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Lack of professionalism from airline attendants reflects badly for customer service

Last week American Eagle flight 3823 leaving Kennedy Airport and heading to Washington, D.C. was delayed for hours because two flight attendants got into an argument just as the plane began to roll away from the gate. The flight was scheduled to leave at 3:10 Wednesday afternoon, but what should have been at the very worse scenario a 15 minute delay as the captain of the flight brought the contentious employees into the cockpit area for a private conversation and a reminder that employees are obligated to work together for the benefit of everyone’s safety and convenience, instead turned into a four-hour flight delay.

It seems one of the attendants had been on her cellphone as the other attendant told all of the passengers over the intercom to turn off their phones as the flight was preparing to pull away from the gate. That particular attendant allegedly chastised her working partner over the intercom thus embarrassing the other person in front of passengers, and one can only guess how quickly the situation turned into an ugly scene. There can not be an argument that the lack of professionalism from the two flight attendants could ever be rationalized. And as one passenger asked what ever happened to customer service or even the rights of passengers, it would seem that American Eagle had no idea as to the answer.

Let’s face it; had a similar argument ensued between passengers, someone would have been arrested, or at the very least been thrown off that particular flight. In this situation however, the plane turned around and passengers had to wait for hours while the airlines searched for a replacement crew. In the interest of customer service, why didn’t the airline split the two arguing attendants up; one could easily have changed from the front of the plane to the back of the plane, or better yet why weren’t the individuals mature enough to dismiss their verbal “hissy” until the end of the flight and all passengers had safely deplaned in Washington?

Adding to an already poor customer rating for scheduling delays and cancelled flights because of pilots calling in sick and crews filing maintenance reports, the Fort Worth based airlines owned by AMR Corporation who also owns American Airlines, continues to score low grades for customer satisfaction. In fact, in 2010 American Eagle was dubbed “America’s Meanest Airlines.” Ouch!

No matter what the industry or the government regulations, customer service is expected. In this particular situation the passengers all suffered. According to the airline’s press release, the employees were meeting with their supervisor the next day. Surely there should be acceptable protocol for disagreements between employees while on the job. Passengers suggested that someone should have pulled rank and ordered the attendants to proceed with their assignment in order to accommodate the paying customers.  Customer service should never be placed on the back burner in lieu of unprofessional behavior. Airlines owe it to their passengers to either ensure better training or perhaps sending these two employees packing their own bags and finding new jobs somewhere else.

A few lessons learned from new PayPal president David Marcus

David Marcus, new president of PayPal who sent an email to Andy McMillan, creator of Build Conference in an ongoing dispute concerning a freeze on McMillan’s accounts for more than $64,000, is being called a publicity stunt. Even if that is true, it still shows how everyone needs to pay attention to what is going on despite one’s title or position. Of course, with corporate duties and other upper tier responsibilities, the waters of dealing directly with customers often are muddied, but it’s obvious executives still need to tune into what is going on for all levels of business.

According to Andy McMillan’s blog, a smashed violin and an account directed to help fund underprivileged children became an endless series of customer service personnel exchanges after McMillan’s accounts were frozen to cover possible future refund disputes. When customer service personnel refused to lift the freeze on all of McMillan’s accounts because of PayPal policies, McMillan scaled the customer service mountain up to the Resolution Center. Unfortunately the promised resolution only cemented the accounts being frozen; the customer had reached the end of the service line.

