Friday, January 1, 2016

Customer service isn't a Game

Work bounced me from city to city in the northeast, imaginary life to imaginary life. Weather cooperated. Challenges faced and conquered. Days of focus, driving, silence and concentrated bursts of interaction as I danced through each gig mindful of my words, appearance, actions. When you are someone else it takes awareness not to use give away trademark actions or words. Posture, movement, expressions shift as you become these other people with other dreams and beliefs, goals and quirks. When you walk the same road as two different people with the requirements being nonrecognition by people you met with, talked to two feet apart for over an hour it's a whole different challenge level. No stage makeup, too obvious. No big disguise, too attention drawing. Subtle is key. Sell the identity. Sell the imaginary you. While you do this observe. Fulfill your contract. Get the information and leave like a spring breeze. Leave them smiling, hopeful for a return you'll never make. Leave them thinking about the future they want to help this imaginary person build. Maybe up to three times a day and all to observe them. I'm their bogeyman. They would despise me. They would be nervous, try to hard if they even had a hint that I wasn't what I seem to be.

Why do I do this?
Not to hurt them. To admire them doing a wonderful job, to write and report accurately how they do. Always hoping for the best, but not sugar coating the worst.
Because there are real people. They meet them everyday. Those people deserve quality, respect, honest and integrity. An employer can't always stand behind you and monitor how you're representing them. So I become anyone. I watch. Someone has to because not everyone has the same priorities and values. Some aren't honest. Some aren't pleasant. It's documented. After that it's out of my hands. They raise themselves up or nail their own coffins. Their choice.

Respect is earned. It is built through words and actions.
It's not an entitlement.

Where I'm leading up to:
Today I had a flight from Charlotte to Phoenix, this morning headed to my flight from Pittsburgh to Charlotte so I could go to Phoenix I received notice my flight to Phoenix would have a two hour and twenty minute delay. Instead of arriving at 12:45 I would now arrive at 3 am.
I could not find a service person at American airlines to speak with. I was handed a card and told to call their helpline. Their service desks were closed and dark.
I called, feeling cynical but willing to try without resorting to emotional behavior. I spoke with a helpful guy, Peter, who spent time checking all options. He apologized as every flight from Pittsburgh that could offer a different connecting flight was full. No cancellations. He told me to call every hour and check. He took time. He went even further, hearing early on I'd done a lot of flying this year but just having gotten a rewards number, he talked about getting my twelve digit flight numbers and contacting advantage program for miles credit. He was excellent, considerate, sincere, and he built a rapport. I enjoyed the call?!
An hour later I called back. System forwarded me to the sound of heavy breathing or wind on a speakerphone. I hung up. Called again. This time a woman answered, no name. No name offered to help. When I said what I was calling about, she immediately responded without hesitation, without time to glance at information as if somehow her mind telepathically tracked all seat statuses on all flights simultaneously she quickly said "No cancellations." I asked if she would take a moment to check. She briskly said she did. End of call. Not customer service. No attempt to search, no explanation, no consideration. Business. Next! Whether she looked or not I questioned her honestly. Can you instantly without hesitation look up data on multiple chains of information? If so, why aren't you on the cover of Time Magazine? A flight to Dallas was overbooked. Announcements were made $500 and a seat on a flight tomorrow to passengers willing to offer their seats. Eight volunteers sought. Customer service in action. No stress, passengers deciding and helping each other. I was impressed.

I got on my flight resigned to a 3 am arrival in Arizona. We landed in Charlotte late. Our Captain announced that some folks had connecting flights to try to catch, asking those of us the long overlays and delays to let those folks go. It was the friendliest disembark, people helping each other groups heading to other flights gathering together to rush as a team. Makeshift families of all ethnicities, ages and social classes in a race for their seats.
The rest of us joked, talked and we all actually made it off the plane in record time.
The Captain and crew earned our respect. We respected each other because of the communication and the choice we were given to help by standing back. It's amazing to help someone by standing back, letting them be and do. We felt great. Most of us were headed on the midnight flight to Phoenix. We were ecstatic to get notice that miraculously our flight was no longer delayed and somehow would be on time! We were back to arriving before one am. This earned a lot of respect. Finding a way to make adjustments to meet the original agreement and plan with weather, full flights and holiday in play. Impressive.

