We can TALK about customer service all we want but it’s all in the implementation…

Back in 2006 (and I am still telling the story!) I arrived at the Syracuse airport at 11:15 am for a 2:15pm flight. (not a lot to do in Syracuse so I thought I would hang out at the airport and get some work done). I walked up to the Independence Air counter and was a little surprised that there was no one there—passengers OR ticket agents. There was the dreaded hotel-like bell with a note that asked passengers to ring it for service. I complied and a woman appeared from the back room, looking at me with some surprise on her face. I explained that I knew I was early but asked if I could check my bag.

She proceeded to tell me that there was no 2:15 flight. It had, in fact, been dropped from the schedule over a month previously. She finished with, “I am sure you were notified. You have been re-scheduled on our evening flight at 8:30 tonight”.

“I was not informed.” I explained. “Why would I show up at 11:15 for an 8:30 flight?”

She punched something into her computer and looked at me apologetically. “It shows that they really didn’t contact you. I cannot believe it” she lamented.

I explained that I was trying to get back to Pittsburgh in time to see my oldest daughter play in a big high school soccer game that evening and that I HAD to be there as promised.

The gate agent was obviously sympathetic, but after checking with American Airlines she explained that Independence Air did not have an inter-airline agreement and she was not authorized to spend $750.00—the amount of a one way ticket on American Airlines—to get me on their next flight. “I will get my manager,” she comforted.

When Bill Mackintosh, the station manager for Independence Air in Syracuse, arrived at the counter, I knew I had a sympathetic ear. “I have teenagers myself,” he said. “Come with me.”

When I asked where we were going as I followed sheepishly down the concourse, he explained that we were going to the American counter. “I do NOT like them very much and they do NOT like me very much, but let’s see what we can do,” he proclaimed.

After being instructed by Bill to wait about 20 paces away from the American ticket counter while he did his magic, I watched what was obviously a very animated discussion take place over the next 7-8 minutes. Eventually, the American Airlines ticket agent threw up her hands in resignation and Bill motioned me to the counter.

“All taken care of, Mr. Tobe. You are on their flight in 35 minutes. Non-stop into Pittsburgh.” he said proudly. I shook Bill’s hand and he departed.

Turning my attention to the American ticket agent, I caught her shaking her head back and forth. I opined that Bill must have been very convincing to get me on that flight. She looked at me more with disbelief than anything else. “You have a new friend there,” she explained. “Did you realize that he just used his own, personal, American frequent flier miles to get you on this flight?”

I couldn’t believe it! After securing my boarding pass, I proceed back down the concourse to the Independence Air counter. I rang the bell repeatedly but to no avail. Knowing I had to get to my gate, I left the counter, never having the opportunity to shake Bill’s hand in gratitude. (I did call him and his superior in Washington the next day!)

Customer Service

Each time you go out of your way to solve your customer’s challenges beyond their expectations, how many people do you think they tell? Look at it the other way. If you do not offer an exceptional experience, how many people do they tell?

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