UPDATE: DURING THE SECOND WEEK OF AUGUST, CHANEL JOHNSON, DIRECTOR OF CUSTOMER RELATIONS FOR AIRTRAN, ARRANGED TO REFUND BOTH THE AIRTRAN AIRFARE AND THE U.S. AIR AIRFARE! MS. JOHNSON EXPLAINED THAT THE AIRTRAN REPRESENTATIVES HAD NOT FOLLOWED AIRTRAN’S TRAINING GUIDELINES.
As part of the business blogging assistance I offer through Say It For You, I’m always talking to business owners about their customer service. The challenge is – EVERY business says it offers superior customer service! (Has any of us ever read an ad or a blog that does NOT tout its superior customer service?)
Blog content writing, I stress to business owners and employees in corporate blogging training sessions, has to tell stories specifically illustrating why your company’s customer service exceeds the norm.
We’re all familiar with the old saying about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link. I had a very negative experience, just a week ago, that made me realize how very apropos that saying is when it comes to customer service.
By way of background, due to the extended delays and inconveniences AirTran had caused its passengers on a flightfrom Indy to Florida several months back, the airline had awarded each of us a free roundtrip flight anywhere in the U.S., exercisable for one year. (Sounds like good customer service, doesn’t it?)
Working through my travel agent, I made a reservation for a one-way trip to New York City, returning to Indianapolis via Philadelphia on Sunday June 19th.
- Arising at 4AM June 19th to catch a shuttle to the Philly airport, I arrived at 5:45AM for my 7: 25 flight to Atlanta (set to connect to a flight arriving home in Indianapolis around noon that day). The computer printout of my itinerary was complete with flight numbers and seat assignments for each flight.
- At the AirTran checkin counter, I presented my photo ID and my itinerary printout. The AirTran agent informed me that I had no reservation for that day (Sunday June 19), but instead was scheduled to fly home on Tuesday June 21st! When I pointed to my paperwork, he rather rudely told me that The Computer had me down for the 21st, adding that he hasn’t the authority to change a reservation! Freeze that frame – this is the exact point of weakest link for Airtran – no one with authority to help when problems arise.
- The next nine and a half hours become my personal illustration of Murphy’s Law (you know, the one about everything that can go wrong – will?) The ticket agent insists I must remove myself and my luggage from the line, call the AirTran #800 line, and straighten out the confusion. I hang on the phone through automated operator Hell for 19 minutes, at which point the system hangs up on me!
- Returning to the ticket agent close to tears, I plead for help. Having no "authority" to change my reservation (even though there is room on the plane!), he offers to SELL me a ticket. I hand over my credit card and pay $258 for my "free" ticket. My bags are now set for Indianapolis. Unfortunately, I am not…
- The TSA Security computer "picks" me for a patdown AND a palm test. I miss my flight.
- All the sad details of the next 24 hours can be seen on the video.
- At nearly 10PM on MONDAY night, I arrive home, $1,400 poorer (other AirTran flights were oversold, so I needed to fly USAir after staying overnight in a hotel) exhausted, having had to cancel business and personal appointments set for Monday.
- The supreme irony in all this is that AirTran admitted to my travel agent that the mistake in the reservation was THEIRS, not hers. AIRTRAN neglected to enter the proper flight date into their system!
Southwest, new owner of AirTran, has always been known for excellent customer service. I realize, now, though, that customer service is all about the weakest link. No business can boast of offering excellent customer service if its employees have no authority to help when problems arise. Had AirTran given authority to ticket agents (the very employees who are interacting with the public) to handle problems in common-sense fashion, none of my sad story would have evolved.
I’m offering Southwest and AirTran the opportunity to make things right. (I don’t want more free flights on AirTran! I want to be reimbursed in cash. I want to see some REAL customer service, even after-the-fact.)
For my business owner clients to whom I offer business blogging services, I’m sharing a couple of important lessons:
- Problems with customer service are going to arise – no way out of it. But, those very situations offer you an opportunity to shine by making things right. Empower employees who are directly dealing with customers to handle problems. Then use writing for business as one excellent vehicle to tell about your own mistakes and the way you offer outstanding customer service by making things right.
- Corporate blogging for business is part and parcel of your excellent customer service!