What came next dashed all this.
On the flight departures there were two flights listed to Phoenix. One leaving less than an hour after I got to Charlotte from B terminal and my flight leaving after ten from D terminal. I thought about going to B just to check then recalled my lack of luck earlier, as well as the lack of luck and even discouragement from American Airlines airport ground check in staff when I flew out of Dallas to Pittsburgh. I wish I had.
You see. Forty people were delayed in Columbus. American Airlines staff there promised them they would not miss their Phoenix flight from Charlotte. Promised.
They paid for seats not standby. Those seats were on that earlier flight. There were at least twenty of us at the D 3 terminal waiting to fly out on the 10:10 to Phoenix. No attempt was made to fill those seats. We sat unaware that forty seats would be cold and empty. The Fiesta Bowl Fans arrived in Charlotte. They rushed to the gate in B Terminal. It was locked. The promise was broken. The plane was gone. In desperation theybrsved to D terminal where I looked up from my report. The guy across from me said "look at all those people, are you sure you're not boarding now?" Forty people clung together huddling around the check in desk like it was a fire and they were freezing, stick in some invisible blizzard. The stress and agony played on faces. They were trying not to lose it. They were offering respect, asking for help. The desk staff weren't making eye contact and their body language indicated they weren't wanting to share that fire.
They told us these folks were standby. Quiet firm voices, forty of them chaotic yet patterned like rain on a roof told the truth.
I thought about Pittsburgh. The offer for the Dallas overbooked flight. I thought about these people paying for tickets to the big game and the flights not standby. I thought about the empty seats. I thought about how I'd feel if I was one of them.

I approached the desk. I was ignored. No eye contact. I raised my hand and projected through the crowd with a smile. "If the airlines will do the overbook offer, the $500 and a flight tomorrow I will give up my seat. They have tickets, a time sensitive event. I do not. I know I'm one person but I want to help. "

The response was like a grenade. The two staff had such negative facial expressions and body language I regretted not thinking quickly enough to record it on my phone. Tawasi would have thought of that.
The man with the shaved head and the short woman with stylish curls held by strong mousse chimed a retort. "Flights not overbooked, no. We're not offering that. It's not the airlines fault."
Mind you these folks were trying that customer service line, appealing for executive divine intervention. The executives failed to be reachable. Customer service was made a mockery.
It IS the airlines fault when promises are made, no attempt to address an issue such as Delta would have done, which would have been getting word to us, getting as many of us on that earlier flight as possible and dismissing their customers legitimate and valid issues that existed only because of airlines staff failures to provide service with integrity.

These people saved money, they reserved tickets. The looks on their faces broke my heart. People on my flight didn't know what was going on. They thought forty people bought standby tickets! I projected again. Hear me. Understand. Care. These folks could be us. I shared their story. Many of us as they had us board spoke up again, asking why they didn't switch us into their seats why they wouldn't work with both groups to get those people on this flight. They didn't offer them anything. Not even an apology. Just attitude.

Not right. Not customer service.
Eye contact. Body language. Introductions. Facial expressions. Listening. Language. You can't always make things better but like Peter you can be there, offer compassion and validate what that person is going through.

Now customers, this goes for you too. Knock it off with the entitlement attitude. These folks didn't use it. They could have tried. It's gasoline on a fire. It's an attack. It doesn't deserve respect. If you act that way as a child you get reprimanded. Demonstrate that you deserve good service. If you get terrible service then, like these folks did keep trying with dignity. It's not easy but in the end it shows. I dislike big sports events. I dislike the money wasted on them that could be used for more important things like health, family, community, environment. I have ocassional antisports rants.

Let that sink in. These people earned my respect through how they acted, how they spoke. They were NOT loud, caustic or obnoxious although the American Airlines staff treated them that way. It was how they acted that made me willing to sleep on the floor at another airport instead of curling up at home with Danny and Sadhu in my own bed.

I hope they get to their game or that the American Airlines executives do something to set this right.

Sorry I couldn't help. I wish they'd let us switch seats. This could have all been avoided.

I hope there was a me watching. Another observer disguised amongst us. Noting. Recording. All directly to the executives, you see things that should not happen but do. You communicate. Change happens. If I get a surgery, I'm filling it in like I would one of my work reports. I'm tagging American Airlines and sharing this as a message to their Facebook. You see, I might use this phone frequently but it's a tool and I'm using the information and virtual web of networking to be heard. What makes me happy? Simple. Very simple. People choosing to treat each other with basic human dignity and respect. Freedom to be me. You having the freedom to be you. We don't have to like each other but we can choose to treat each other with respect.

#AmericanAirlines #customerservice