Guidance on Getting the Customer Experience Right for a Change
It is a fair observation of “industry experts” in every vertical and geographic market that our opinions are hypercritical. The tendency is to look for, find and then highlight faults. There is far less time and space allotted to companies doing a good job. This is particularly the case in regards to the highly criticized performance of customer service technologies and the employees who make use of them. After all, we are more than aware of the applicability to our profession of the old media industry axiom, “dog bit man is not news, but man bites dog is.” Criticism sells. Praise, not so much.
That said, in a break with tradition, I will relate a personal story which focuses on what recently went right for me and my wife, and lessons that can be learned from it.
Briefly. We live in Northern New Jersey. Thus, Newark Liberty is our airport of choice. By default, we mostly fly United because of their stranglehold on Newark. However, we take JetBlue when feasible for what frequent travelers know are obvious reasons. A family member lives in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, a JetBlue direct destination from Newark. We attempt to go there for “dinner and a hug” once a quarter. This means departing early Friday morning and returning Sunday around noon. Very high priorities are the days and times, or plans for a given weekend are abandoned.
Recently, we got an email alert from JetBlue late on a Thursday night before a planned next day trip that our AM flight was canceled. Part of the notification included confirmation of new seats on a Friday evening flight from the less than convenient JFK airport in Queens, NY, that would get us into Florida around midnight. It also noted that our upgraded seats remained valid on this new flight. In our view this was unacceptable. Not only was there an issue with the timing and departure location of the plane, but our return flight would be to Newark. This meant dealing with our car. It now had to be driven to JFK for our departure but our arrival was still Newark. The big issue was that the expense of car services between airports and our home was close to exceeding the cost of the airline tickets.
What to do?
We called JetBlue. Call holding time was under five minutes. Despite this being a very busy part of the travel season with most carriers flying at capacity, a very nice woman whose name we unfortunately did not capture, was able to:
- Get us on an early morning flight out of JFK in our upgraded seats.
- Get us a Sunday return flight to JFK with upgraded seats at roughly the same time as our booked return flight to Newark.
- Waive the ticket change fee.
Best of all this took less than 15 minutes from the start of the call to being emailed confirmations and we never had to go through a series of qualifying questions. The agent had all of our information in front of her, and the discretion to make changes and waive fees without having to call a supervisor. In other words, JetBlue had seen this before and knew how to train their customer care people to act in a manner that quickly solved the problem.
As an aside, I also appreciated the fact that when the agent came on the line, the obligatory “I am sorry about your situation” chit chat was not uttered. We got right to her using the knowledge of our challenge that was presented in front of her to start offering us options to see if our problem could have a happy ending.
JetBlue was not the only company to perform amazingly that night. The Parking Spot, where we are frequent parkers because of the quality of their services, also deserves a tip of the hat. When I called to cancel my Newark reservation and see if it could be changed to JFK, they routed me to JFK where a customer care attendant told me that the lot was full but as a member of their frequent parker club she would leave a note for her general manager to make room for us. And, despite arriving at 5:00 AM, sure enough, the GM met us at the gate can found us a place.
For years I have preached the following equation:
People+Products and Services+Processes = Performance
This goes for all aspects of business efficiency and effectiveness transformations. I believe there is an exponential multiplier impact when it applies to enhancing the customer experience — real-time, all the time and every time. My experience also highlights the facts that each part of the equation is important.
The JetBlue and Parking Spot customer care professionals had the right tools and thus the best information, a.k.a. context, in front of them. They are clearly well trained. And, most importantly in my mind in terms of making the experience pleasant, they were empowered to take action without transferring us around.
This last point about the value of having the right people with the right tools at the right time deserves a bit more emphasis. When it comes to contact center interactions time really is of the essence for all parties involved. Companies want to keep their satisfaction scores going up as they use various tools to reduce the mean time to resolution. What we want is our problem solved rapidly, with a minimum of hassle, and hopefully with an outcome that meets or exceeds our expectations. What we do not want is insincere empathy.
A final lesson here is that loyalty matters. This is not to say that either of the two companies that solved my problem would have treated me differently if we had not been long-time loyal customers. Going all the way back to when JetBlue started, and I had the chance to see their call center in action, the customer experience has been a vital part of its DNA. This is also why The Parking Spot has emerged as a dominant force in off-site parking at major airports around the U.S.
What C-levels, who for the last several years have given what in many cases is mere lip service to actually providing great customer care, should learn from this is simple. Investing in the performance equation without skimping on any of the components pays big dividends. In fact, you don’t have to believe based on my anecdote. The proof is in the KPIs and financial success.