Although one might not think to list it in the marketing tool box, customer service is one of the most critical and valuable elements of your overall marketing strategy – or should be. You can do a great job at advertising and promoting your product and service to get the client in the door, but it’s the experience with you or your staff that will ultimately win the business and keep it or lose you a customer forever.
I recently had one of the best and one of the worst customer service/interaction experiences of my life.
Let’s talk about the positive one first…
My mother (who is turning 86 very soon) is slowing down a bit and shopping for clothing can often be a challenge as it is tiring, so she avoids the experience as much as possible. She finally reached “critical mass” and putting off a shopping trip could no longer be delayed. We decided to go on this adventure together during my visit to see her at the beginning of December. We’ve both always had good luck at Talbots (we’re both very petite) and although Talbots may be considered by some as a bit “pricey”, the quality is always excellent and in the long run, a better economic value than other so-called bargain brands.
So, we set off on a mission to get Mom a new wardrobe at the Brinton Lakes, Pennsylvania branch of Talbots. We were greeted by a sales associate by the name of Laurel. What happened next was something I wish I could have caught on video tape to use as a training/example course on how customer service should be done. Laurel took the time to listen to why we were there, what we were trying to accomplish, my mother’s style, fabric and color preferences, basically all of the details, very carefully. She then got to work, going to the racks, bringing items to us to view that met our previously discussed criteria. I point this out because it became quickly obvious that Laurel had taken the time to really know her product line and was able to present solutions that fit our needs instead of wasting time showing items that would never be considered.
Never once did she push, she just gave assistance, making suggestions and offering options, she was attentive without being overbearing. Laurel was friendly, ready with a smile and made us feel that we were important and the reason why she was there that day. In other words, we were “the BOSS”, not her company or manager. Because of this attitude, at the end of the day, we wound up purchasing many, many more items than we had originally planned on and walked out completely thrilled with our successful shopping experience. Not one to give compliments about sales people very often, on our ride home, my mother commented that the experience we had that day was one of the best she had ever had and that she would definitely go back to that particular store again and if possible, go when Laurel would be on duty to help her.
Laurel is the perfect example of how by listening to the customer and following through with solutions that benefit them vs. the company, a company can create an environment that breeds loyalty, bigger sales volume and of course referral business, even with expensive pricing and a lean economy. I say this because later that day, my mother made it a point to share her wonderful experience at Talbots and working with Laurel with all of her friends at the retirement community where she lives. Endorsements like these go a long way and have bigger promotion power than any advertising form I know.
Now, onto the really bad customer service experience…
US Airways or should I say US ScareWays…
December 7, 2009, Flight 2570, Charlotte NC (CLT) to Birmingham AL (BHM) – CRJ-700 regional jet, equipped with Mary, the flight attendant from @#$%^, complete with a nasty, dictator attitude that could get even the most patient and tolerant of people bothered. In fact, her treatment of me was pointedly noticed by several other passengers who made comments about it to me. Here’s the scenario:
As a business traveler, I am on regional jets all the time and as such, I purposely purchase rolling laptop cases that will fit easily under the seat in front of me on small computer jet seats as I do not ever check (even gate check) my laptop case. Without my laptop and data files, I pretty much wouldn’t have a business. As I approached the steps to the aircraft, Mary tersely informed me that I could not bring my “roller board” suitcase on board the flight. Here’s how the “conversation” went from there:
Me: Ma’am this is not a rollerboard suitcase but simply a vertical style wheeled laptop briefcase. I fly on regional jets with this bag with no issues as it fits under the seat in front of me, I’ve never been asked to check it before.
Mary: I don’t care, you can’t bring it on, you need a check gate check tag and have to check it. We don’t allow any bags with wheels on regional jets.
Me: Ma’am, that’s very strange to learn as I fly regional jets almost exclusively, in fact I just got off 3 flights in the last 5 days on this same style aircraft and the attendants never had an issue with me or this bag.
Mary: Well then those attendants weren’t doing their jobs properly. (stated in a very know-it-all, everyone else but me is stupid tone)
My first thought to this response was ‘I guess every attendant on the last 50 flights or so I’ve taken on regional jets all don’t know how to do their job properly accordingly to the all omnipotent Mary’. It was becoming painfully obvious I was not going to get anywhere with this rude attendant, and that she could care less, so I decided I’d have to go to plan B.
Me: Ma’am, I cannot check the items in this briefcase safely, they are valuable electronics and I will have to empty the contents of this bag and bring everything on board, do you have anything I can use to put them in?
Mary: That’s fine.