Whereas $64,000 isn’t an amount to sneeze at and just dismiss nor would PayPal respond to him anymore,  McMillan took his complaint one step farther and finally resorted to Twitter:

Months on and PayPal issues still ongoing, holding £40k of @themanual sales, accounts locked without review, call centre useless and …

  1. 4 days ago
  2. goodonpaper
    … Executive Escalations completely unresponsive. Overdraft covering shipping costs depleting fast. What the hell do I do? Can anyone help?
    4 days ago
  3. Granted I hadn’t expanded much, so I followed up with the full story in a Twitlonger post:
  4. goodonpaper
    Thank you so much for your support, Twitter. I’ve written up what’s happened so far, please reach out if you can (cont) tl.gd/j6glqa

And out of the tangled PayPal policies that obviously needed to be changed, entered new president David Marcus who sent an email to McMillan from his iPad and profoundly apologized for the unsatisfactory treatment and lack of resolution. Everything an organization should do when confronted with an obvious problem was addressed by Marcus. For instance, a new commitment to better service, a promise to change the policies that obviously had not been working as demonstrated by McMillan’s problems and the repeated apologies of a company that obviously cost a customer a lot of time, frustration, and disappointment were humbly addressed. A few times Marcus stated he would understand if McMillan never wanted to use PayPal again, but sincerely hoped for another chance and wanted to use this failure as a way to improve customer service.

Andy McMillan’s PayPal account has since been released, and he still maintains an account with PayPal. Time will tell if new lessons have really been learned. It is hoped however that all customers, no matter if their PayPal balance reflects $64. or $64,000 will be treated with a satisfactory resolution should a dispute occur in the future.

How ramping up customer service is paying off for Home Depot

Years ago when contractors were so busy building houses, supply giant Home Depot paid a lot more attention to the builders than to the do-it-yourself home owners. After all, the economy was booming and a realtor could scarcely keep any home inventory available for new buyers, and so the prices kept climbing while customers lined up at the cash registers. But then the economic bliss balloon burst, contractors removed their magnetic signs from their trucks, and people once again began to pay more attention to their budgets; thus a new chapter in do-it-yourself home improvements was reborn.

Last week, the Los Angeles Times told the story of a 53 year-old Burbank postal clerk woman who decided to do some home improvements to upgrade her bedroom. Off to Home Depot she went, and much to her pleasant surprise was greeted with immediate attention. In fact, the woman stated she was asked by three different orange-aproned  associates if she needed any help. The same good news emerged about Lowe’s. Whereas the smaller Ace Hardware organization who has always been customer-centric towards the homeowner and known for their exceptional customer service, the larger companies have now joined in to improve their own customer service scores.

Home Depot scored an overall ranking of 95.81 – ranking number 30 out of 553 companies that have a Customer Service Scoreboard rating. Both Home Depot and Lowe’s sales, profits, and shopper satisfaction scores increased; Home Depot stock shares rose 74 percent while Lowe’s stock shares rose 35 percent.

So what are these home improvement giants doing to improve their customer service? Well-trained employees who have relevant information from their own experiences and who are given the advantages of the latest learning resources add to the value of a customer experience. Inexperienced employees are trained and empowered to make customers happy. Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot owes the success of the organization to the thorough knowledge of trusting business relationships and excellent customer service.

Perhaps the most famous story of Blank’s commitment to customer service and its vital importance began when the company was still quite young. An older woman walked into one of the Home Depot stores and wanted to return four tires. Home Depot never dealt in tires, but the woman insisted she purchased the tires through Home Depot. Blank refunded the woman the money for the tires:

“Refund the woman all of her money for the four tires. Although those tires weren’t sold to her by Home Depot, her satisfaction of returning those tires is worth the life-long customer relationship that we will create with her,” stated Blank after speaking to the confused employee who didn’t know what to say to the determined woman.

Those four tires still hang above the door in one of the Atlanta Home Depot stores. And then there’s more to pleasing customers. When someone walks in who doesn’t know the difference between a round wire nail, an oval wire nail or a brad, experienced people in home improvements are there to help. Managers, assistant managers and department heads are all included in training programs, and these are the people out on the floor who help customers find what they need, but also help to determine whether it’s really what they need.

And with the latest innovative ways to help and reach customers using WiFi computer services in stores, improving do-it-yourself instructions, YouTube videos and workshops, Facebook, and the photo sharing of Pinterest replacing catalogs and brochures, customers have at their fingertips more conveniences and tons of helpful information to make those home projects turn out as if they were done professionally.

