thinking like a customer

thinking like a customer

Seamless Customer Care

By on October 8, 2008

Mercedes-Benz has a captivating ad that says "Most people will never need ____, but we build it in anyway". The company inserts various features in the tagline, identifying aspects of their cars that differentiate them. This phrase also illustrates a fundamental concept for all organizations that want to outperform for their customers: Make sure that you anticipate the needs of your customers at the periods of highest demand on your system, so that your performance will not falter at these peak times.

Recently, I spent two days in Washington National Airport, courtesy of US Airways. Although I had a confirmed ticket, the airline was severely oversold because American Airlines had cancelled over 1,000 flights in three days due to grounding of a significant portion of its fleet for maintenance. Customers were scrambling to move to other airlines. Five other passengers and I were bumped and US Airways paid for our hotel, plus a $10 meal voucher. Our Customer Service Supervisor gave us scant communication during our three-hour wait until we finally received our lodging information and we were re-booked on the following day's flight.

This post is not a rant about poor customer service. Anyone who travels frequently is bound to encounter these types of delays and problems. Instead, my comments involve the lack of effective and efficient processes for handling the overbooking. The essential problem was that US Airways did not have a system for taking care of customer when the volume of problems increased above the average number of issues that they typically face on a daily basis. An organization must have a system in place to handle a significant increase in the volume of its business. US Airways was a mess on those two days. Announcements were contradictory and rumors were rampant. Their organization proved that when it became busy, minor problems were not handled well. This was not the fault of their employees, who were overwhelmed by the confusion and the lack of communication. If you have only the capability of handling a standard volume of changes in your business, when the number of exceptions increases, you will inevitably fail. If good processes are in place, the system is resilient and can withstand higher volume. If they are not in place, chaos ensues. The secondary problem was that US Airways did not have a clear understanding or appreciation for what customers expect. It only accentuated the problem that my colleagues had to wait three hours after our original flight left before we were rebooked on the following day's flight. That included no communication, except when one of us walked to the US Airways counter and ask about our status. Their employees also exacerbated the problem by blaming circumstances (heavier-than-normal traffic during spring break, etc.) which made no difference, when all its customers wanted was an apology and the assurance that the mistake was being rectified. Why couldn't the re-booking process have been handled in less than three hours?

Customers judge your organization by how you operate during higher volume circumstances. Successful grocery stores can put on additional cashiers, for example, during periods of high demand. Every successful organization builds in more than enough capacity to handle these exceptional times. And, in doing so, they minimize the turbulence if they can develop systems that are logical and effective, as viewed through the lens of the customer. As the Mercedes ad implies, they build in the ability to perform "normally" even in unusual situations.

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One Response to “Seamless Customer Care”

  1. Dan Waldron says:

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

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