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I watched an amazing experience this morning at the United counter at LGA. I wasn’t on line, I was leaning against a wall Tweeting something before I went through security, because, as is my life, I was at the airport three hours early.
Someone showed up in obvious distress, as far as I could tell the cab driver had taken her to Kennedy when she meant to go to LaGuardia, and of course, she missed her flight. She said something to the effect of “the person on the phone said I’d have to pay hundreds of dollars in change fees to get onto the next flight, and I can’t afford it. Can you please help me get home?”
From what I could overhear, the agent at JFK told her there was nothing they could do, and she should go back to LaGuardia and plead her case. So she did. The gate agent took a look at the ticket, typed some magic into the keyboard, and presented her with a boarding pass for a flight to Chicago, where she could connect to a flight to her next city that would get her in a few hours later than her original itinerary.
She presented her credit card to the agent, and I could feel her distress – In this economy, for a lot of people, an extra $300-$400 in change fees is a huge, huge burden, even if the mistake was entirely on the passenger.
The ticket agent smiled and said “don’t worry about it, the fees are waived.”
You should have seen the change in this woman. She went from crying to ecstatic. She reached over and bear hugged the agent, almost strangling her in the process. She hugged random people next to her. She jumped up and down. She started crying again, this time out of happiness. It was mind-blowing. All she could say was “thank you, United is so wonderful, thank you, thank you, thank you.” She even hugged two random people on line behind her.
Everyone around her was put into a better mood, as well. People smiled as they made their way to the TSA agents, which never happens. A few people were talking about how unexpected the ticket agent’s actions were. “This is why I fly United,” said one person.
Following the action here? We always talk about how negative actions can ripple through the content channels we all share at lightning speed – Well guess what – So can positive actions. Think about the people who will now have a slightly better day after witnessing that. Think about the woman herself – You know she’s going to tell this story over and over again. “I was so stupid, but United helped me.” United will make more money out of this, and I’d wager they’ll make, over time, a lot more than the $300 or so they would have collected in change fees.
There’s a story floating around (unconfirmed at the time of this posting) of a United crew who “lost” a ten-year old who was flying alone to camp. I’ve seen it posted at least six times in the past two days, the gist being “someone didn’t care” at United. That’s the problem – Customer service has to start at caring. No matter what employee of the company is approached first, that employee has to be trained to care. Because if the first person doesn’t care, the company doesn’t care. The customer doesn’t care that one specific employee might not care. One bad employee interaction, and it becomes the company as a whole that doesn’t care, every single time.
I continue to love United because for me, at least, they continue to care. Assuming they can continue to care like they did for the woman this morning, they’re going to be fine.
In a way, creating good customer service is almost exactly like fighting terrorism – Homeland Security has to succeed every time, while a terrorist only has to succeed once. The same can be said of customer service. It has to start being drilled into companies from the CEO down that good customer service has to happen every single time. That one time it doesn’t will cost you a ton of money.
But here’s the easy part that no one realizes: It’s not hard to create amazing customer service 100% of the time, because as customers, we expect to be treated like crap on a daily basis. Companies don’t have to create over the top experiences on a daily basis – They can just focus on treating customers one level above crap. Do that, and you’re going to create thrilled customers who want to come back to you. Go even above that, and you’ll have customers for life who will take a bullet for you. And that, friends, will translate into new business, and massively increased revenue.
Had a great or horrible customer service experience lately? Tell me about it below.