Comprehensive Customer Service

So, I was stuck in Atlanta recently. I wish I had actually known I was going to spend time there because I like getting to know new cities. Instead, my plane landed late and the connecting flight back to Milwaukee left without me. This, unfortunately, ramped up an airline experience that tells me one thing: airports & airlines have no practical comprehension of comprehensive customer service.

You see, I willfully take the title of ‘traveler’ when I buy a ticket to fly from one city to another. Now, have the companies that deal with customers forgotten this–or have they never known? A traveler is something a person becomes when he or she buys a plane ticket and continues until returning home, most often. Sounds repetitious, but can you blame me? A traveler, therefore, is not simply the person waiting to board a plane. By that point, a traveler has most likely gone through many excruciating feats to even get to the point of boarding a plane.

Here are the top ten ways / topics that whoever-it-is-out-there can explore to improve the traveler experience. By the way, Midwest Airlines, Continental Airlines, & Starbucks affiliates are the only companies that I can remember experiencing to have had any sense of what it really means to be a traveler over the past few years.

1. People who travel detach only one part of traveling from the rest: the purchase of the plane ticket through a third party. I happen to use a lot, and my dealings with them are completely separate from anything else.

2. Companies who have any dealings with reaching airports, being in airports, or leaving airports should know that travelers think of all of these people as part of airports – and therefore, perhaps simplistically, as part of the same experience.

3. Airlines need to know exactly how a person can best reach and depart airports. Some airlines seem to believe that they should downgrade all sense of service once a person exits an airplane.

4. If an airline is not able to get someone to his or her proper destination on time, then that airline should realize that they have failed. The only real measure of success for most travelers is doing things on time. Airlines who are responsible for people being stranded in cities (yes, such as Atlanta) should go out of their way to make a person exceedingly happy–after the airline has exhausted all resources–including purchasing tickets from other companies–to get a traveler back on his or her timeline.

5. There is hardly anything worse than bad service at an airport restaurant. Worse is the fact that no one else who works in airports cares and thus there is no peer pressure on airport restaurants to have good service.

6. Milwaukee’s airport seems to allow streams of street preachers to harass travelers. Milwaukee airlines are lucky that there is only one Milwaukee airport.

7. Whoever writes instruction cards and posts signs on how to get from one point to another in an airport should have to be dumped off in a strange place and be told to interpret well meaning yet incomprehensible signage. The New Jersey airport typically has wonderful people on hand to help travelers understand the train system–this alone makes that airport more appealing than the two New York airports.

8. Everyone who is involved in the following process should talk to each other, often: getting to airport + checking in + having to throw away a bunch of stuff ’cause it can’t go through screening + screening / the fine art of taking off shoes & belts + putting shoes & belts back on + gate-side food & beverage vendors & restaurants + waiting around for hours + boarding + etc. If you work in an airport and are confused by this, then you are not definitely not even thinking about comprehensive service.

9. A flight attendant should never tell someone that she or he needs someone to do something unless that person is posing a specific threat. If someone needs a purse stowed under a seat, how about “Hi ma’am / sir – I notice that your purse is in the chair next to you; I understand that it’s easy access there, but airline regulations state that those need to be stored. Can I help you place it in a bin or can you put it under the chair in front of you?”

10. Don’t treat people differently because they have an appearance not associated with the ‘typical’ traveler. I saw this happen to someone in front of me in line and I was sending out vibes of “Don’t you dare” to the guy at the counter–the desk clerk kept calling the customer in front of me some derivate of “young” something. As a side note to this, that happened to be the fifth counter I had been routed to–so there’s a bonus lesson: clerks beware–your counter is not the first one a traveler has visited in the last five minutes.

So, there it is: a non-comprehensive call for comprehensive customer service. I mean, if the sandwich guy just overcharged you and the screening guy just threw away your stuff, and the street preachers just harassed you, and the plane is an hour late–then, if not for the traveler’s sake, those people checking tickets before boarding should really be prepared to greet the disgruntled. Better yet, those people checking people before boarding should do something to make sure everything that happens before that point is incredibly pleasant.

– Todd Wellman (c) 2007

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