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Ask Tim - Got an insurance technical question on your mind?

Blogs Home >> Ask Tim - Got an insurance technical question on your mind? >> 'This is What Great Customer Service is All About'
This is What Great Customer Service is All About

I'm going to take a break from the usual insurance technical discussion today to talk about a wonderful customer service experience I had this afternoon. First, I have a confession to make, and it is this: I can, at times, be an airhead. Not exactly shocking news to those who have known me for a long time, but perhaps a revelation to those who know me only through this blog and the podcast. And I had a rather acute attack of airheadedness a few weeks ago, when I went on Expedia.com to make flight arrangements for this week's Mid-America Technical Conference near St. Louis, Mo. You see, the conference ran from November 6 (Sunday) through today (Tuesday, Nov. 8.) As the only event on Sunday was a reception at 5:30 PM, common sense dictated that I fly out Sunday afternoon. That was certainly my intention.

My mouse-clicking finger apparently had other ideas. As I was preparing to leave Sunday morning, I looked at my flight itinerary for the first time since I bought the ticket two weeks ago, and saw to my horror that I had reserved flights for Saturday, November 5. Yes, I booked my flights for the wrong day, and my reserved flight had taken off nearly 24 hours before. I got on the phone to the airline, explained my mistake, and booked flights for late Sunday that got me to my hotel around midnight.

Here's where things started to fall apart further. You see, I had bought tickets for one airline out, and from another for the trip back to Syracuse (both trips required a connection; there are no direct flights from Syracuse to St. Louis.) Airline A, when it set me up for the new flights on Sunday, applied the payment I had made for the trip to the cost of a one-way ticket to St. Louis and charged me a few hundred bucks additional, without telling me that it was a one-way ticket. My reservation for Tuesday was still intact, but apparently my ticket was not (I don't really understand how you can have a reservation without a ticket, but apparently you can. And people think the insurance business is confusing...) The ticket agent for this airline told me to call the other airline (American Airlines) and confirm my reservation for Tuesday, which I did, and they indeed confirmed it.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the St. Louis airport today (two hours before my flight, thank God) and was unable to check in. It was then that I made the acquaintance of two women working at the American Airlines check-in counter, Debbie Burnside and Tracy (her name tag did not show her last name.) They diagnosed the problem and instructed me to visit the other airline's counter (a mere 50 feet or so away) so their agents could clear up the matter. I did, then returned to the AA counter, only to find that the problem was not resolved. Debbie called the other airline. Then she spent several minutes checking out the problem on her computer. Then she called the other airline again, successfully finding a more cooperative person on the other end. At some point, Tracy got on the phone with them and won a promise for them to call back.

Minutes ticked by. Eventually, Debbie went over to the other airline's counter to speak with them. She was gone at least 10 or 15 minutes. When she returned, she told me that they wanted to speak with me directly. I'll spare you all the gory details of what they said, but the upshot was that my mistake had wiped out my previous ticket and that I would have to buy another one for an extra $500. I was, to say the least, unhappy with this news as I returned to the AA counter to buy my ticket (it was either buy a ticket or become a Missouri resident.)

Debbie and Tracy thought this "solution" was bogus, and they went back into action, making phone calls to their own reservations department and whipping through computer screens. In the end, Debbie got me a new ticket at an extra cost of $183 (a far better result than the other airline had said was possible,) overrode a code in the system that had placed a hold on new checkins for my flight because it was supposedly boarding (it wasn't yet,) got me pretty good seats on both flights (toward the fronts of the planes), and even tracked me down in the security line because I had left my printed Expedia itinerary with her and she was afraid I still needed it (I didn't, but it was still very thoughtful of her to come and find me.)

After all this, my flights were uneventful, taking off and landing on time. I'm writing this from the comfort of the upstairs of my house. Here are a few takeaways I have from this experience:

1. Making a flight reservation for the wrong day is a remarkably poor idea. Don't do this.

2. Despite the fact that I made a stupid, careless error and was not very deserving of sympathy, these two women worked very hard to make sure I got home when I planned to. To be honest, it was humbling. They really knocked themselves out for me, and the thanks I gave them was as inadequate as mere words can be. I intend to email a link to this blog post to AA's customer service department, and I truly hope word of it gets back to them and, more importantly, to their bosses. Because of what they did, I will always feel partial to American Airlines. In particular, I encourage anyone who has to fly in or out of St. Louis to consider flying that airline. They deserve your business.

And that's really takeaway #2 -- do not under-estimate the value of superior customer service, whatever your business is. Airline, insurance agency, pizza shop, dry cleaner, whatever -- treat customers like the only care you have in the world is making them happy, and they will be loyal to you. Maybe not all of them will be, but most will. People like to feel that someone cares about them. I know I sure did.

Debbie and Tracy, thank you for helping me get home. The rest of you, take these lessons to heart and apply them in your businesses.

And when you make flight reservations online, for the love of God, make sure you click the right freaking date.

Posted on Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 12:35:42 CST by tdodge

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