For over ten years now I have tried not to miss the Palo Alto Library book sale, that’s held the second Saturday of every month. In the early days I’d go berserk picking up every book that I could lay my hands on (at $1 for hardbacks and 25 cents for paperbacks could you blame me?). In December when I was in San Jose, I took a much more leisurely stroll through the sale. Besides a pulp novel for the plane ride, I picked up only one book, “The Customer Driven Company” by Richard C. Whitely. Little did I suspect how appropriate this book was going to be to my ride home. I guess when we are ready, the lessons seek us out.
It began at Chicago – despite some 200 flights being cancelled earlier that day, my flight to Paris was going to be on time! Thanking the travel gods, I ran to get into line for my check in. Once I got to the counter, is when my troubles began. To save you the gory details, the litany of woes from here on out included:
I have been travelling across the Pacific (ANA, Cathay, Malaysian, Singapore, Thai) and the Atlantic (Air India, American, Delta, Lufthansa, United) for more than twenty years. In the last five years, I have travelled a minimum of five times a year internationally and put in my share of hops on Jet Airways, Kingfisher, Ryan Air and Southwest as well. This makes me a reasonable judge of the service levels for air travel. While by no means is poor service the sole prerogative of my (via) Paris trip, surly and inconsiderate cabin crew has been seen on Delta, United and occassionally even on Thai – the French experience was on an altogether new low. A casual browse through the Internet shows that my experiences are by no means unique.
Every airline has problems, often caused by things way out of their control – however, how they respond to it is totally in their control. This is true for every business and in our own lives. Truly successful businesses, Singapore Airlines and Nordstrom jump to mind, lay great emphasis on having a customer service mindset. And this shows how they respond especially when things don’t turn out they way they are supposed to. As someone who has travelled with two kids multiple times across the Pacific, I can personally vouch for what a world of difference a customer service mindset can make even when the kids are sick and throwing up, the TV doesn’s work and your special meal is no where to be found. A graceful smile, an apology, an understanding nod, maybe an extra blanket or pillow go a long way to not only making a passenger comfortable even in adverse circumstances but convert them to a lifelong customer. You’d think this would be simple – alas even good companies that knew how to do it well even on a short haul flight across California (such as AirCal, PSA) lost it when they were acquired by larger airlines and of course the trans-oceanic flight history is littered with its share of horrow stories (can you say TWA)!