Customer Service 101

Stormy weather on the customer service front.

Remember those threatening storm clouds that rolled over town last Saturday morning. They popped off some lightning bolts, rumbled with thunder and then, just as Canadian Tire was full of folks doing last-minute Father’s Day shopping, inside the store there was a momentary blackout.

Simultaneously there was an audible sigh as everybody in the store realized what it meant. The store’s entire electrical system – from lighting, to security alarms to cash registers – would have to reboot before things got back to normal. What was worse, with everything at a standstill, the line-up at the checkouts was growing fast.

Almost as quickly, with the temperature among impatient customers (and the store itself because the air conditioning also had to reboot), a guy in a blue Canadian Tire shirt slipped past the queue, grabbed an armful of bottled water and began handing out the bottles for free.

“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Kevin the store manager said. “We should have things back to normal in a couple of minutes.”

I thought to myself, “Man, what an incredibly savvy move! Either he has the natural instincts of a born retailer, or he’s been trained by the best customer service system going.”

Those of you who read this column regularly will know that I have often ranted about customer service going the way of the dodo bird. In other words, with only rare exceptions, such as the one I’ve just described, the practice of business catering to clients and customers seems to have lost out to economizing, downsizing, pressure selling and pursuit of the all mighty buck.

On the other hand, we’re generally quite fortunate in our community. We have merchants, retailers and service people – and I’ve written about Blue Heron Books, Uxbridge Small Engines, Uxbridge Credit Union, Hobby Horse and Tin Mill among others – who have not forgotten who pays their bills each day they open their doors: The buying public.

Not 24 hours after that pleasant encounter with Kevin and his soothing water bottles, I faced the exact opposite in customer service in Toronto. I had an early morning flight from Pearson International. I was at the airport nearly 90 minutes ahead of my flight. Good thing, because my airline’s customer service quotient left a lot to be desired (and a lot for me to do in lieu of the airline’s staff).

The first hint of trouble was when I entered Terminal 3 and faced rows of ticketing kiosks backed up nearly out the door with people frustrated over new procedure. Several of the kiosks weren’t even working and the ones that were working had that jarring clatter and ping with each annoying step completed. Then, there was the now common airline rip-off these days.

“Number of excess bags?” the screen said.

“I’ve only got one!” I cursed under my breath. And only $25 later, plus $3.25 HST, was I allowed to print out my boarding pass and baggage label. But with that done, I figured, “Oh well, at least now I can get some help from a ticket agent, have her/him process my “excess” bag and be on my way. Not so fast. Have you encountered the latest “economizing” measure?

It’s called The Checked Baggage Drop-Off Zone, which means, passengers now have to schlepp their bags onto the conveyor belt, flash their boarding pass over a scanner and wait for the computer inside to OK the bag and start the conveyor belt to move the bag to the plane. One airline even has the nerve to promote all this as its “state of art passenger experience,” so help me.

After my second attempt to have the scanner pick up the information on my boarding pass, with no response of the conveyor belt, I voiced my frustration out loud. “You know, a person would handle this much more expeditiously and have a smile to boot,” I said. Which attracted an agent who offered her help. “Don’t you realize all this customer DIY processing is eliminating your jobs?” I offered.

She smiled as if Big Brother were watching and helped the scanner do its thing and I was finally en route to the gate. Indeed, when I got to the gate, I discovered the truth about that. Have you noticed that the same airline people who were running around trying to soften the blow of all that “state of art passenger experience” out front, suddenly appear at the gate taking your boarding passes and checking your ID?

I know where they got that idea. The other morning at Canadian Tire, after he had handed out water to keep queuing customers cool following the short blackout, Kevin the store manager joined his beleaguered cashiers opening up one more checkout desk to speed customers on their way. If only we could bottle Kevin’s positive attitude and force feed it to managers and marketers in big business, how much better things might be for customers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.