When businesses decide to neglect customer service

Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn no longer maintain call centers claiming the costs are too high. Do these powerful organizations therefore view customer service as an operational cost rather than a marketing investment? In a  study from CRM Guru, bad customer service accounts for 70 percent of customer attrition followed by poor quality at 30 percent, price at 25 percent, and functionality at 15 percent.

Banks, telephone services, Internet services, and insurance companies tend to closely follow these customer churn rates and especially dealing with the rigors of the current economy, try to diagnose and repair some of the causes of customer dissatisfaction and subsequent departures. Even in huge industries, the cost of keeping existing customers is still far less expensive than recruiting new ones. Of course the root causes of some of the problems might never be totally eliminated, but that “stepping out of the box” thought pattern as to excellent customer service will still increase the net profitability at the end of the year as customers maintain their loyalty and continue to spend their hard-earned money.

Long term customer retention strategies may vary from company to company, but the voluntary churn of customers continue to be a key business factor. When a voluntary churn occurs, which is a customer’s decision to switch services, the lack of customer service personnel available to work out the problems and convince the customer to reconsider becomes expensive. Long term customers are valued thereby making long term strategies sound business decisions; otherwise an organization is at risk for a sharp decline in business.

Today’s highly competitive business venues across the nation and abroad call for giving customers multiple avenues for customer service. The youngest population of buyers and potential buyers are growing up with more technological ways to communicate with a company, but there still continues to be a growing  demand for phone service call centers as well as email and of course social media contact methods. Whereas a young buyer may not spend a lot of money initially, he becomes much more valuable as he makes more money, has more money to spend, and recommends your company to his friends.

As an example, the change from Directv to Comcast was a decision based primarily on the lack of quality of the company’s customer service. From the frustration of trying to find a qualified customer service representative without spending extra-time winding the way around the obligatory, endless maze of phone queues, to the mandatory standard procedures of starting from step one for service problems, individualized customer service for extenuating problems never happened. Less than six-months later, however an endless amount of phone calls and invitations to return to Directv most likely has cost the company far more money and time than had the customer service procedures been effective.

The quality of customer service paves the way for loyalty, revenue and happy shareholders.

The importance of customer service in city government

The non emergency city and local call centers of 3-1-1 are a popular one-stop shopping conduit for citizens to report or question issues relating to city services. Either by using your phone to dial 3-1-1 or by using an online link, a resident can find out if the pothole on Military Trail in Palm Beach Gardens will be repaired or if Alternate A-1-A will reopen for traffic before the weekend animal adoption event. In Palm Beach County where I live and in many other cities, you can use an online form or mobile application known as SeeClickFix, and submit such problems as broken parking meters, street lights, community alerts, etc.  The service, depending on the city can handle hundreds of requests ranging from procuring a dog license, city parks and recreation, job applications, trash pickup, or information about specific services and problems.

Just this last month Detroit discontinued their 3-1-1 non emergency call centers claiming the current economic situation has forced budget cuts. Somehow politicians decided that customer service should be laid aside for residents and the 400 different requests areas formerly handled by polite and informative agents should be replaced by directories and the usual fare of the prerecorded maze of  “press one, two, three,” until the caller’s head spins in an endless turmoil of confusion and messages stating:

“I am not at my desk at this time, but please leave a message. Your call is important to us.”

In New York City, the 3-1-1 service successfully adds more services for the residents by adding consistent and periodic training for employees which strive to make the implementation of services more efficient and effective. Is it effective? Of course that answer can be somewhat objective depending on the callers, even though New York  states their quality assurance and operations are provided with routine feedback and quarterly assessments. The most common complaints center around the departments citizens are referred to – more often the lack of services once a caller gets to the designated department relative to their issue or complaint.

