Customer service defines brands: How is your business perceived in the marketplace?

Last updated on July 1st, 2019 at 02:15 pm

Do you remember when you got dressed up for an airline flight? Now that has transitioned to a ride in cramped and uncomfortable seats. Gone are the tasty meals and chocolate chip cookies we once had with Midwest Express. You now choose among overpriced, prepackaged salads, sandwiches and snacks. Some flights only offer chips or peanuts.

Airline profits are at all-time highs due to luggage and fees for business class seats. They continue to reduce legroom to squeeze more passengers in per flight. You might as well be riding the New York subway system during rush hour, fighting for a place to stand as you travel from work or home.

Now, the friendly skies have turned more uncomfortable over the issue of customer service. In the past year or so, both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines have been in the news for delivering poor customer service.

Last year, United’s chairman had no choice but to apologize multiple times in the media when a passenger was forcibly removed from a flight out of Chicago. That passenger took legal action against the airline and United quickly settled the claim out of court. Delta suspended an employee who behaved poorly toward one or more passengers over whether a baby stroller could be brought onboard the plane. Thanks to passengers’ cell phone videos and YouTube, the entire world found out about these and other instances of poor customer service.

Because of these publicized negative interactions between crew members and passengers, the FAA has begun to review the policies airlines have regarding overbooking and carriage, and the rules regarding your rights as a passenger. In the near future, it’s possible there could be rules regarding minimal seat dimensions.

Because of the public’s negative responses to these occurrences, Southwest Airlines has changed its policy regarding the overbooking of flights, while other airlines have increased the incentives they will offer when bumping passengers.

The question that came to my mind when reading editorials in the national newspapers about the United and Delta incidents, and viewing the YouTube videos, was: “How do airlines define good customer service?”

Besides the initial question, you need to ask a number of other questions if your goal is to provide your customers with excellent service.

  1. Do your employees know what excellent customer service is and how to deliver it?
  2. Are your employees properly empowered to deliver the quality of service you, as a company, desire?
  3. Is the delivery of excellent customer service part of your corporate culture and a priority?
  4. How do you know your employees are delivering the level of service you desire?
  5. Do you properly recognize your employees for delivering excellent customer service?
  6. How do your service levels compare to your competition’s?

Major television networks have interviewed passengers who have flown both United and Delta, and many stated that they would not fly those airlines again because of the perceived lack of customer service. The only difference between carriers is their scheduled arrivals and departures, and sometimes their price. Based on recent research, travelers are now making their airline selections based on how they will be treated when they board and fly the planes.

Southwest has already taken a positive step by eliminating potential overbookings. The other major airlines need to refocus their efforts on strengthening their customer service, not reducing legroom. As consumers, we choose restaurants based on their cuisine and level of service; soon, we will do the same for airlines.

When I was at Gimbels Midwest and at JH Collectibles, we responded to every customer concern, whether in writing or by phone. At Gimbel’s, I had a 24-hour window in which to answer a customer complaint, which was enforced by the company’s president. At that time, we had a program designed to deliver excellent customer service named “CARE” (Customers Are Really Everything). Each employee and executive was expected to deliver excellent customer service. Employees were regularly recognized for meeting this standard and it became a part of the culture.

It is a known fact that when products or prices are similar, a customer will make his or her decision based on past experience and the service received. The open question is: how is your firm perceived in the marketplace when it comes to customer service?

He was a senior professor at DeVry's Keller Graduate School in Wisconsin. Cary has published articles in periodicals and on the Internet. He recently published first book with Dr. Larry Waldman, "Overcoming Your NegotiaPhobia". Cary holds MBAs from L I U’s Arthur T. Roth School of Business. Cary has a BA from CUNY, Queens College. He has certificates in Negotiation from Harvard’s PON and in Labor and Employment Law from Marquette University.