Why do the best customer service lessons on what NOT to do come from the airline industry? No one is surprised when they hear negative stories of travel experiences that involve flying.
But is the reputation deserved or are we just picking on the airline industry? I’m not sure, but let me share a powerful lesson with you from an experience we had just this weekend. The carrier was a well-known airline – one who you would think should know better. The photo may give you a hint.
We were excited for our 17 year old son who was heading to Minnesota to be a camp leader for 3 weeks. We had made arrangements for him to fly by himself direct to Minneapolis then catch a bus to northern MN where he would spend the next 3 weeks at Trout Lake Camp, perhaps the coolest camp for young Christian kids in the country.
A few hours before heading to the airport, I called to get the gate information and the nice, automated lady’s voice informed me that his flight had been cancelled and that she would connect me with a gate agent. As you might imagine, I was stunned. There had been no text, no phone call, no attempt to let us know of the issue with his flight.
I waited on hold for 20 minutes for a real person and was informed, without any hint of empathy, that indeed his flight was cancelled and he had been rebooked on a flight that would require a 2 hour layover in Chicago. He would not arrive in Minneapolis until 11:30 pm! My response was measured but determined. I wanted to know why we were not informed, why was he not put on another direct flight, and on, and on.
The response from the agent was heartless and matter of fact. “Did you purchase the ticket directly from our airline or did you go through another booking agent like travelocity, orbitz, etc.?” I confirmed that I purchased the ticket through travel mileage (as many customers do).
To which she informed me that the responsibility lies with that agency, not their airline! They were not responsible for informing “those” customers of changes – it was the responsibility of the other agency. I was shocked! I was one of “those” customers – not a “real” customer. Just one of “those” cheap customers who don’t really matter! REALLY?
Look, I am not writing this to change the airline’s behavior. It has been proven time and time again that they really just don’t care.
But I do want YOU to take this message to heart. ANYONE who does business with you is YOUR customer! No matter how or why they decided to do business with you. You MUST treat every customer like they are your most important customer – without exception!
I’ll be very direct here. If you make the decision to list your product or service with a discount marketer, let’s use Groupon as an example, you MUST treat that customer exactly as you do the customer that walks in and pays full price! YOU are the one who made the decision to sell your product or service at a discount.
It does not give you the right to treat that customer like a lesser customer. The reason you partner with other marketers to promote your products is to increase market awareness and bring you new customers. Why in the world would you then treat them like second-class citizens just because they took you up on your offer?
I know it sounds crazy, but as I shared our experience with a few friends this weekend, I heard story after story of how they experience the same thing time and time again right here in our local market! AMAZING!
Here’s your tip for this week: ANYONE who buys your product or service is YOUR customer – period! Don’t make excuses and blame others. Take ownership and treat them like every other customer. It is the ONLY way to create customers for life!
p.s. If you know of a business who is behaving the way this airline is, please send this article to them – for their benefit – before it is too late!