Continental Airlines was dead in my crosshairs after my flight to Israel on Sunday. To their credit, they made a comeback, but the lesson of the importance of Customer Service was nonetheless brought home, vividly.
The SharedBook team has R&D in Herzlia, just north of Tel Aviv, and we had a company meeting there this week. My flight from Newark was nothing less than execrable, with essentially every customer touchpoint past check-in screaming “WE’RE Continental – YOU don’t matter.”
Boarding was chaotic – the announcements were mumbled with no apparent understanding that with a multi-language passenger list, everything is best spoken slowly and clearly. The result was a scrum at the gate.
On board, it was freezing – the doors were open because of late delivery of food, and it tends to be cold in New York at 11 at night in winter. Surprise!
The “in-flight” entertainment system was sporadic, and my monitor was dead. Attendant reaction was, “Huh! Well.” No offer of assistance.
The crew was nonchalant and mostly indifferent. Carts were crashing into seats along the aisle. One attendant even gave me the in-flight version of a “no-look pass” – she actually offered me a cup of ice backhanded, while standing in front of my row, never even turning around. Perhaps, as in basketball, if I hadn’t been alert, she would have just dropped it, and said “look alive!”
My morning meal included a croissant, looking as if it spent the night pressed between two dictionaries, flat on a tray that included a brick of egg-like material. At least there was OJ.
There’s more, but you get the point: a lot of things happen when companies serve the public, not all of them good. And how the public responds to a company is often dependent on the behavior of the company representatives when things are at their worst. Even when events are beyond control, the consumer has to know that their business, and their interests, are of the highest level of concern. Period. Anything less, and not only is the business lost, but the customer tells as many people as possible about the perceived slights.
Interestingly, Continental did everything right that they had done wrong on the return flight. And it helps a little, but not much. Why? Some years ago I attended a conference at which it was reported that a happy customer tells, on average, 3 people about their experience. An unhappy customer? Eleven people hear about it. Human nature, I suppose.
To borrow a phrase from an old airline, from a better time in air travel, in Customer Service you earn your wings every day. We’ll try not to forget that lesson here.