One of my favorite authors and speakers on the planet is Shep Hyken. I get his weekly message on Customer Service. This week’s message really hit home.
I thought, “what a nice message.” That was before I flew to Washington, D.C., this week on Southwest. I am an asthmatic and am severely allergic to dander. Dog, cat, horse, llama, alpaca, mice, hamster – it doesn’t matter. (Please don’t tell me that your dog doesn’t have dander . . . the last person that told me that watched me on a breathing machine at the kitchen table.)
When I got to Southwest’s gate in Dallas I saw that one of the passengers had a dog about the size of Rhode Island going with her. Lots of hair and lots of dander. I told the gate attendant that I needed to be FAR away from that dog. The pilot even came out and said to me they would be in the first row and I should pre-board right away and sit where I wanted to in the back of the plane.
I did so . . . but the agent didn’t take my ticket. No big deal. I was on the plane and far enough away from the dog. That was until I picked up some email late that night and Southwest CANCELLED my flight the next night because they thought I didn’t show up for my first flight.
Picture this. I’m in D.C. I flew there on Southwest and they are telling me I wasn’t on the plane. No problems . . . we all make mistakes and I knew why this one happened. I called the airline and explained what happened and why. Thirty five minutes later the agent on the phone, who was really trying to help me, explained that she really couldn’t because of their rules. I would need to go to the airport that night, or long before my flight the next night, to prove – in person – that I was there!
I told her I’d take a picture in front of the hotel … the Lincoln Memorial … or anywhere else. Getting back to the airport would really be an inconvenience and my meetings started the next morning at 8. She apologized profusely and told me that I needed to call the customer service line the next morning at 9 a.m. (they opened at 8 a.m. central) and punch in #5 for the option. Perhaps they could help me. Honestly, the person on the phone couldn’t have been nicer or tried harder. There were these “rules,” though, that prevented her from helping me.
At 9 a.m., exactly, I called. The person on the phone was great. It took another 25 minutes but she got everything handled. I didn’t have to go to the airport.
This goes back to Shep’s story.
A couple of lessons here. First, make sure your read Shep’s story. Next, look at your own operation and compare it to my experience.
MK made the comment, “Isn’t it strange that how you felt about Southwest last night and how you feel about them today is totally different?” Why? What one person was authorized to do to help a customer and what one person was prevented from doing.
How does that work in your organization? Are your people authorized to solve problems . . . or are they simply authorized to follow the rules and lose a customer? Leaders understand this and give their people authority to solve problems. Thanks, Shep, for reminding me of this lesson!