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Dear Airline: Customer Service — you’re doing it wrong

July 25, 2010

So this one tickled my funny bone and I had to share.

This morning, I’m making arrangements for my upcoming trip to Savannah , GA in a couple of weeks where I’m speaking for a group sponsored in part by the Liberty County Dept. of Health. Anyway, I’m working on getting a good deal on the flights as I want to be mindful of the client’s expenses to have me come out.  I was attempting to contact the airline, a major national and international carrier, and got the following message:

“Thank you for calling <X> airlines. Due to unusually high call volumes, we are unable to take your call at this time.  However, your business is very important to us so please try us again later.”

Ok, so tell me…what message does this send?  If my business were so danged important, why isn’t there overflow personnel available to take my call?  Put me in a queue on and let me know how long my wait time is so I can decide whether I want to wait now or call back later. Or, what if you asked me to leave a message and then had YOUR representatives call me right back? There are any number of different ways this can be handled — virtually all of them better than the message that “we’re too busy to talk to you right now.”

As I discuss in “It’s Not Who You Know…”  what we’re looking at here is the difference between building relationships between you and your customer or merely “conducting a transaction.” From the tone of this message, Major Airline considers me just another transaction.  And, because this behavior is typical of the treatment I’ve come to expect, I only fly them when I have no other real alternative (there are, sadly worse.  I consider them the least of several evils).

I am, however, fiercely loyal to another major airline which tends to treat me, as a rule, as a valued customer.  Because they generally lead with good customer service, I am more than willing to forgive them during the times things go awry — and in the travel world, they inevitably do.

I am generally a pretty tolerant traveler, too, willing to cut airlines a lot of slack. One reason is I grew up in the industry — my father was a career employee of two different major carriers.  The second is because I travel so extensively. You just can’t survive business travel if you don’t come fully armed with patience and a sense of humor.

But when the organization that is providing a product or service to you — for which you, the customer, are about to pay dearly — you hope to be treated like your business actually matters.

But for this airline, I know I matter only as much as I’m providing another revenue seat.  Like I said, “customer service…you’re doin’ it wrong.”

Think about this the next time you are interacting with your customers — whether internal or external. What are YOU doing to transform your interaction from a transaction to a relationship? Relationship builders will be the ones who succeed, particularly when everyone else is just offering the transaction.

To learn more about the “It’s Not Who You Know, It’s How You Treat Them…” book, or to get your free sample chapter for download, click here.  And if you didn’t know, you have a few more days to get the complete book at pre-order prices — $10.00 plus shipping, discounted from the general availability price of $14.95.

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