Learning From the Customer Service Debacles of Others

Learning From the Customer Service Debacles of Others

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

In 1996 the U.S. hosted the Summer Olympics. I’ll never forget reading about this story. Wade Miller, a Santa Fe, New Mexico, resident, tried to buy tickets to the volleyball match from the Summer Olympics ticket office in Atlanta. When the agent found out he lived in New Mexico, she refused to sell him a ticket, claiming she couldn’t sell tickets to anyone outside the United States. He appealed to the agent’s supervisor, who also believed that New Mexico was not part of the United States, even though New Mexico became the 47th state in 1912.

There is a happy ending to the story. Miller eventually bought tickets, and Scott Anderson, managing director of the games, promised it wouldn’t happen again. He said, “Obviously, we made a mistake, and we want to apologize to everybody out in New Mexico. The good news is that of all the mistakes we could make, this one is at least easily fixable.”

And there is a similar story that happened just a few weeks ago. A Puerto Rican family traveling from the United States to Puerto Rico was denied boarding a plane because their infant child did not have a U.S. passport. Despite the family pleading their case, the most the agent offered to do was refund the ticket or reschedule them to a later flight after they could acquire a passport for their child. The family eventually walked over to the JetBlue ticket counter, where they were told what they already knew: passports are not required to travel between the U.S. mainland and U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico.

Shep Hyken Communication Failure Cartoon

From these stories – and there are plenty more just like them – here are three (3) lessons we can take away:

1. Customer Service Training: Many problems can be avoided with good customer service training. There is the soft-skill side of customer service, being friendly and empathetic. Then there is the technical side that covers anything specific to what the company does, which can include basic geography. That makes me wonder, how can someone in the airline industry not understand the requirements for different countries – or at least know where to go to get the correct information?

2. It’s Okay to Get Help: If a customer and agent are at an impasse that doesn’t look like it can be resolved, the agent needs to know when to say, “I’ll be right back,” and find someone who can help. It’s okay to get help!

3. Recovery is Key: While not part of these two stories, it’s still important to recognize that how someone apologizes, and the actions they take do two things. First, it shows empathy and care for the customer and the situation. Second, when the problem is resolved to the customer’s complete satisfaction, it may renew the customer’s confidence in the company to come back next time.

There are more lessons and examples like these. I wanted to share these two for two reasons: one, they are entertaining examples that not only make you smile but also make you think. And two, it proves a point that I often make: common sense isn’t always so common!

Image Credits: Shep Hyken, Unsplash

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