On the way to our table, we passed a refrigerated display case, which housed various cuts of steak and lobster tails.  And we received a mini-lesson on the quality and freshness of the food.  I am not typically one to get carried away over hunks of raw beef, but friends, these were some pretty steaks.  The hostess informed us that Daniel’s served only USDA prime steaks, and that they tasted as good as they looked.  The lobster tails were impressively enormous.

 

 

We were seated at a spacious, comfortable, immaculately-set table, where our waiter, Eric Martin, introduced himself, and then asked about us.  How were we doing, where were we from, what brought us to Seattle, etc.  But instead of the rapid-fire interrogation that many wait staff are programmed to perform, Eric was actually having a conversation with us.  After a brief but friendly discussion, he asked if he could go over the menu with us, to explain a few things, and to answer any questions we might have.  Rather than push us toward “specials” or any particular high-end items, Eric was confident in his employer’s products, and discussed the highlights of many of them.

 

 

Shortly after Eric took our orders, we were visited by Cullen White, our busboy.  Again, unfailing polite and courteous, he too took an interest in us, and wanted to ensure we were enjoying our experience at Daniel’s.  At this point, Lisa and I looked at one another, and we realized this was not just another steak house.  Either we had lucked out and just happened to get a couple of the finest servers on the planet, or else the management of Daniel’s must really understand, and buy into, the value of premium service, and then hire and train accordingly.  We had come to this conclusion before we had tasted a bite of food.

 

 

But frankly, as much as we enjoy good conversation, food is what we had come for.  When our meals arrived (Lisa ordered surf and turf and I ordered filet mignon), this was the crowning moment of truth.  The hostess who seated us, as well as Eric, who served us, had made a pretty big deal over the quality of the food.  Well, as my Mom used to say, they weren’t just a-whistlin’ Dixie.  Now, let me reiterate that I am not a food critic.  However, I have been a meat-eater since I’ve had teeth, and this filet mignon was without a doubt the finest steak I have ever had the pleasure of tasting.  It was a generous portion, prepared to my specifications, and to say it melted in my mouth would be to rely on an overused cliché, but one that is completely accurate in its description.  The lobster tail that topped Lisa’s surf and turf was three times the size of anything she would have gotten in New England, and the steak beneath it was as tender and juicy as my filet.  Of course, Eric gracefully separated the lobster meat from the tail for Lisa, then left us to savor our meal.

 

 

And savor is the operative word here.  Lisa and I have both been known, on occasion, to scarf down a pedestrian meal in minutes, without giving it a second thought.  But this meal begged to be slowly experienced.  Eric and Cullen were never far from us, to ensure we had everything we needed, and that everything we had was to our liking.  Our water glasses never got below half-empty (or shall I say, half-full).  But these gentlemen were not hovering; they were invisible until needed, materializing out of thin air to check on us, and then, poof, they were gone.  Cullen had mentioned to us that, in order to ensure quality service to its customers, the restaurant’s management did not overload the service personnel.  They teamed waiters and bus-staff, and limited them to serving three tables at a time, this way they would never be too busy to provide courteous, timely service.  What a concept!

 

 

After dinner, we had to pay the check.  And it wasn’t cheap, by any stretch of the imagination. But we did not flinch, nor did we regret coming to this establishment.  Truly, this was an instance of value triumphing over cost.  We gladly paid the fare, with a fairly substantial tip.  And every penny was worth it.

 

 

When it was time to go, we had one final favor to ask of Eric, our waiter.  We wanted to get a cab back to the hotel.  He had the hostess call the cab for us, and we said our goodbyes, and thanked Cullen and him for the outstanding experience they provided for us.  On the way out, we met the manager, and told him of the world-class service and food that we had enjoyed.  The hostess, standing close by, remembered us and where we were from, even though she had almost certainly spoken with scores of other people since we had come in.  (The restaurant was packed with a Friday night crowd!)

 

 

We went out front of the restaurant to wait for the cab.  And we waited.  And it started raining.  And we waited some more.  We walked back inside, to get out of the rain, and the manager was shocked that the cab hadn’t come yet, so he had the hostess call again.  The cab company said that they were backed up at the moment, so the wait might be up to 40 minutes.  So the manager asked where we were staying, and when we told him, he called the hotel and asked that they send the shuttle for us.  Even after we had paid our bill, these people were still looking out for us.

 

 

So, what are the take-aways from this story?  First of all, the combination of great product and great service is an absolute winner, every time.  Had we received this kind of service, but been given mediocre food, it probably would have been a decent experience, nonetheless.  Conversely, had we been served outstanding food by an indifferent staff, it would still have been a pretty fair dining experience.  But the combination of world-class food delivered by world-class service providers made for a truly memorable customer experience, and created what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba call Customer Evangelists.

 

 

Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean was fond of touting his own exploits, saying, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”  So it goes with businesses.  Our friends at Daniel’s were not hesitant to plug the excellence of their product, because they knew that the proof was in the pudding (or steak, to be precise).  They weren’t obnoxious about it, but rather, they exuded a confidence that set up the experience.  We couldn’t wait for our meal to be brought to us!  And when it was, it was still better than we had any right to expect!

 

 

Another lesson to be learned from this experience is, treat every customer like he or she has the power to positively or negatively impact your business.  Because, frankly, you just never know.  The people at Daniel’s soon realized that we were out-of-towners, and thus perhaps unlikely to be regulars at their restaurant.  They did not initially know that we are customer experience specialists, and that we write and speak and consult on that topic to an international audience.  Yet they treated us like we were big-spending regulars who were buddies with the owner.  (Trust me, our apparel did not convey that impression at all.)  The fact is, we were weary from traveling across the country, and just wanted to grab a bite to eat.  It is our hope that this article will have a positive impact on Daniel’s business, and the people who work there.

