Sunday, September 18, 2016

Customer Service: Inconsistency Doesn't Fly

We say things and write things, and we think they are the messages we send. They are not the only messages we send.

Let's take a look at one case from a recent story in The Guardian titled, Got a Customer Complaint? Take It Up with the CEO. If you travel by air, chances are you've had a flight canceled due to bad weather. Airlines do not put you up or compensate you when this happens; they just get you on the next available flight. 

In the case related in the linked story, however, one woman managed to get hundreds of dollars, thousands of airline miles, and elite frequent flyer status by making her case to the director of customer service. 

Then the story goes on to say:
"Two weeks later, Delta’s complaints department responded to the same email she had sent the head of customer service, stating that it was against the airline’s policy to issue refunds due to poor weather, and offering her a £37 voucher."

There are many things wrong with this case, not the least of which is the complete lack of consistency in the responses from the director of customer service and from the customer service team. Apparently there was no communication from the director to the team responsible for contacting the customer, letting them know what remedies had already been given. 

  • Could Delta have possibly offered this level of compensation to everyone on that flight? I don't think so. 
  • Is the airline's policy now to accept responsibility for compensating customers when flights are delayed or canceled due to bad weather? I doubt it. 
  • Did the vast difference between the director's action and the response of the customer service department make that entire department look bad? Yes. 

But for me, the larger issue is the unspoken message here: Complain loudly to a high level person, and you shall be rewarded. And that's the whole point of The Guardian's article.

What this type of reaction does is train people to skip over the customer service system your organization has in place, and go directly to the executives. Although I am a very strong proponent of executive involvement in customer service, this is not the way it's supposed to work.

Here's the alternative:
  • Build your policies to be more favorable to the customer in the first place*
  • Be consistent
  • Use your CRM to include all communication with the customer so you don't make your team look like idiots
  • Offer something to remedy the situation if you must, but don't go so far overboard that you insult everyone else who had the problem

If customer service personnel (and in my view everyone in the company is included in that) had done their jobs properly, the loud complaint would never have made it to the executive level. 

*Are airlines responsible for the weather? No. Could they offer passengers whose flights are seriously delayed or canceled some type of remedy? Yes, but it should be something sustainable and as fair to everyone as possible.

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