The City of Philadelphia initiated their 3-1-1 Contact Center in 2008 with the promise of becoming a national leader in customer service. By 2012, city records show the service has handled 4.5 million contacts. The service isn’t advertised; it has become known through word of mouth, and citizens are extremely pleased with the degree of courtesy and respect demonstrated by their customer service agents.

City government should be a place where citizens can readily find solutions to their problems in a straightforward way and in the most efficient time considering the tight time parameters of busy residents. In actuality 3-1-1 non emergency call centers can:

  • Help citizens contact the proper city department and save city workers time, money and energy having to explain to a resident they need to contact a different department
  • Help citizens find a quicker method to resolve their conflict or answer a question
  • Aid in a positive public image needed by communities with 3-1-1- agents who have been trained to respond to a wide venue of community interests and issues.

There is no doubt that all levels of  government needs to be accountable and treat their citizens to the best customer service possible. How does your city compare?

Is British Airways providing better customer service or are they stalking you?

British Airways has initiated a new customer service program called “Know Me.” The company claims the iPad based system is intended to proactively recreate “the feeling of recognition” a customer often delights in when they walk into their favorite restaurant and the maitre d’ or the owner of the establishment knows their name and greets them personally. Most of us remember the popular television program “Cheers” – the Boston bar where “everyone knows your name.”

The airlines will be searching Google for photographs of their customers in order to recognize them as they enter the airport or aircraft and claim it will be a proactive approach in case a customer’s flight is delayed or to just thank a repeat customer for their “continued patronage.” The search system to be employed will also be able to pull up information about a customer’s previous travel arrangements, prior complaints, meal requests, and Executive Club status.

According to the British tabloid Evening Standard, privacy issues are becoming a hot topic. Passengers purchasing tickets argue that buying an airline ticket doesn’t give the company permission to hunt for one’s personal information. Other passengers seem to care less. Let’s face it; how many organizations that we deal with in our day to day business lives already have our personal information? My favorite Italian restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens knows where I live, my son’s birthday, and even my favorite Bordeaux. My personal shopper at Nordstrom knows my favorite color, my favorite perfume, my eye color, and a cellphone number I only use for my personal use.The difference is however, that I have voluntarily offered the information to the restaurant and to the department store.

Still British Airways state they hope to recognize 4500 customers per day by the end of the year, but it seems rather illogical that customer service agents are going to be able to recognize and recreate that “welcome” feeling most of us associate with the personal touch. After all British Airways have quite the extensive global route. Will the representatives just be specifically using Google to identify First Class passengers? What happens to all of the John Smith passengers of the world? Will they be overlooked, or will customer service representatives use birth date information to get even more personal? What if Susan Smith is no longer a blonde when she next travels to London? Will a customer service representative ask her if the photograph on Google is really her?

The “Know Me” service should be a voluntary program for those passengers who want that extra level of service. With so many people having been victims of identity theft, consumers need to think twice before subjecting themselves to arbitrary Internet stalking just because they need to fly from Miami to London. What do you think?

How to improve customer service in the digital world

Wachovia turned into Wells Fargo in March 2011. The conversion had been going on since 2008, and Wells Fargo promised to become more environmentally friendly and use less paper and forms. They also promised to have more in-house personnel to assist customers and to become more efficient. There’s no denying that the Wells Fargo branch I use in Jupiter, Fla. has had the best and brightest customer assistance I have ever had the pleasure to meet in a long line of mediocre banking institutions, however their digital world has problems that still need to be addressed.

At this time it’s impossible for me to access any of my cash in a Wells Fargo banking machine because only one of my PIN identifications came in. When I visited the website there was insufficient information for me to figure out what was happening. Besides when I realized I needed extra cash that afternoon, I wasn’t home and tried to access my information via my Iphone. So then another question came to pass in my mind. What if I was traveling and either lost my ATM card or didn’t remember my PIN? I’m not always the best organized when it comes to having multiple passwords, and in an attempt to keep my accounts safe from hackers however, I still keep them in a private notebook. The problem is I do not always have that particular notebook with me.

