I get to the Boston Logan Airport 2 1/2 hours early for my 6:30pm flight. I run to the US Airways skycap and ask if there’s an earlier plane to Charlotte. He says, “Yes 4:30, you’ll have to check in at the ticket counter let me take your bags for you.” Great!
I get to the line, tip the skycap, I’m next walk up to the counter and say to the woman, “I need to change my ticket for the next flight to Charlotte, please.” WITHOUT LOOKING AT MY TICKET WHICH WAS IN A “FIRST CLASS” FOLDER, she asks with a snip, “Are you first class?” I just glare at her and say, “LOOK FOR YOURSELF, I need help, the plane leaves in 30 minutes.”
She then proceeds to give me some song and dance explanation about how she HAS to ask everyone because someone may not be first class and there’s a long line, blah, blah, blah. I tell her I’m not interested in her life story, I just want to get to Charlotte. She gets all puffy, like I’m the jerk, and proceeds to give me a boarding pass for the 6:30pm flight. Service Lesson: Customers only want to resolve their problems not hear yours.
I SAID I WANTED TO BE ON THE 4:30 FLIGHT. “Oh, I didn’t hear you,” she whined. “No, YOU DIDN’T LISTEN!” I exclaimed in frustration. Service Lesson: Listening has nothing to do with hearing. It has everything to do with paying attention.
I can’t give you first class, it’s full, I can only give you a coach seat,” she said almost happily. “But I’ll put you on the standby list.” Great. If anyone fails to show, I get the seat I want.
I get to the gate 10 minutes before scheduled departure, the plane is already boarding, and I ask the agent how many first class have boarded so far. He says without looking at me, “We won’t know that for a while.” (In every other airport in America, they can count. Boston seems to be without that capability.) “OK,” I say in a nice way, “Can you show me where I am on the standby list?”
We never show that list to customers.” he cracks. (I’ve seen that list at least 100 times in the past three months, so evidently this idiot thinks he’s the entire airline. And he is, at this moment. The entire airline is being judged by this gate agent’s actions. My temperature is now at 104 and rising.
I tell him, “I’ll just wait here.” Two feet from his face, eyes glued to his forbidden screen. Service Lesson: Customers only want to hear one word, “Yes!” They get mad when you give excuses why you “can’t.”
The other gate idiot makes two wrong announcements about standby’s, then yet another (unfriendly) US Airways person comes over and triumphantly announces, “There are no more seats in first class.” Rats.
As I board the plane, I see there are two empty seats in first class. I tell the flight attendant my plight. “Just wait here,” she says, “until everyone is on board.” One seat gets taken. One still empty. It’s now 4:35, and she says, “Take the seat.” I’m ecstatic. Life Lesson: The best seats in the house are always available 5 minutes before the show starts, no matter what the guy at the ticket office says.
Now the gate buffoons come on the plane to “check the seat count” (duh), and spot me in first class. The door moron comes over and says, “What are you going to use for an upgrade?” (In a last ditch attempt to piss me off.) “I’m Chairman’s Preferred don’t need an upgrade.” He cowers back to the Head moron who comes over to my seat with a list. Asks me my name. Pretends like he’s checking me off, says, “OK” and leaves.
The passenger in the seat next to me is laughing out loud. I explain that even though I spend one hundred grand a year on USAirways, I have to act like a jerk to get basic service. Pathetic. Service Lesson: When you make a mistake, be professional enough to apologize.
EPILOGUE: I called several people at US Airways to gripe. I finally got the HEAD of Boston-Logan Airport US Airways operations to call me. He assured me that he would call me back “soon” to straighten this thing out, and get the people involved to apologize to me personally. That was 20 years ago. No call. I guess we each have our own definitions of soon. Service Lesson: When you make a commitment, take ownership enough to follow through.
Authors note: I fly a lot, and US Airways (now American) is my main carrier. There have been many joys and disappointments along the way. Even though this article is a slam on the service I received, I would also like to take a moment to thank those who have been wonderful to me. US Airways is not a bad airline, it’s just an inconsistent airline. Sometimes they’re great, sometimes they’re horrible.
The purpose of this column is to point out that people in service positions have to focus on the customer’s needs, and think about how what they say affects the customer’s perception of the entire company. All the past “goodness” fades into the background when today’s “bad” rears it’s (very) ugly head.
I’m not trying to teach anyone at US Airways a “lesson.” The people who did what they did to me in Boston are beyond lessons. They need to be removed from serving the front line customer until they have been trained in superior service and friendliness.
How well are the people on the front lines of your company trained? How consistent is their execution? How responsible are they? How fast do they respond? How friendly are they? When is the last time you provided them a lesson in listening? What are you doing about it?
Just a few questions to ponder, as your customers ponder where to make their next purchase.
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