Renie on the Road…the heart of the matter

Renie on the Road

I thought I'd interrupt Aspire's regular programming to share some customer service lessons from my incredible vacation in Italy. I'm about half way through, and it is amazing! Of course, there is always something to learn, even when you're trying to relax, so I hope you enjoy my "Renie on the Road" series, with some tips and observations on what to do (or NOT to do) to really WOW your guests when they're traveling…

There is nothing worse than someone complaining when they are so blessed. So I will skip the complaining and stick with describing what is most interesting...human beings. As a writer I find myself endlessly curious about human beings, how they live, and most importantly their beliefs about how life should be. Behaviors reflect beliefs, so observing the human element in action around you can explain a lot about how people think…or in some cases don't think.

For example, I usually don't believe I have time to prepare for a trip. That's why I never do it! I travel a lot, and I tend to pack in the last 10 to 20 minutes before I have to race to the airport. And yet, what you focus on comes true, so this time I made the decision to take the time and for once pack in advance. I have to say that just deciding to start the process two weeks sooner really does eliminate stress, and I felt so accomplished when I closed my single carry-on bag with time to spare. This is a major accomplishment for me! I even got to the airport two hours before my departure—another accomplishment. British Airways offered me an upgrade, and since I was feeling so good, I went for it. I was ready to go!

My first opportunity to observe the human element in action at the airport was at check-in, when the representative shared that she felt my bag was too big to carry on and that I should check it. As an experienced traveler, I shared that I chose that bag specifically because it has flown carry-on all over the globe without any problems fitting in the overhead bin. The representative did not seem to care by the way she brushed me off and insisted that I just check the bag.

I was still in a pretty good mood so I thought...what the heck. Checking my bag will save me the usual schlepping that I so frequently endure running around in airports. Rather than argue, I chose to go with the flow, and I boarded the plane without a care in the world. Mistake #1.

I had never flown BA before and the plane itself was a 747, exciting airplanes back in the 1970-80s! I thought they had all been put out to pasture—evidently not. They still use them, and this one was old. When we boarded, it was 114 degrees in Phoenix and unfortunately our plane was experiencing issues with one of its engines not turning on (never a good sign!). Plus as a result, there was no air conditioning available as they loaded the 400 plus passengers. To say it was HOT is an understatement!

The mechanical issues of course meant we departed two hours late, and by that time my good mood had stayed behind in Phoenix. And yet, it wasn't the old aircraft or bad food that really made it unpleasant; I know the days of luxury air travel are done for the majority of us.

During the flight, it was hard to see much value in my upgrade to business class, and it was the people that made it hardest. The service was mediocre at best, as the flight crew was not a happy bunch. Every time they came by, their body language said, "Those damn customers again...if they don't want water they want something else. They are so needy!" I watched their basic lack of kindness and of self-awareness in awe.

Thankfully, I was able just to observe. I didn't need any water, as I always have a bottle on me, and I was content to wait out the mediocre flight by making use of its large selection of movies...and yet this negative in-flight experience made the situation that awaited us in Europe even harder to bear…

On the day I checked my bag with British Airways, a "fluke" error in the baggage processing system they use misplaced thousands of bags across Europe, including my own. Remember: only hindsight is 20/20. There are always ways to make a bad situation better, and starting with exceptional service delivery is key to resolving even the most unexpected issues.

The Lesson

Think about the impact you are having on your customers and the way your behavior shapes how they experience your product. From their first interaction with you to their last, customers form beliefs about your service based on how you deliver it, and these beliefs shape their future buying behaviors. A smile goes a long way.

Simply offering us each a cup of ice water as we boarded (or while we waited on the tarmac for two hours) would have said, "We are sorry about the air conditioning and the delay, and we care about you!" Instead, all we could do was bake in the heat and think about how that engine wouldn't start! This experience predisposed passengers not to trust the airline before the unexpected occurred, making the problem with our bags even harder to resolve once we landed.

More to come…


Service Culture, travel industry, bad service

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