So how can Wells Fargo and other institutions or businesses become more customer service friendly? First of all we should always have the ability to use our own PIN combinations. How about letting us access that first bank assigned PIN through our account information online instead of through these mailings? Why not make call centers more customer friendly? If the monotonous standard message is telling me that my business is very important to you, then why do I need to be on hold for ten minutes or more? Why isn’t there an application that will take my phone number and call me back as soon as the next customer service agent is available? Train customer service agents better. Of course there are always red flags that go up when a customer over the phone is trying to access their PIN identification numbers, but many times the request is real. Why not have banks be proactive in updating security information? When I tried to access my account from another bank, the question related to a pet my former husband had when he was ten-years-old even though the joint account had been transferred to my name three-years ago.

Companies need to use human contact in conjunction with the digital world. It doesn’t work to decrease customer service representatives in lieu of pressing multiple numbers on our phones to just wind up in a complete circle. Customer service is still and will always center on people helping people.

Getting back to the basics of effective customer service

In one of the most successful self-help books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey identifies the elements truly effective people use regularly as tools towards their success. No matter how quickly technology continues to dazzle us with innovative ways to contact our customers, understand new products, or strive to make purchasing convenient and quick, satisfied customers and our future relationships with them are what keeps our businesses growing. Might we just build trust and more satisfied customers by getting back to basics, and using  proven methods of success? Here are Covey’s habits as explained in his book. Read how easily they can be related to the core values of effective customer service:

  1. Habit number one calls for us to be proactive or to take the initiative to realize the decisions we make will ultimately determine the course of our businesses. No matter how far technology takes us, people still want to speak to real people when they are having a problem or expecting excellent service. Customer service has always been a top priority for American Express as compared to the endless prompts and procedures of other credit card companies. It’s interesting to note that more credit card companies have recently been reaching out to the public stating that real people are now readily available when a customer calls.
  2. The second habit is to begin with the end in mind or picture where you would like your business to be in the future. Amazon, Zappos, and the Ritz Carlton hotels pictured clients and guests having access to every amenity, guaranteeing satisfaction with unquestioned return policies, and hiring the most effective agents who could bring a dream to reality.
  3. Put first things first and prioritize your tasks as to your customers. Keep promises, work on your company values, and above all concentrate on the most ethical and respectful ways to promote better relationships with all of your customers. Sometimes it isn’t just about the sale, and people remember when you go out of your way to help.
  4. Can you think win-win? Outstanding customer service calls for everyone to win. Can you solve problems and still be fair? While you may not make a customer happy all the time, the win-win situation still counts if there is value and respect for both sides. If one can concentrate on long term solutions and still come up with a reasonable compromise, all parties can maintain their dignity.
  5. Habit five says to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Communication is a two-way street. The most important part of excellent customer service is the ability to listen. We can’t solve problems if we don’t understand.
  6. Next we synergize which is to join forces with our teams and work together to encourage the best possible customer services. We just cannot depend on the front desk agent who answers the phone or who replies on Facebook. Customer service includes every department from CEO to delivery. The best customer service oriented companies encourage employees to learn, join together to teach each other, and work where the “whole” complements the “parts.”
  7. And finally the seventh most successful habit is described as sharpening the saw. The analogy pertains to the man who kept sawing through a piece of wood, but his saw was too dull to finish the job on time. When asked why he didn’t just stop and sharpen his saw, the man replied he couldn’t because he wouldn’t be able to finish his job by stopping. All of us need to take  time to energize ourselves whether we choose to spend time with our children, run ten-miles on the beach, or relax in the mountains of New York State. Take some time, and learn from our mistakes.

The valuable time we spend honing our best talents and helping our colleagues to be the best they can be will help to establish the  most successful companies.

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