Customer Satisfaction
Customer Service Nightmare

We all experience poor service from time-to-time. I bring you this latest incident to provide an example of the importance of expectations as they relate to customer satisfaction. Customer satisfaction occurs when service meets or exceeds expectations. Apparently, my service expectations were too high in this negative service encounter.

I arrived at the airport for my first flight of the evening after a visit with family. My wife, who had taken the same flight the evening before, had informed me that her flight had left on time. This made me think that perhaps my flight also would leave in a timely manner. At flight time, there were no airline employees anywhere in the vicinity of the gate. Not a good sign.

The flight ended up taking off 40 minutes late. This caused me great distress, since my layover in the next airport was supposed to be 40 minutes. Two other individuals on the plane shared the same connecting flight. The three of us begged the flight attendant to call ahead to the next airport and ask that our connecting flight, the last of the evening to our final destination, wait a few minutes for us. The attendant told us that this could not be done; that there was no way of contacting people at the airport. We had the natural expectation that this should have been possible, so we began to feel pangs of dissatisfaction.

The attendant then told us that as soon as we landed, someone on the ground would radio the next gate to ask them to hold our connecting flight. We felt better about that. As we landed (five minutes before our next flight was scheduled to depart), we felt confident that we would make the flight, given the news that ground personnel would radio ahead. Alas, when the plane door opened (this was a commuter flight, and we were let off on the ground), there was nobody there to greet us with a radio. Panic began to set in.

After ten minutes, a bus met us to take us to the terminal. We informed the driver of our plight and asked him to radio ahead. He said that he would, and then, as slowly as possible, reached above his head to grab his microphone. Perhaps 20 seconds passed while he had the microphone in his hand before he attempted to contact anyone. When he finally reached someone and asked them about our connecting flight, he was told that it already had departed. By this time we were angry.

When we reached the terminal building, we ran to the next gate, even though we expected to find that our flight was gone. When we arrived, breathless from running with our baggage, we were surprised to find that they were still boarding the plane. Finally, things were beginning to look up. Nonetheless, I felt angry at having been told that the flight already had departed.

I had upgraded to a first class seat, so I expected the remainder of my trip to be pleasant. It was not to be. It is customary in first class to serve the first class passengers a beverage before the flight rolls out of the gate. This did not happen, even though were at the gate for several minutes after I boarded. The gentleman seated next to me informed me that he had been seated for 20 minutes before I boarded, and that no beverages had been served during that time. Once the flight was airborne, after 25 minutes in the air we had not been served a beverage. The first class attendant was at the front of the cabin, partially hidden from our view. However, we could see that she was drinking a beverage. I rang the bell to call her. She remained seated. I waited five minutes and rang the bell again. An attendant from the main cabin came to the front of the plane to answer the call. The passenger seated next to me joined me in describing what had (or, better said, what had not) happened. She apologized and made an excuse for the lack of a beverage being served before departure, saying that this was "a full flight." We both found this to be a strange excuse, since we had been served beverages in first class prior to departure on full flights before. Nevertheless, we accepted her apology.

She then proceeded to procure beverages for us. While doing so, she told the first class flight attendant of our situation. The first class flight attendant then began to serve drinks to the passengers. She also gave pretzels and peanuts to all the first class passengers except for me and the gentleman seated beside me. (We asked for some when she finally came around to refill our glasses.) She gave us the "evil eye" throughout the flight, despite the fact that we were careful to be very polite to this either inexperienced or inconsiderate person. I might add that we expected to receive more than pretzels and peanuts in the first class cabin on a three hour flight.

Let's run through a quick checklist of what the airline did wrong:

  1. First flight was late taking off.
  2. First flight was unable to radio ahead for us.
  3. Nobody met the first flight with a radio.
  4. The bus driver was extremely slow to radio our request.
  5. We were told that our connecting flight had departed, when it had not.
  6. We were not served beverages in the first class cabin prior to departure.
  7. Second flight was late taking off (a blessing, given the first flight's tardiness).
  8. We were not served beverages in the first class cabin for almost one-half hour following departure.
  9. We received nothing resembling a meal or substantial snack during a three-hour flight.
  10. The main-cabin attendant made a difficult-to-believe excuse for the first-class attendant's behavior.
  11. The first-class attendant treated us with disdain.

This airline apparently made several very common errors which led to many of the above problems. These were:

  • Insufficient training or hiring practices. This could be seen in the behavior of the bus driver and the first class flight attendant.
  • Systems designed without regard to customer needs. This could be seen in the inability of the airline to radio ahead to the gate of our departing flight, and the lack of food on the lengthy flight.
  • Poor problem resolution skills. This was evident in the poor excuse we received from the main cabin attendant, and the, at best perfunctory behavior exhibited by the first class flight attendant after she knew we were upset.

Fortunately for the airline, customer satisfaction questionnaires were provided in the airline magazine. (This. of course, begs the question -- "how could these things happen if the airline is concerned enough about customer satisfaction to include a customer satisfaction questionnaire in their magazine? Perhaps we'll address this in a future tip.) Believe it when I say they will hear from me. Hopefully, they will read my comment and the letter that I intend to send.

I cannot recall a previous occurrence of suffering more than ten separate customer service irritations in one service encounter. I will not fly this airline again until I receive an apology. If I receive one, I will let you know.