What Happened to Good Customer Service?

I don’t want to bore you with the minute details of my situation. I’m sure you’ve been screwed by one airline or another over the past few years, and you don’t want to read about my problems. I’ll keep the background to a minimum and then get right into the customer-service philosophy for you. How does that sound? OK – let’s do this…

My wife and I had booked a very short trip; from the moment we left until the moment we returned would be under 24 hours – just enough time to attend a once-in-a-lifetime family event. Two hours before our flight, our travel agent called to advise us that our flight was canceled, and that the airline had moved us to a flight the next day. Comically, the new outbound flight was going to get us there after the return flight would have left, so the agent started trying to make other arrangements for us. The only suitable flights were on a partner airline, and the original airline would only make the change for us in-person, we were told, at the terminal – not over the phone. Off we went, spending gas, tolls, parking, and an hour each way only to be told by the airline that they couldn’t authorize us to switch to their partner’s flight. Lots of phone calls, emails, and letters later, I realized that I had inadvertently written a lucid and reasonably-good philosophy of customer service for such circumstances, so I thought I’d share it with you in this, my latest response to their claim that they’re not responsible:

In my business as an IT consultant and support provider, we resell the goods and services of lots of other vendors and service providers, much as [Agency] does in their industry. We do not promote the goods or services of vendors or providers with whom we have had unresolved dissatisfaction issues, and if a client insists, we caution them of our experiences. Our clients trust our business despite the fact that we are resellers of others’ goods and services; to maintain our reputation and our relationships with those clients, we don’t sell them stuff we know to be problematic without cautioning them in advance. There will always be new low-cost producers and providers of the goods and services we resell, but our staying power is the quality we provide. If [Agency] just wants to be the low-cost reseller of bad airline service without providing its customers any warning, I certainly don’t want to have any more dealings with them – I can’t afford it.
Incidentally, my complaint finally got escalated to [Airline]’s Customer Advocacy Manager, and he called me yesterday. He was surprised at how [Airline] handled my issue, and is checking into it. Apparently, [Agency]’s agents didn’t do *everything* possible, else this guy would have been contacted a month ago. When I have a problem with one of my company’s vendors or service providers, I know who to call to get it resolved right away. I don’t deal with vendors that make it difficult on me because it detracts from the customer service I can provide to my clients.

Good customer service means treating “customers” like “clients.” The difference is that a “customer” is a one-time purchaser of your goods or services, whereas a “client” is someone with whom you develop an ongoing relationship. My company employs direct mail marketing, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, and pays referral fees – I know how much it costs to bring in new business. If we give those customers nothing but a discount price, they’ll leave us as soon as someone else offers them a better price. Instead, if we give them a good value at a fair price, and if we treat them the way we’d want a company to treat us, we’ll keep them as long-term clients. Rather than spend more and more marketing money to replace one-time customers with new one-time customers, keeping long-term clients allows a business to save money on advertising, to provide better value, and to grow and be even more profitable.
Incidentally, we never did get switched to another airline, we missed the once-in-a-lifetime family event, and we were compensated solely by a refund of our airfare – nothing for our parking, gas, tolls, or aggravation. [Agency] offered us $50 towards our next trip; I told them to keep it, as I’d never book another trip with them. We filed complaints about [Airline], too.

Brian Blum is the founder, president, and chief consultant at Maverick Solutions IT, Inc, and always tries to provide good customer service. Maverick Solutions provides affordable IT consulting and technology support services, primarily to schools, NFPs, and SO/HOs in the New York Metro Area. Maverick Solutions is the alternative to keeping your own in-house IT staff, and we’d be happy to help you get more value from your existing technology investment. Visit our Website to learn about the services

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