Let me get right to the punch line . . . good customer service is so easy because customers’ expectations are so low. It’s a relative thing. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it shouldn’t be that way, but it is and aggressive companies should be taking advantage of the fact that their customer’s have been beaten down by suppliers for so long that a simple recognition of the fact that they paid money is enough to make them happy. In a world with few initial differentiators and almost no sustainable differentiators, customer service can make all the difference in making sure you beat your competition, get repeat sales and have a customer base that is your best and biggest marketing department.
So here’s a story from a recent experience that might make this more clear . . .
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve flown something like a gajillion miles on United Airlines. There’s a nice trophy stating this fact in a box in my basement somewhere. As you’d expect, though, other than a mass-produced plaque with my name on it, United never recognizes this fact and it, along with $9.58 might get me a mint, double-hot, no-foam, low-fat, grande mochachino latte at Starbucks. All of the crappy seats, snitty flight attendants, flight delays and United’s patented smelly lavatories (what’s up with that anyway?) are mine for the taking, just like they are for everyone else. Further, I don’t look forward to a pleasant or enjoyable flight. I actually pray for a safe flight that gets me to my destination within some reasonable deviation from the scheduled arrival time. It’s a school bus with wings and that’s all I’ve come to expect out of it.
So, wasn’t I pleasantly surprised (shocked, actually) when a flight a few weeks ago on United offered a positively memorable experience? The toilets still stunk and the plane looked like it was previously used to transport cattle, but the crew was phenomenal and it it made the rest of the experience a total non-issue. From what I could see, this all stemmed from the attitude and direction of the captain who seemed not only responsible for operating the 757, but for the happiness of his passengers, too. What a concept!
What he did to make this happen – at least the stuff I witnessed – was simple, cost virtually nothing and took little time. While the passengers were waiting in the boarding area to get on the plane, the captain took the microphone (uh, oh, I thought, this is gonna be bad) and gave us the complete low-down of the flight plan, the plane’s status, the crew and what was happening at both the departure and arrival airports. No bad news. No delays. It’s not like he had to be out there for bad news, he was essentially out there for no news – just for the customers. He told us that it might get a little bumpy over the Midwest and that they’d try to skirt the storms that were creating the turbulence. What made this different from the usual pre-flight blather was that he 1. covered a pretty complete list of the stuff a passenger would want to know, 2. showed empathy to those who might be concerned about turbulence and, 3. DID IT FACE-TO-FACE. Instead of being the anonymous voice in the the speaker, he took the time to explain this stuff standing among us. Simple, good, unique.
Then, as we boarded the plane, the captain stood at the door and handed out his business card (which had a phone number and email address) to every passenger that boarded. I asked him if he should be spending his time doing his pre-flight checks and he told me they were already done. He said: “I just show up a few minutes earlier so that it doesn’t hold up the passengers.” I have to hire this guy.
To top it all off, about midway through the flight, a flight attendant brought me back another business card from the captain. This one was signed and had a small note hand-written on the back. “Thank you Mr. Herman for your support of United and for flying a gajillion miles with us.” It was in the database, he just chose to use the information to recognize a customer.
His attitude was contagious. The flight attendants were smiling and attentive, people actually listened when announcements were made and the passengers talked about how great United is during the flight. My water glass never reached half-empty because there was someone always attentively refilling it, and I don’t only mean that metaphorically.
Oh yeah, there’s one more thing. At the arrival gate, the captain waited, shaking people’s hands as they disembarked, thanking them for flying United and asking if they had any questions. I almost had a stroke.
I’d estimate that virtually everyone on that flight considered United to be a good choice for their next journey – even the jaded ones like me. Service is so bad that even a small offering of reasonable service changes our entire mind set. Just think of all the low-cost, easy-to-implement things you could do for your customers to get that same kind of response.