How to lose your customers

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How to lose your customers

By Lawrence Aylward - 12/05/2018

Retailers with successful store brand programs realize their programs aren’t just about the products they sell. They know that customer service is a vital intangible own brand. They know their reputations begin with marvelous, fantastic and astounding customer service.

They know that it’s all about the customers, not themselves.

With that said, I’d like to share a recent experience I had with an airline. I won’t name the airline, but the guy heading this particular airline’s ship needs a lesson in customer service. Captain Sully would cringe if he heard this story.

So I was on my 7 a.m. flight to San Francisco. The plane was rolling out to the runway when the pilot made an announcement that no passenger wants to hear: “Folks, I’m sorry but we have a mechanical issue, and we have to turn back to the gate.”

(Of course, passengers responded with a collective groan.)

After the plane returned to the gate, the pilot said the mechanical issue, which he didn’t reveal, would require that the passengers deplane with their luggage.

(Collective groan repeated.)

OK, I understand that these things happen. I don’t like it, but I get it. Safety first. I’m totally down with that.

Of course, everyone was wondering what the problem was. And shortly after deplaning, the gate agent revealed that “someone” spilled a cup of coffee in the cockpit and the coffee permeated the instrument panel. So technicians needed to clean up the coffee and make sure the spill didn’t damage the instrument panel. The gate agent said it would be about an hour delay.

I have to say, in my 30 years of flying several times a year, I’ve heard many reasons for delays, but this was a new one. You can’t make this stuff up. But I do give the airline credit for being transparent and citing the reason for the delay, although I have a feeling that not many passengers believed the reason.

But it was true.

After the agent came back on and announced it would now be a four-hour delay because the instrument panel needed to be replaced, I, along with many passengers, was very irritated. I had a meeting to get to in San Francisco, and the delay was going to delay my meeting.

I wanted some answers as to how this could happen. Why the heck was someone drinking a cup of coffee in the cockpit knowing that spilling it could create such a mess?

Scanning the gate area, I noticed two men who looked like pilots. At the time, I didn’t know they were the pilots of my aircraft. I approached them, just wanting an answer of how something like this could happen.

I walked up to them and said politely, “Listen, I don’t mean to be rude, but I have a question. How could someone allow this to happen? If a cup of coffee in the cockpit is capable of causing so much damage, not to mention a four-hour delay, why is someone allowed to drink a cup of coffee in the cockpit while so close to the instrument panel?”

To my surprise, one pilot told me that he was the "someone" who spilled the coffee. He called himself stupid, but I couldn’t tell if he really felt bad about it. I told him that I spill things all the time and that everybody does. But I asked him why he was drinking anything in the cockpit if he knew that spilling it could cause such a problem? Weren’t there rules or some kind of protocol to prevent this from happening? As the customer, I thought I deserved an explanation.

But the pilot got snippy with me. He said, “Do you expect me not to drink or eat anything on a five-hour flight?”

Knowing I wasn’t going to get anywhere with him, I just walked away.

After the four-hour delay and the plane’s instrument panel was repaired, we re-boarded the plane. As we were backing out from the gate, the pilot made another announcement, joking about what happened. He said, “I promise you I won’t spill any more coffee on the plane.”

His comment didn’t go over well.

He should have apologized. He didn’t. He made it all about himself, not the customers. I will try to avoid flying this airline again.

I guess I don’t need to say anything more. You know the moral of this story.




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