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Customer, Nervous… or Customer Service? 

A couple of weeks ago, I was traveling on a major airline out of Dallas, Texas. Right after I checked in for the flight – which was to be in a small regional aircraft - the agents began soliciting for 10 volunteers to give up their seats. The trade-off was decent: they promised departure from DFW that evening or early the next day, for a full-fare ticket anywhere in the U.S. If my schedule allowed, I would have taken the option – not for the free pass, but because I know that airlines don’t request such concessions unless they’re really necessary, and I like to help out when I can.

I saw a few passengers take the offer, but requests for volunteers kept coming up until we boarded, and even after the rest of us settled ourselves throughout the 17 rows in one of the two seats on each side of the aisle. With no more volunteers forthcoming, the pleas from the crew got a bit stronger, and more information was offered. It seems there was not a space issue, but a weight issue – and if no more passengers opted out of the flight with their luggage, they would begin offloading luggage anyway… and that luggage would not be available until the next day. Having a keynote address scheduled for the following morning, I had visions of presenting at a business meeting in rumpled attire, until the flight crew developed a new plan: they would move some of us to the front of the plane for better weight distribution!

If they could have measured the anxiety in that cabin, the results would have been off the chart, because it was clear our plane wasn’t able to balance the passengers and luggage it was meant to serve. And as nervous as I was, I couldn’t help being appalled at the lack of planning and the resulting negative effect on the airline customers’ physical and emotional comfort. Not only did they want to solve their dilemma by disrupting our planned travel, they compounded their poor management of the situation by adding fear, not transparency, to the situation when they finally told us that weight distribution and proper flight conditions were at stake.

Fast forward to a better experience… shortly after this flight, I was checking into a hotel in Denver, Colorado, and when I got to my room I was charmed to find a card that started, “Dear Guest: With the summer rains after a drought, the cricket population often expands.” It went on to say that crickets are said to foretell good fortune in personal and financial matters, but that if I had a cricket in my room and found the presence of the little critter more bothersome than beneficial, they would gladly have a staff member remove it at my request. Now that’s a great way to manage expectations around a potential predicament, and solve the problem without making the customer responsible for the solution. It was customer service at its best: part operations and delivery, part crisis management, with a big helping of peace of mind. And their communication was so delightful, I almost found myself hoping for a cricket as a roommate...because who doesn’t need a little extra luck now and then?

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