 

 

Once you have experienced such excellence in service and product, it makes you wonder why every business doesn’t strive to provide such an experience for its customers.  A lasting impression has been made.

 

 

 

— Chuck Dennis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes We Have No Pizza

For years, we have patronized the same pizza place here in Newport.  From the first time we vacationed here, to the time when we became regular weekend visitors, to last summer, when we moved here full time, everytime we wanted a pizza, we called Pizza Hollywood.  It is decent pizza, priced fairly, and it was typically delivered hot within half an hour, by a friendly delivery person.

But recently, a customer service experience, or anti-service experience, has caused us to cross Pizza Hollywood off of our list.  We had been out of town all day.  We got home, and we were tired and hungry.  We didn’t feel like cooking, and we didn’t feel like going out to a restaurant.  It was 8:30 at night, and we just wanted some quick food, maybe watch a movie on TV, and go to bed.  So we called our friends at Pizza Hollywood.  Pretty decent order, too.  Couple of small pizzas with multiple toppings, a 2 liter Coke, and even a pint of ice cream.  (OK, so it wasn’t a health food meal – we’ll discuss that in another entry, all right?)

We figured that by 9:00, we’d be eating dinner.

We were wrong.

9:00 came and went.  At 9:15, we made the first call, and were told that our order had left the shop and should be arriving “soon.”  At 10:00, we made the second call.  This is when we were told that they only had one driver going into Newport that night (it was a Saturday night!), that he had to stop at a function at a local restaurant (what, the restaurant had to outsource food?), and another function at Fort Adams Park.  We were told that IF the delivery guy got to us, he would “probably be a little late.”

Oh, perfect.  By this time, it was a little late to be calling another pizza delivery shop.  The experience had sort of robbed us of our appetite, anyway.  But now we were cranky, tired, and still hungry.  And the pizza guy never came.  And we never got a call back from Pizza Hollywood.

OK, so the Dennises did not get their pizza.  Not the end of the world, right?  Right.  But, from a business standpoint, what was the effect of this gaffe for Pizza Hollywood?  Let’s get out the calculator.  We health-conscious Dennises order pizza on average about once per week – maybe that’s a high estimate, so let’s be conservative and say once every other week.  Between food and tip, let’s say we spent $15.00 per call.  Let’s say we called them 25 times per year.  So that comes to $375.00 per year.  We’ve lived here for eight years, so let’s say we’ve already spent $3000.00 with them.  If we continued living here another 10 years, that would be another $3750.00… with price increases, let’s call it another four grand.

So, had Pizza Hollywood decided that one deliveryman delivering pizzas to a restaurant and a function at a national park may not have time to drop off a couple of pies to the Dennis household, then it would have been big of them to say, “I’m terribly sorry, but we can’t handle your order in the normal timeframe that you are accustomed to, and we would recommed that you seek other options for your pizza this evening, and hope that in the future, you will try us again.  In fact, we would like to give you a free pizza when you call us again.”

Or, knowing that one delivery guy had his hands full with his other deliveries, maybe another driver could have been recruited to make some deliveries.  Maybe one of the cooks wouldn’t have minded making an extra few bucks by making a delivery.  Or, heaven forbid, maybe the manager himself could have made the trip himself – now there’s a concept!  I mean, Newport is not that big a town.  You can get from one end to the other within 10-15 minutes.  What would it have taken, in terms of extra effort, to fill our order?  And to hang onto $4000 worth of business?   A ten minute drive.

It boggles our minds that service-oriented businesses that depend on repeat customers for their well-being could be so cavalier about ignoring the wishes of their regular customers.  Think about your business.  Think about situations where you haven’t been able to service your customers in the manner that they have come to expect.  Chances are good that they are not going to call you and give you a second chance.  If you are very fortunate, and take the initiative to call and apologize, and provide them with the product or service they desired, at no cost, then maybe, just maybe, you can salvage the relationship.  But don’t bet on it.  Better to provide the service right the first time.  It’s worth the ten minute drive.

— Chuck Dennis

Levels of Service

We recently moved into new office space, which required us to get some new equipment and new services.  New phones, new phone service, new Internet connections, new wireless router.  We had to set things up fairly quickly, so we could be ready to work on Monday morning.

I was having some problems with the wireless router.  So I called Linksys technical support for help.  I spoke with one rep, a pleasant chap who diagnosed my problem to the point where he realized that he was not equipped to solve my problem.  He then gave me another number to call, where my situation would be escalated.  No waiting in a queue, this call went directly to a senior tech rep, a pleasant young lady who had a number of possible resolutions to my problem.  Unfortunately, none of them worked, either.  But she assigned me a case number, and gave me yet another phone number, where my case would be further escalated.  Again, no waiting in a queue – the call was answered immediatey by an uber tech rep.  This guy, while perhaps not as pleasant as the previous reps, walked me through a couple of options, had me keying stuff into places in my computer where I had never dared to roam, and then waited while I tested the the wireless connection, and lo and behold, my problem was solved!  And when I said, “My friend, you have solved my problem and made my day!” he actually laughed a bit.

The customer in me was served well.  The customer service specialist in me learned something about handling calls and passing situations up the ladder with a clear purpose in mind.

— Chuck Dennis

 

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