A Commitment to Customer Service: What Happens When That Commitment Falters?
I travel on business almost every week and I never share my experiences, but I thought this time it is worthwhile to do so as this is an example for all of us on how to view customer service.
There are a few points I want to make with this experience:
1. It is hard to acquire good customers but very easy to lose them.
2. You must provide consistent answers and you must not treat your clients differently.
3. You must be courteous and must work on a principle that the customer is right most of the time.
4. Your customer service people must try to make things right.
5. When you are a large company it is much more difficult to have all your employees really care so continuous training and performance indicators that ensure all team members are working toward a goal of customer satisfaction and retention should be foundational.
Let me illustrate these principles with my recent trip to Orlando on United Airlines out of Newark. To set the tone, however, there are a few things you should know first. As a frequent traveler, as you can guess, I have earned my stripes with a few airlines. With United, in particular, I have flown well over a million miles and fly over 100,000 miles with them each year. Every airline is different, but with United being a 1K flyer means that you are their second highest category of flyer. One other important fact you should know, I never check a bag. I always take a carry-on and my backpack for expedience, even when traveling overseas. I buy the bag size recommended and am a professional at packing, all to ensure an efficient travel experience.
On this particular trip, I had my son with me, and as we walked up to the gate, boarding with priority group 1, we both had carry-ons same as we always do, same as we have checked on previous United flights in the past, and no different than other passengers on the flight. The gate agent clearly targeted us and asked us to measure our bags. I got my bag into the bin, but it took me 1 or 2 tries – similar to how it takes 1 or 2 tries in the actual airplane due to maneuvering to fit. She then said that unless it slides in easily, it cannot go and I would have to check it. Really? I thought to myself. This interesting fact is nowhere on their website. In fact, as the bag is exactly the measurements they suggest on their website, it takes just the right position to insert it into the bins they provide. The agent, however, would not listen to reason, did not care that it fit in the bin, was the recommended size and was not over expanded. She stuck with “it must be checked”. See attached picture.
The agent then claimed that my son’s bag was too wide and refused to give us time to take some things out and put them in his backpack. As I got upset, she asked the gate manager, “Kellie” to step in, who took a video of me placing the bag into the bin, as I took a photo, to illustrate that it took a few tries. Both women also refused to let me read their badges to get their full names. The gate agent provided her first names only, “Tamara” and then deliberately turned her badge around. To further add insult, they tagged our bags to be loaded on the plane. I asked if I could take them down to the bottom of the jetway, and the agent refused to let me do so. She said she would do it even though all other passengers whose bags were tagged were allowed to wheel them down the jetway. Another way of singling us out and providing us different, and in this case, terrible service.
As you would expect, I called customer service to complain. Customer service then apologized but said the bag in the picture is not a fit, which is yet another new story addressing the specs on their website. They did give me a $150 travel certificate but refused to tell me what they will do to train their staff or make the appropriate changes to update customers on proper luggage size. I was so unsatisfied, I flew back home from Orlando with American – where you can see in the picture below that our same bags fit just fine. I have since bought a number of tickets with American, as I am concerned with the lack of care and service on United.
So, for all that, is it worth pushing me, a loyal customer, to another carrier? Is the rudeness worth the loss of income, and how, in a company the size of United do you ensure that the people on the ground, representing the company, do not ruin what I am sure the management is trying to build? That is always the million-dollar question.
These situations always make me think about how I operate in business. What would I have done as the agent? As the customer service representative? As the CEO? How do I ensure that the employees at Vaporstream are trained appropriately in how to respond to customer needs?
As Vaporstream grows, I am very conscious of the ‘customer first’ motto. I and the rest of the executive team infuse it into our culture and everything we do on a daily basis. I am proud to say that integrity, respect and customer focus are just part of the core values that drive the team at Vaporstream. It must come from the top down whether you are a small organization or a large airline. Customer satisfaction must always be top of mind to be successful!
This example was a great learning experience of what NOT to do.