I was just reading an article regarding travel issues at airports (long delays, ticketing issues, fees, etc.) when I started to think about one of my own travel runarounds.
Back in the summer of 2001 I booked a flight from RDU to ATL for a long weekend of theme park fun for me, my younger brother, and two of our friends. We were to depart on September 12th and return about three days later.
Well, we all know what tragedy happened the day prior to our scheduled departure. And as you might recall commercial airline travel was non-existent for the days following the event. One of those days was September 12.
As soon as I learned that all flights were off I called the airline to cancel my round trip tickets and get refunds.
"Sure ma'am, " I remember the agent saying. After hearing the tap-taps of a computer keyboard in the background she said "I've processed a refund for your September 12th tickets from RDU to ATL."
"Ok, so what about the return tickets from ATL to RDU on September 15th?"
"I cannot refund that portion of your trip."
"Because air traffic for that day will be open and your tickets are non-refundable."
"Huh? How am I supposed to get back from Atlanta if I can't get there?"
"I don't know ma'am, but I can't refund that portion of your trip."
Now, I've been known to bluntly say what's on my mind and point out a person's - shall I say - lack of reasoning.
"Do you realize how dumb that sounds??? I'm not cancelling the trip because I don't want to go. I can't get there because you can't take me there!"
"Well ma'am I can reschedule your RDU to ATL leg on the next flight with openings after air traffic reopens. That will be on September 15th."
"But that's the day I was supposed to return."
"Why would I fly somewhere two days late only turn around and come right back a few hours later?"
"I understand if that doesn't meet your schedule, but the ATL to RDU portion of your flight is not refundable. Now, have I provided excellent customer service today by answering all of your questions..." Yada, yada, yada.
Are you serious!?!?
After several days of phone calls and arguments I was finally able to get all of my money back. In fact that was my first experience with this particular airline and I've never used them again. Whenever someone tells me they're booking a flight and mentions that airline I share my story and they quickly change their minds. I can't help but wonder how many of those people have told others, and those have told others, and so on. Additionally, I wonder how many other people were treated the same way when their plans were affected that week. Is that the right way to treat a customer, especially when the cause of disruption is out of either party's control?
Sometimes we have to use some common sense to make our customers happy. No, I'm not saying we should break the law or anything, but do something to make your customer realize how much you appreciate their business and want them to keep coming back (or refer others to you). Call their lender for them if they've been too tied up at work to do so. Stop by to lend a hand on moving day, or come by with a houseplant to say hello when the move is over. Offer to help another agents clients or hold their open house for them if they're sick. Even if you are on the verge of going over your cell phone minutes answer the phone when a familiar name shows on the caller ID - even if it's long after the closing.
Treat them like you'd want to be treated. Always go above and beyond. People always remember their best and worse experiences. As which would you rather be associated?