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Customer Service Opportunity Missed

By: Lydia Ramsey

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert, professional speaker, corporate trainer and author of Manners That Sell: Adding The Polish That Builds Profits.  She has been quoted or featured in The New York Times, Investors' Business Daily, Entrepreneur, Inc., Real Simple and Woman's Day.  For more information about her programs, products and services, e-mail  her at lydia@mannersthatsell.com or visit her web site http://www.mannersthatsell.com


Last month I must have qualified for the "Frequent Flyer of the Month" Award. I flew over twenty segments (separate flights) on business. When I mention this to friends and associates, their response is always, "It must be exhausting to work like that."  The work is not tiring. I love what I do.  I could stand up and speak about business etiquette till the cows come home.  The air travel is the killer.

Out of the twenty flights, only two, went off without a hitch.  The other eighteen were either cancelled or delayed.  After a while this begins to wear on anyone. There were moments when I came close to losing my good humor and, to be honest, my good manners.  However, as someone who makes her living speaking and writing about etiquette, I feel an obligation to practice what I preach.  Besides I don't like myself when I get grumpy.

The incident which I am about to describe took place on my last, or what was meant to be my last, flight of the month and final flight home. For reasons that I do not need to explain, the airline shall remain nameless.  

I was among fifty unsuspecting passengers who boarded a small commuter plane bound for Cincinnati where many of us had connecting flights. We had one of those infamous "on time" departures. It was a sunny day without a cloud in the sky so who would have suspected that we would sit on the tarmac for three and a half hours in the broiling sun due to a weather delay. Finally the decision was made to cancel the flight and return this hot, sweaty, dehydrated group of people to the terminal.

Once inside we made our way to various agents to rebook our flights.  It was late enough in the day that there was no way I could fly to Cincinnati or anywhere else and make a connecting flight home.  Finally it was my turn to approach the airline agent sitting behind the "customer service" desk looking for all the world like Attila the Hun on one of his worst days. She was not in a good mood.  With no eye contact and no greeting, she stuck out her hand for my boarding pass. Still not looking at me and scowling, she announced that I couldn't get out until the next morning. When I asked where I was supposed to spend the night, she shrugged and informed me that it is not the airline's responsibility to accommodate passengers whose flights are canceled by weather. I was on my own.

Having no choice, I selected a departure time for the following morning.  She keyed in who knows what on her computer and shoved two boarding passes toward me.  She hadn't asked me what seat assignments I would prefer so I timidly inquired about my seating. I have preferences.  Still visually ignoring me, she offered, "You have 3A to Atlanta and 21C to Savannah."  "Wow! 3A-that's fist class," I said. (Did I mention that I had a coach ticket so this was a pleasant surprise?)  In the grouchiest tone of voice imaginable, she said, "That's all I had." It was obvious that she hated giving me the upgrade. What a customer service opportunity missed!  

This airline employee had a chance to win over an unhappy customer, but she blew it.  She could just as easily have looked me in the eye, smiled and said, "Ms. Ramsey,  this is the least I can do for you after all you have been through today and to see that you have a pleasant journey tomorrow."

How many customer service opportunities have you or your employees missed?  When the product is flawed, the service not performed properly or the customer has a bad experience, what do you do to make up for it?  Do you go out of your way to win them over?  When opportunity falls into your lap, as it did with the airline employee, do you use it to your advantage?

It is no secret that it costs more to gain new customers than it does to keep current ones.  What are you doing to insure that every customer has a positive experience with you? What do you do when the customer's expectations are not met to make sure they remain loyal to you and do not leave you in favor of your competition?

The chance to win over a discontented customer was handed to this customer service rep on a silver platter and she chose to ignore it.  What an opportunity missed!


© Copyright 2009, Lydia Ramsey. All rights reserved.

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