Customer Service | The Lost Art of Working with Customers

I recently traveled with my family to Las Vegas for my sister’s birthday.  In keeping with “saving dollars at the airport to spend at the casino”, we took that super cheap airline.  You know, the one that recently exited their customer service line because they weren’t able to fully staff it.  Customers were calling, being placed on hold and then essentially left for dead.  In today’s current “screw the customer” mentality, I’m sure they see this as a win.

Customer Service | The Lost Art of Working with Customers

At any rate, we took the cramped (and I mean super cramped) trip out to Sin City with 215 of my newest nearest and dearest travelers.  Drinks (excluding a single cup of water) were extra.  Bags, extra.  No internet, not even an option on this one. Personality from the air crew, apparently also extra.  On the way out, I didn’t mind too much.  I was tired, it was early, and we were out to go have fun. 

On the way back, things were less.  I had a business trip unexpectedly come up.  Having not realized the personality issues of the airline, I also didn’t realize the need to work out my “carry on” luggage situation prior to arriving at the airport.  Silly me, I thought I could just chat with the desk representatives to clarify that the checked bag I had paid for, needed to be switched to a carry-on so I could be sure that it would arrive with me at the final destination. 

This was not a simple problem.

The desk agent practically yelled at me, informing me that she didn’t have the power to make that change, I’d need to go stand in another much longer, slow moving line.  Frustrated, I made the decision to try my luck at the gate. 

The first rep I spoke with at the gate told me I “made a stupid decision, you should have talked to the agent downstairs” and walked away.  The agent next to her, calmly took my information, explained the bag charge from checked to overhead would be a $75 fee (???? Same plane, same weight, I’m doing the lifting, but it costs more??) and processed the changes. 

The steward staff inside was fine. 

And by fine, I mean fine.  Not good, not bad, completely unremarkable. 

I could have left a scathing review, instead, a lesson in customer service.

The Lesson in Customer Service

The lesson here isn’t in my frustration or in their resentment toward their customers.  They even had a sign that said something like “Check your bags early, don’t be a sloth. When you make it on the plane last, everyone will know it was you who were the holdup” (seriously, calling your customers sloths?!?! Not feeling warm and fuzzy here.)


So, what’s the deal with collapsing customer service?

Businesses today are fighting for their dollars.  Markets are tightening, businesses are consolidating, staffing is a nightmare.  You see it all around you.  Shortcuts to improve cash flow like bagging your own groceries, in the bags you the customer must now supply and automated customer service phone cues to “sort” you to the right person (mostly intended for you to give up and go away).  In this climate, the customer loses and honestly, bad feelings grow.

Are you doing this to your customers?  Hidden Fees

Transparency is important. Always.  In this situation, unfortunately the truth is obvious.  The prices are posted.  A la carte travel has replaced the luxury that travel once was.  Unfortunately, with the current global financial climate, prices are going up.  But are you charging to cover costs or charging for the sake of charging.  I feel like this matters. 

Bad feelings come from organization that claim they’re raising costs to cover expenses, when a few months later we find out that the corporation has made billions in profits.

Your organization’s response to an already tight market is something your customers will remember when it’s time to renew contracts or a return visit is planned.  Make sure when you increase your costs you aren’t doing so unnecessarily and at the harm of your customer.  Clearly and effectively communicate those changes.


Has your business taken the stand that customer service and courtesy to your customer should be extra?  How are you training your client facing teams?  This is an important leadership issue in managing your company culture as well as the trust your customers have in you. Remember the push a few years ago that the customer wasn’t always right, that you should focus on employee satisfaction first?  Did that do more damage than help?  Did your jaded customers return?

Returning to the airline example, fast forward a few weeks to what was in fact the “Great Holiday Airline Debacle”.  Thousands of flights were erased from the boards at the height of the holiday season leaving thousands of travelers stuck at airports across the country.  In return for your days at the airport (without any actual travel included) one airline (the biggest offender) offered vouchers.  Vouchers for future discounts on their airline.  Pretty tone deaf if you ask me.

Customer Service, the afterthought – Or, it’s time to start answering your company phones again.

I hear often in conversation the general resignation over being placed in a phone cue, lost into menu sorting that never quite seems to actually work.  It might be time to start answering the phone again, within 3-5 rings, there’s bonus points for having a friendly voice on the other side. 

While the effort of keeping the front desk staffed is high these days, the value is overwhelming in customer satisfaction.  A well-trained receptionist can answer, quickly evaluate the customer need and in most cases resolve the call while the poor customer in the phone cue is still trying to articulate well enough for the phone bot to understand.

A promise to your customer, should almost always be kept. 

As with anything, there are exceptions but as a general rule if you make a promise to your customer, you should definitely keep it.  Even better, if you have guarantees, post them.  Communicate them. Socialize them.  Make sure your team understands them and lives them. Train them.  Reinforce your promises at every opportunity.

Keeping customer’s needs met (generally speaking) should always be the focus of an organization that seeks long term relationships with clients. The effort extends into how your customers treat your employees, and in the end it’s always a win-win all around.

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