She obviously chose to ignore my request for help by offering me a plastic bag or other such item for my belongings and then backed away from the door opening, all the while, watching me as I struggled to empty the contents of my briefcase: laptop, Kindle reading device, portable hard drive, cell phone and files I had to work on during the flight onto the tarmac and then, find a way to gather all these loose items up in my arms and make my way with the empty bag to the gate bag check attendant, then up the steep stairs of the aircraft without the ability to grab hold of the railings. For those of you who have never met me, I’m 4’10″ and about 100 lbs, my frame isn’t very big to hold lots of fragile items and make it up a steep set of stairs, all while carrying another small carry on bag with personal belongings. I did manage to make it, however, at the top of the last step I lost my footing slightly and when I stepped up and regained balance my one foot stomped loudly on the floor, which I believe Mary interpretted as my having a “temper tantrum”. Never once as she watched me struggle with my arms full did she offer any help. It would have been a simple matter for her to give me one of the airline plastic trash bags to use to hold all of my loose items or at least offer a hand up but nothing was forth coming.
To add insult to injury, as I turned from the doorway and headed down the aisle to my seat, she loudly announced to her co-worker “That one has a real attitude because I wouldn’t let her bring her bag on board. That ONE, THAT ONE! – am I a thing or a person, I think to myself. She said this loud enough so that I could clearly hear it as well as the first 5 rows of passengers on the plane.
I took a deep breath, got myself settled into my seat, resigned that at least I had all my items safely on board and that luckily this was a short flight and I wouldn’t have to endure her rudeness very long. But then it happened, 3 other male passengers boarded the plane after me, all carrying wheeled laptop bags. Two of these passengers bags were even larger in dimension than what I was going to bring on board.
One of these lucky passengers, was seated directly across from me. His bag was bigger than mine and fit directly under the set in front of him, just as mine would have. He passed right by Mary and no issues, just like the other 2 gentleman. I looked at his bag and the other 2 passengers as they went by—I was dumbstruck and then became livid. There was obviously a double standard or singling out going on here.
The very nice passenger who was seated across from me, had witnessed the exchange and was symapathic, not really understanding why this attendant had done what she did. I was about to say something to her, making mention of why he was allowed to bring his bag on but not me, but he cautioned me not to say anything until we were well up in the air, noting that she was probably just mean enough to have me thrown off the plane if I dared question her authority. I agreed and kept my mouth shut but we did “laugh” later about how my face turned red and you could see the veins popping in my neck and forehead when I saw him come on board with that wheeled bag.
At the end of the flight, I thought about saying something upon leaving the aircraft, pointing out my fellow passenger as a comparison but decided I wouldn’t bring myself down to her level, recognizing that she wouldn’t care anyway and customer satisfaction and comfort were obviously not important to her. In fact, as a customer, I felt like I was just a bothersome gnat to this individual.
To some of you, this may seem like a very petty thing to get bothered about but this isn’t so much about the inconvenience of having to check the bag as to why and how it was handled. This experience was a valuable and excellent example of how customer service should not be done (this would have made a great training ‘how not to’ video). Mary failed to recognize some very important facts when deciding to deliver her astoundingly awful customer service:
- I fly because of my business
- My business relies on the use of valuable electronics like laptops (which 99% of business travelers have with them when they travel) and that these tools of our trade have to be protected
- Without our tools, we have no business
- Without business, we have no reason to travel to see clients
- Without a reason to travel, we don’t need airlines or airline attendants
- Without me, the customer, you don’t have a job
When someone asks Mary,‘ who’s the boss?’, I venture to guess, she’ll give her supervisor’s name and not the right answer for companies that want to survive in a competitive environment. The right answer to the question of “Who’s The Boss?” is The Customer.
I hope someone at US Airways reads this post and sets up some customer service training for all those staff members who interact with their customers so that others won’t have an experience that will create the opinion that I now have about this airline which is, US Airways SUCKS! Yes, it is harsh but that’s my honest feeling. I have many choices of airlines for my travel needs and I have vowed to myself that I will NEVER, EVER, give one more penny of my travel business to US Airways, even if they are the last airline left, I’d rather drive or take a bus or train than take the chance of being subjected to another round of rudeness.
So, the lessons here are that both of these experiences are etched in my memory, for better or worse and for the long term. Word also travels fasts – just as my mother was quick to share her positive experience with her friends, so too, am I quick to share my positive and negative experiences with as many people as will listen in this very public format as well as directly with all my friends and relatives (and we all know that people love to share a good, “bad experience” story that they’ve heard.) So, next time you or your staff interact with a customer, don’t forget that your customer service could make you or break you and most importantly, who the real boss will always be.
Here’s to creating only positive customer service experience memories with your organization each and every day!