When does good customer service end and reality set in? Is there a point when we choose not to make miracles happen, even when we know they are possible?
This week I had several incidents worth noting and sharing.
I had a customer book group flights on Southwest connecting to an International flight on another carrier. There was a schedule change on the international carrier. Southwest instructed me that a new set of tickets had to be issued and the unused tickets would be refunded. I asked Southwest when the refund for the unused tickets would be refunded. The answer given was 7 -10 business days. This was on May 24, On June 29 Southwest finally issued a refund and we wired the money to the customer so he could pay his mortgage. In order to get the refund from Southwest it took 17 hours of phone time with Southwest and numerous emails. We did everything Southwest asked including submitting the same forms multiple times as Southwest told me the paperwork was no longer attached and that was the reason for the delay. In the last few emails Southwest stated that they “Do not normally issue refunds because of another carrier’s schedule changes” and the refund would only be issued after the group had flown the return leg. In the beginning Southwest groups told me that when a second set of tickets were issued that the unused tickets would be refunded in seven to ten business days. Is this fair to my customers when he is expecting a refund in Seven to Ten Days and it takes thirty plus? Should I have to spend 17 hours on hold waiting for Southwest to get their act together? Would the customer have received the refund promised if he did not have a travel professional advocating for him? I am grateful that Southwest finally processed the refund and the issue was resolved. I have a very happy customer that was grateful we wired the refund as soon as it was received and he was able to pay his mortgage on time. (the refund owed was in excess of $4000.)
I had a travel agent that booked a nonexistent, non advertised tour during July 4th week on Cape Cod. For those of you that don’t know this is the busiest week of the year on Cape Cod. We advised the customer that all rooms on multi day tours are released 14 day outs and we were holding no rooms at any property on the Cape. We advised customer that the advertised hotel was sold out and offered an alternative in a similar location with similar quality. Once again this is July 4th week on Cape Cod in Hyannis. The customer only wanted the advertised hotel that was sold out. I wait listed the guest and a room opened up. I contacted the hotel sales manager and was able to work out a reduced rate. We advised the travel agent that if the customers wanted that hotel, there was one room available and the surcharge would be $180 for the three nights during peak season. The travel agent requested we cancel all rooms as the customer was going to find her own room and we provide transportation and sightseeing only. We offered to cancel the tour as this had been a non advertised tour to start with and we were holding no hotel space at this time. On Friday I received a call from the travel agents colleague. She is whining at me, telling me I had to fix the problem for the customers as she could not find any available hotel rooms of the same quality in the same location. This again is a non advertised, non scheduled tour and I have been told that they did not want the room I had been holding. I suggested the issue was not with us but with the third party that booked a nonexistent tour. On Sat., I received a call from the original travel agent advising the customer wanted the custom tour, and wanted the discounted hotel room and was willing to pay the additional cost. I called the hotel and they had just had a cancelation, this was a miracle that I was able to call at just the right time. We have the customer booked with a private driver guide. I want to make it clear that when the colleague started whining at me, the desire to help diminished with each passing second, I was on the call. If the whining had continued much longer, the answer would have been sorry there is no tour on that date. To my valued travel agent colleagues, if you behave in a professional we will help you resolve all issues to the best of our ability, including the occasional miracle. When you behave like a whining child with no self respect, do you really think you are going to get assistance? Fortunately the professional travel agent called back and the situation was resolved. (I am guessing the third party that sold a nonexistent tour will cover the difference, as it is the right thing to do.)
I had a third incident this week where a group booked group space at an attraction and then wanted to incorporate individuals that booked through another source into the group. The real question is did I want to use my industry contacts to make this happen? Did I want to call in an industry favor? The answer is that I made a request to the sales office who gave me an unequivocal no. I did not push this any further nor did I call my colleague that supervises the sales department. I accepted the no answer, which is very unusual for me. Some of you may ask why I did not make this happen, if I could. Although it might have been good for customer service, these are not my bookings; these are individual bookings that choose to book as individuals. Perhaps they were trying to save a buck, perhaps they did not understand what a group booking is. The reality is that if I fixed this incident, those customers would continue this behavior and it would happen again and again. There comes a time when we have to decide; do we want to make another miracle happen, or accept when the sales office tells us no. Part of my reasoning for not pushing this issue was when I told the group leader what the sales department told me, about squeezing the individuals in with the group, “a flat no way”, I received an attack email attacking my character. If this had been the first attack email I would have completely ignored it and attributed to a group leader, unhappy that she could not get her way. This was not the first attack email from this particular group leader but one of many. In reality could I have made this happen with individual bookings being incorporated into the group, probably? Did I want to make the extra effort to make this miracle happen, absolutely no? This is called Karma. When you send attack emails rather than having adult conversations, you never know when karma will return to you. None of us know when we will need a favor or someone to help us. We all get frustrated but sending attack emails accomplish very little, other than putting up barriers that may have to be torn down. Take the time if you are angry or frustrated to read through your email before sending. You never know when you may need help, from the person you are attacking. All of us have wanted to send these attack emails at one time or another, some of us have learned restraint, others still think it is ok to send these emails. I hope those of you who still engage in attack emails learn they accomplish little. They relieve frustration for the moment but usually make the situation worse. My mom taught me as a child, you have a better chance of getting what you want with honey rather than vinegar. Earlier in my career I was guilty of sending attack emails when I was frustrated. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and I learned from my errors and found that if I am nice to people they tend to be nice to me and help me resolve issues. It is your choice miracle or barrier.