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Quality customer service is key to attracting, retaining business

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

After more than a year of not seeing friends and loved ones in Canada, I was excited recently when a week away from work gave me to chance to fly north to reconnect.

Waking at 4 a.m., I set out on my adventure to fly several thousand miles and end up in a time zone two hours behind where I started. The flights were uneventful. The layover times were just enough.

After landing on time at my Canadian destination, I breezed through Customs and patiently waited for my luggage to be unloaded, spin down the rotating conveyor belt and send me on my way.

Watching each bag tumble past, I waited and waited and waitedee

When I was certain I had viewed each of the remaining bags several times, and was sure mine wasn’t there, I headed over to customer service to jump through the typical hoops placed before you when airlines lose your bags.

Having encountered the scenario before, I knew what to expect and desperately tried to curtail my frustrations. However, knowing the time change and the possibly limited number of flights that would come from the U.S. to my destination later in the day, I asked the customer service representative what would be done to ensure my bag would arrive promptly.

Explaining I was an American citizen in Canada, and I had nothing with me, the lost bag could quickly become more than just an inconvenience; it could become a costly expense. Adding pressure to the situation was I was staying more than two hours away from the airport and wouldn’t be able to return to pick it up.

After being reassured the bag would be couriered to me, I completed my paperwork and begrudgingly left.

Later that day, I called the airline's 800 number for baggage claim only to be told the airline had no record I filed I lost bag claim, even though I had a copy of the record in hand. After being put on hold for an extended period of time, my bag was located. It was patiently waiting for me, right here in North Carolina. It was still in Charlotte.

After a less-than-patient exchange, I was told the bag was on its way, would arrive in the evening and again told it would be couriered to my location.

After stopping at a store to procure toiletries and something to wear, I headed off to sleep that night, hopeful but unsure.

By 10 a.m. the next morning, the calls promised to me by the airline had never been made. I checked the 800 number again, only to be told the bag had arrived at the airport in the pre-dawn hours and was patiently waiting my pickup.

Seriously? Apparently, in-person conversation and over-the-phone reassurances meant nothing.

Another phone call later informed me because I was so far from the airport (no duh, how many times I had already said that?) the luggage would be sent via bus service and should arrive by Monday, nearly four days after I arrived on foreign soil.

This was their effective customer service solution to my situation. Four days. No luggage.

The debacle forced me to return to the city, losing another day of my trip and costing me unplanned expenses on gas and other necessities.

Arriving at the ticket counter, I was told by two agents who helped me that, oops, they were sorry, their customer service was being outsourced to India.

Problems, they told me, were mounting, as those answering the phones knew little about the airports they were representing and often made claims to customers those on site couldn’t live up to.

The agents were quick to point out other instances they’d encountered locally because of outsourced customer service.

In tough financial times, it doesn’t take a genius to understand why airlines and other major U.S. businesses are moving parts of their operations off U.S. soil.

But when it comes to getting and retaining customers, sending customer service offsite is just bad business.

It’s a shame when a company’s employees are even quick to admit that.

After expressing my displeasure, I was told to call that same 800 number again to file a complaint. Really? Call the same people who damaged two days of my trip?

I laughed out loud, declined and instead wrote a letter.

Who answered it? I don’t know, but they offered me a small reimbursement to cover some of my unexpected expenses—not a satisfactory offer based on the bad taste left in my mouth, but better than nothing.

Customer service is one of a business’ greatest assets. When it falters, business is likely to follow. When will big industries understand that?

STACEY MANNING is the managing editor at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or editor @brunswickbeacon.com.