When customer service fails – spectacularly!

Delta AirlinesI’m fascinated by real-life experiences of really bad customer service.

It’s not because I have some prurient interest in disasters or the bad luck to befall customers but I genuinely want to understand how marketing can be improved by learning from mistakes made by some of the biggest brands in the world.

It’s not the sort of content PR folk want to see in a blog of course so I’ve had to use social media to dig deep and uncover examples I’d like to share with you. Some appear in my latest book, High Impact Marketing That Gets Results.

The following has been kindly submitted by Barry Maher, a US-sales and marketing guru and author of Filling the Glass: The Sceptics Guide to Positive Thinking in Businesswho works with clients including Merck, Verizon, Wells Fargo, H-P and Budget Rent a Car.

He got in touch to tell me about his horrific Delta Airlines experience having taken a flight from California to Virginia last year.

Ironically, Barry was on his way to deliver a keynote presentation on customer service! The other thing to note is that he decided to fly on April Fool’s Day, so clearly Barry has a terrific sense of humour too!

Things didn’t get off to a great start in this journey across the US. Delta Airlines lost his luggage, full of his clothes and books.

Having waited and watched the carousel at Roanoke Airport in the vain hope his suitcase would somehow show up as he stood alone after a tortuous amount of time while others happily skipped into waiting cars and taxis outside, Barry sought the assistance of Delta Airlines staff.

Except when he arrived at the Delta ticket counter, there was no one there to assist him. However, he did spot a pile of luggage stacked behind the counter.

Was he in luck?

After a ten minute wait for someone from the airline to turn up and actually deliver some sort of customer service, the suspense in thinking his suitcase could be amongst this pile couldn’t be resisted any longer. And Barry stepped onto the baggage scale to get a better look.

“Suddenly a man in a Delta Airlines uniform came screaming at me as if I were Osama Bin Laden with some kind of dangerous intent,” explains Barry.

“To this guy, I was clearly the one at fault. The minor fact that Delta had shipped my luggage to Rangoon or Transylvania was nothing compared to my violation of some scared rule around the sanctity of baggage control.”

So no attempt to empathize or even try to find a solution was made and Barry left the airport wondering what he was meant to wear at the presentation he was going to give the next day as the clothes he had flown in looked had that crumpled airport look about them.

The next morning, Barry found a gentlemen outfitter called Davidson’s in downtown Roanoke and the contrast in the standard of customer service couldn’t be sharper.

“Both the salesperson I dealt with and the owner of the store did everything humanly possible to find me clothes I needed, then make sure the trousers were properly hemmed and pressed and get me back to the conference hotel in time for my presentation. It was one of the finest examples of customer service I can remember,” adds Barry.

The story of Barry’s experience made The Times and USA Today but these articles omitted to mention the wonderful customer service experience Barry received from Davidson’s.

“Complaints do spread faster and far quicker than complements,” says Barry. “In my experience, every company gives lip service to customer service but doesn’t really deliver it.”

If you wanted to have a happy ending to this story, well you’re not in luck. Barry’s luggage finally turned up at the hotel he was staying at before he headed back to California.

Completely soaked. And all his precious books were ruined. The cherry on the cake.

“I tried to file a claim for the damaged books as I checked in for the return flight on Delta Airlines only to be told that I could only do so at the originating airport in California.”

When Barry landed at California, you’d expect this sorry saga to have come to an end.

Delta Airlines had mislaid his bags again!

“I was amazed. I went to the baggage office to report them missing and to put in a claim for the damaged books. The baggage clerk said Delta wouldn’t pay a damage claim unless I could produce the books so they could verify the damage.

“When I told the clerk that I’d like to put in a claim for restitution for the lost books, he said it was too soon. The books would probably turn up the next day. Besides, if the books were truly ruined, as I claimed, what Delta had lost had no real value, did it?”

Well, that’s breath-taking! The worst customer service in the world.


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