Please note: Since writing this I've been informed that USAirways and American are the "one big happy family" not United and USAirways - okay, so my bad. It still changes little - United is doing their customer service out of India and I had a rep who didn't listen. USAirways doesn't answer their phone and since United did the ticketing the system still doesn't work when you're trying to get an issue resolved.
It’s Marketing Monday and most small businesses forget that great customer service is one of your very strongest marketing tools to build your brand. I can’t think of a better way than to share the incompetence of United and US Airways this past week as a great example of what NOT to do in your own business. They set a new standard in defining the word “clueless”.
Great customer service comes with a series of positive action items:
1) You hear what your customers say, but do you really listen?
My mother passed away and I was booking flights on United and US Airways. United was the lead carrier and handled the ticketing. Just like a sitcom about overseas customer service, I gave all the information to an agent based in India, who made some serious mistakes.
We were all set, but I hadn’t doubled checked the confirmation – my bad. Fortunately my wife did. India had booked us on the wrong day and on an outgoing flight we never talked about. I knew exactly what flight we needed and actually gave her the flight numbers!
Even more frustrating was asking to speak with an American on the second call. I wanted to make sure we avoided further problems and was told there was no other number I could call!
2) Discounts with Value.
I’m amazed that the best discount the airlines could do on a last minute bereavement airfare was only 5%. They did waive the $25 per person ticketing because I was calling in, but their website was so slow and difficult to navigate I really had no choice but to call. It's interesting that on the way back the US Airways crew, if I was willing to apply for their credit card, was willing to give me points and certificates for future discounts and companion tickets! But they could only do 5% against a $530 airfare on flights with open seats!
3) Give people a way to talk to you directly.
Try and find a phone number on the US Airways site to actually talk to a live body. It’s not easy. When you do finally find the number you’ve got a deal with a robotic system that just wants to give you more options.
4) Answer the phone when people call!
On our return flights they screwed up our seats. My Dad is 90 and hasn’t flown a lot. We wanted three seats together. I made three attempts to call US Airways over two days and after 30 minutes on hold each time just finally gave up.
5) Offer your customers “one stop shopping”.
US Airways and United are supposedly one big happy family, but United could NOT handle seat assignments on US Airways. That means a second phone call, which really is a moot point, since nobody answers the phone anyway.
6) Provide great service at all the different points of contact in your business - even if you're being represented by other vendors.
This is the most bizarre part of the fiasco. We needed a wheel chair for my Dad to get from the counter to the gate. We got out of the car and a skycap asked me if we needed help. He had a small flat bed cart and we were doing all carry-on so I said no and Sheila went inside to get a wheel chair.
The next thing that happened was the most absurd. Sheila got a chair and "Mr. Bonehead" took it away from her, and when I went to get it back he yelled at me, “You told me you don’t need any help!”
I went directly to the counter to get some assistance and utilized some of my very “best” vocabulary on this guy. I was wrong to mouth off, but this guy redefined the meaning of the word, "rude". Customer service is simply dead with this crew. Well, the story gets better…
We got our chair finally with the help of another skycap who was in tune with the challenge and most helpful, but as we walked by "Mr. Bonehead", Sheila mumbled to me, “What a jackass!”
He turned and actually said, “If you call me one more name, I’m taking you outside!” Seriously, writers in Hollywood couldn't make this stuff up! I’m really sorry she didn’t push it just a little more…I know my girl and she would have taken him in less than a minute! LOL
And that takes me to the last point…when you do get into a challenge with a customer, resolve the problem as quickly as possible and don’t be confrontational. Empathize with your client and build the trust – you’ll never win going head to head.
There are so many things United and US Airways could have done along the way to make the trip easier and you need to do the same with each client. A great experience brings people back. A bad experience not only turns them away, but gets them talking to other people about their bad experience. A few might even turn it into a blog post! Bad news always spreads faster than good news.
But I did come up with a new slogan for them, used not long ago by a good buddy of mine…
"We’re not happy until you’re unhappy!”
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