The most important customer service lesson I ever learned was on an easel pad in Randy Petersen’s office (“The House of Miles” which was located on Frequent Flyer Point in Colorado Springs) the first time I visited: “Don’t ever say no. What I can do for you is…”
In other words, it’s not enough just to listen to what a customer asks for and tell them whether it’s allowed. You must address their problem. You can’t always give them what they want, but if you understand their needs you can offer a solution that’s the best available given constraints.
The first week of October is Customer Service Week which dates to a 1992 Congressional proclamation. I’m not big on days or weeks as set-asides for various groups or interests, whether it’s National Donut Day or Talk Like a Pirate Day. But I am a big proponent of customer service. So at a minimum I need to say thank you to the people who keep me moving and help me accomplish my goals each week. Once I look beyond my wife for me that’s all about business travel.
I don’t want to give short shrift to hotel staff. We tend to take that for granted because hotels are in the hospitality business.
Former Starwood CEO Adam Aron (who helped launch Pan Am’s frequent flyer program, Hyatt Gold Passport, and was also Chief Marketing Officer at United) thinks the intense safety focus of airlines – it’s literally life or death – limits the customer service focus. I don’t agree, but it’s an interesting perspective and airlines usually do have greater customer service challenges than hotels do.
While I’ve been flying other airlines more over the last two years, I still fly American Airlines most. And there’s two groups that I’d like to offer specific thanks to.
- The American Airlines twitter team, which really listens to problems and solves problems usually with a good sense of humor.
- The agents (“AAngels”) in the Austin Admirals Club
Austin Admirals Club Entrance
Two years ago American’s twitter team managed to get my home internet fixed. Last year they went to some lengths to fix my reservation when it looked like I wouldn’t make it to the airport before the check-in cutoff time and I couldn’t check in. I offered some suggestions on how to get solutions via twitter (that are generalizable to most customer service interactions) at the time.
Early on the twitter team prioritized requests from top tier elites, the airline’s app introduced an option to tweet and these tweets got extra attention. So I can’t say that an Executive Platinum’s experience is generalizable, but I’ve certainly seen the American twitter team help plenty of people. And twitter is still a great way to cut through bureaucracy or get someone empowered to do it for you.
There are other ways I know that I’m spoiled, my phone calls are answered by many of the programs I deal with quickly because of elite status. If I had to spend long times on hold (cough, British Airways) I’d ring their non-US call centers using numbers for countries with large English-speaking populations. For instance, Singapore is a go-to for Delta and Australia for American. Sometimes those do require a little more patience.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to interact with an airline. There’s the check-in counter, gate, customer service desk, club lounge, phone, twitter team and e-mail customer relations (and in some cases online chat). That makes it easy to do the most important thing in getting good customer service — know when to cut your losses and move on to someone else who may be more helpful (“hang up, call back“).
I don’t go to airports early to spend time in the lounges. And goodness knows when I do use the lounge I have to leave earlier than I’d like. But American’s lounges are worth it not for the made-to-order guacamole but for the agents who solve problems during irregular operations.
With a mechanical delay or cancellation they’re going to get you where you need to be more efficiently than the phone and with more options than the auto-rebooking tool. American has wanted to limit the tools they work with in order to enforce business rules but if you want someone who won’t just say ‘no’ but will creatively come up with ‘what I can do for you is’ it’s these ladies (and indeed they’re all ladies). I’m fortunate to live in Austin, where the lounge staff are regarded as among the best in the system.
The Putting Green in the Austin Club Will Eventually Be Going Away
When we travel we depend on so many people to execute their assigned tasks — ideally flawlessly, but to really solve problems when things go wrong.
Our days and our successes rely on others. We couldn’t accomplish even the simplest things on our own. Thank you not just to the American Airlines twitter team and Austin club agents but to each and every person who keeps me moving each day on the road.
I find that if you want great customer service,
- It helps to be nice don’t come off as entitled and don’t blame your problem on the person you happen to be talking to (who likely didn’t cause it)
- Empathize with them. They’re people, and odds on they are dealing with mostly unhappy customers. Smile.
- Be clear about what your problem is. Don’t unload extraneous detail and make them sort through your feelings to find out what you need.
- Offer solutions. Don’t be pompous and approach them as though you know more about how to do their job than they do, but come armed with suggestions. They don’t know you, what you’re willing to go through to get where you’re going, so their starting point is going to be that you’re the median customer. They may not suggest a forced overnight option, even if you’d be open to it, for instance.
I happen to fly American most, and live in Austin, so my shout outs focus there. Who are the teams or companies that really go out of their way with customer service to get you where you’re going and make you more productive when you’re there?