Airport Customer Service: Lessons in What NOT to Do!

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I was packed and ready to go to COPSWEST in California, the largest Law Enforcement conference on the west coast. L-Tron was a proud sponsor/exhibitor for the first time –this year!

If you travel – or even if you follow the news – getting anywhere by plane these days is never a given, even when it is a beautiful day.

  • My colleague and I arrived at the Rochester airport with time to spare. Check!
  • We checked in at the United Airlines gate. Check!
  • We found out that our plane was here. Check!
  • We boarded the plane on time. Check!
  • We sat and sat…and sat. It was getting warmer and warmer, then downright hot. Uh oh. GUT check!

Our take off had been scheduled for 1:56 pm — guess again. At 2:30 a familiar announcement was made: “We have a maintenance problem. Time to de-board. The mechanic will be here in 15 -20 minutes.” (Why the delay? Watching the Bills game perhaps?)

At 3 pm and I went to the desk and asked, “Is there a status update?”

“Why yes, there is. The mechanic was here but just left in a red van to get a different tool.” (Really? Have you heard of this thing called a tool box? It contains multiple tools!)

Needless to say, I didn’t like where this was going. It was time to come up with a backup plan and quick! Technology to the rescue! I dug out my iPad & checked for other flights out of Rochester to LAX – score!

Airport Typing

I approached the gate desk and got in line to alert the gate person that there was a 5:30 flight to LAX that day, on American Airlines and I could even provide the flight number. Many key strokes later (remember that scene from Meet the Parents?), we have seats held with a layover in Chicago (I see a Chicago dog in my future …What I won’t do for a Chicago style hot dog!)

BTW, the van with the mechanic had yet to return (I heard the Bills game is a close one….) and it was now 4 PM.

By this point I was inspired to write a customer service blog because exceeding service expectations at every opportunity is our passion at L-Tron. We walk the talk; striving to provide exceptional service at every opportunity. So why is exceptional service so hard to deliver for some service industries or businesses? Here is my play-by-play.

  • At 4 PM when there was still no status update I decided I better approach the frazzled & frustrated United Airlines gate check personnel. (The same airline that prompted a customer to write this infamous song). From a customer service standpoint I wondered:
    • Why not be proactive and keep your customers informed? They should never have to come to you!

 

  • A half hour later, the airline personnel continued to work on rescheduling passengers for tomorrow. I wondered:
    • Why not prioritize your service? For example, “Flights out in the next hour please step up.”
    • Why not gather the troops? Send more personnel to address the problems – with smiles!

 

  • My turn arrived. I smiled (because I try to treat everyone I come in contact with as my customer – truly.) I wondered:
    • Why not be forthcoming? I am an adult. What was/ is going on? Did the red van just vanish? Must have – we were never updated!
    • Why not thank me (& everyone else) for OUR patience and good humor through the entire 3+ hours? (It really was a nice group of frustrated customers for sure.)

 

  • 4:40 PM…Success! New paperwork stating I was rebooked to American Airlines was in hand. I wondered:
    • Why not guide me? What do I need to do next?

 

  • I arrived at the new gate, ready to check in for the American Airlines rebooked flight. I smiled. There was no smile in return. I wondered:
    • Why not smile and mean it? It works even when speaking on the phone. Your customer will “feel it.” Instead I heard, “What is it you want? I am in the middle of boarding!”

 

  • I explained the situation since the American gate checker had no clue. I wondered:
    • Why not proactively give a heads up? Communication is key between departments – at 100 feet away.
    • Why not empathize a bit? “I’ll get you taken care of. Can you give me a moment while I sort this out?” Instead I was viewed as (and felt like) the problem.

 

  • The gate attendant picked up the phone to talk with “someone” about my rebooking and says, “I am just going to start saying NO!” I wondered:
    • Why don’t you appear to care that your customer (me) is standing in front of you listening?
    • Why not focus on your customer, listen to your customer?
    • Why be the problem, when you can be the solution?

 

I was a bit lucky because I was the first person in this line AND I finally got my new boarding passes but…there was a new problem. My luggage was the problem – and apparently my problem. I was a problem because if they didn’t have my one checked suitcase I couldn’t board the flight. Did they want me to run out to the tarmac and find it myself? Instead I offered up, “No worries. I will buy a few new outfits in LA.” (I was not going to Wal-Mart like I had to earlier this year and this time L-Tron would be paying for my trade show outfits!) The problem was solved by me – their customer- but only for the moment.

The new problem was that my carry on was suddenly TOO BIG. I had visions of that SNL airport boarding skit  as I explained that it fit perfectly fine under the seat of the tiny plane we just de-boarded. I heard, “That’s not going to work here. Oh no, no, NO!” Wow, 3 NOs. Honestly I had lost track of how many NO’s I had heard. I wondered:

  • Why not find a reason to say “Yes!”?!

I knew my luggage would fit just fine. I smiled while it was tagged with a big angry red ticket. And finally it was time to board.

I made the “mistake” of asking the attendant scanning my ticket if she happened to have my baggage claim ticket (like the ones I saw her handing other passengers in the same situation). The answer? “What? NO – I can’t deal with that now!” I wondered:

  • Why not tell me they did everything possible to assure my bags were transferred?
  • How about giving me suggestions for next steps so I can look into it further?
  • Why not thank me for my business and wish me a nice flight?

I simply put the handle down on my “oversized carry-on bag,” picked it up, tucked away the angry red tag, and boarded the plane. My carry-onAirplane bag fit perfectly under the seat. In that moment, I thought about our Company quality statement and how we walk the talk. I reflected on our staff, who often say, “Our customers sign our paychecks,” and I am grateful that L-Tron understands that a customer’s problem is an opportunity to shine.

I had a nice flight.

And my luggage arrived ahead of me.

 

 

Gayle F. DeRose

Chief Operations Officer

L-Tron Corporation