Customer Relations Lessons Learned

Tomorrow I am set to depart for a trip to Australia. My flight is with Air New Zealand. I was relieved that I was not going to be impacted by possible strike action…

Airplane tailBut wait for it … the first leg of my trip is with (are you ready) – Air Canada!!  I have been passed from pillar to post, from one customer relations rep to another – all the time feeling totally powerless to the “flying gods.”

Knowing there was a strike coming on Wednesday (Tuesday midnight), I knew my goal – get someone – anyone to help me get to Australia.

I’ve spent the last 3 days on the phone with Air Canada, Air New Zealand and various customer reps with Red Tag Vacations.  I’ve experienced empathy, coldness, irritation and rudeness. I have worked to be polite in all my dealings with each person. I do understand that these people are not the problem.

One of my creative solutions was to get myself to San Fran on my own dime and make the second leg of the flight. BUT – that was not possible (according to Air New Zealand). Air NZ wanted to charge extra fees and penalties for me to solve my own problem. More on that later.

So what have I learned? (far from an exhaustive list)

  1. Listen carefully to your customer: Listen closely to what your customer is saying. If they are having difficulty expressing what they want/need, help them to articulate it. When they are clear about what they want; you can serve them more effectively
  2. Listen with empathy: If the particular problem is one that you cannot solve, empathize with the difficult situation someone is in. For example, when I told my story to Air Canada, the customer rep was cold and uncaring. Saying he was sorry for my difficulty would not have hurt him – in fact it might have helped him. Another customer rep empathized and my frustration level reduced because even if they were not solving my problem, they were relating to me as a human. I was not merely a financial transaction to him/her.
  3. Try to problem solve creatively: Work with your customer/client to find a solution to their problem.
  4. Be authentic: Don’t pay lip service to people. If you can’t/won’t help them, don’t pretend that you are. You will get found out eventually and your reputation will be damaged. Some social media savvy people can do some damage to your reputation (remember the guitar story?).
  5. Make your policies flexible: I suggested to Air New Zealand that I would get to my first destination (San Fran) on my own dime. They blew me away when they said that I had to use my ticket from the first point of departure or I would be considered a “no show”.  Classic inflexibility.

The Air Canada strike has emphasized a lesson that we all learned a long time ago and that is …

Put your customer first.

Your customers have many places to go to buy products or services similar to yours. If you don’t meet their expectations or exceed them: believe me they will look somewhere else!

[Update] I’d just like to give online kudos to Red Tag Vacations. From the President (who did give me a personal call and asked staff to find a solution) to the manager of online bookings (Gina) to a customer rep (Christina) who both called me to let me know that the strike was averted. These people and their actions stand out above all the other customer reps because they cared enough to inform me that the strike was over. No one else did that and believe me, I’ve talked to a lot of people in the last 3 days.

Were you affected by the Air Canada strike or some other service disruption?  What did you learn about customer relations as a result?

Photo Credit

Web copywriter, lover of words, WordPress workshop facilitator. When I'm not writing, I am gardening, drinking coffee or letting my cat lounge on my lap.

Tagged with: ,
10 comments on “Customer Relations Lessons Learned
  1. Rob says:

    The problem is most companies preach the “it’s not our policy” routine. That is fine as long as their own policies are followed. In this case they could potentially not provide you with the service that you were paying for.

    The problem is most companies do not empower first line support reps to be creative at all. They are taught to preach policy in most cases and not find ways to make the customer happy.

    Customer service reps also need to be active listeners and really understand what the real issue is. They need to take the time with each customer and not worry about getting you off the phone so they can take the next call. Numbers are not everything – customer service satisfaction is.

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks for your input. And so true… I had policy thrown at me. Policy is not flexible and cannot handle exceptions. Most customer requests need flex room and policy doesn’t have the give.

  2. Dawn,

    Your post is a good reminder of how important it is for companies to provide flexible, informative and empathetic customer service. At Air New Zealand, we do strive to give 100%, which is why it’s unfortunate that your request didn’t receive an appropriate response.

    It is generally against policy to allow passengers to miss a portion of their booked flight, as this can lead to remaining portions of the booking being cancelled because of a no-show. However, in the advent of a strike, our policy does allow a change of carrier and routing between origin and destination. You should have been able to make this change.

    For your and others’ information, we have posted below the policy that was shared with all partners in the Air New Zealand network.

    We appreciate you taking the time to provide us with feedback and are grateful we had the opportunity to respond. We hope you enjoy your trip to Australia and your flight with Air New Zealand.

    Air New Zealand Strike Policy:
    Where the flight has not yet been affected by the strike
    o A flexible rebooking policy exists for passengers booked to travel on an AC flight within the next 6-days.
    o Change fees may be waived
    o Rebooked travel on AC must be completed by 09 Dec 2011
    o Travel is subject to space availability in the original booking class
    o Change of carrier and routing between origin and destination is permitted providing the fare and fare conditions permit
    o NZ travel in conjunction may be changed on the same conditions
    o PNR and the reissued/revalidated ticket must both be endorsed “Invol Reroute due AC CUPE strike”.
    o As these changes are being made in advance by customer choice, any out of pocket or consequential costs incurred are the passenger’s own responsibility.
    o Normal refund terms and conditions apply

    Where the flight has been cancelled by the strike
    o Travel may be rebooked in the first available AC service in the same booking class as originally booked.
    o NZ travel in conjunction may be changed in the same booking class. If the same booking class is unavailable, OB providing space is available in the cabin.
    o Change fees may be waived
    o Change of carrier and routing between origin and destination is permitted, e.g. AKL NZ YVR AC YYC to AKL NZ SFO UA YYC
    o PNR and reissued/revalidated ticket must both be endorsed “Invol Reroute due AC CUPE strike”.
    o Any customer care costs should be covered by AC, however airports should refer to section 11.9 of the passenger handling manual for guidance with minor costs such as refreshments. While this is an uncontrollable situation as far as NZ is concerned, please use the controllable table given AC is a Star Alliance partner.
    o Normal refund terms and conditions apply

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks for your lengthy response, Melanie. I have to confess that your response actually bothers me because it tells me that your customer reps (and more than one of them) are poorly informed and poorly trained. Although they were empathetic for the most part, no one was able to access the policy that you have now laid out. Where was it when I needed it?

  3. Rob says:

    Hi Melanie,

    Nice to see Air New Zealand believes in customer service. Unfortunately in this case you have let Dawn down. This is not a good customer experience at all and has wasted many of her work hours that she could have been billing clients. My question is how are you going to compensate her for the miscommunication and the wasted time. In the customer service world this would be the appropriate thing to do.

    As a former team leader for a major call center I would suggest that you look at your customer rep training policies as well as how you handle customer issues.


  4. Linda Ruth Ciglen says:

    David Pogue of the NY Times wrote a column a number of years ago about deliberate customer service cluelessness and how it pays off for the company, as many customers will simply give up.
    However, in the new global world of Twitter and Facebook, these ploys are more likely to be exposed.

    Personally, I avoid Air Canada whenever possible (give me Westjet).

    Safe trip, Dawn!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks for that great link. David Pogue’s commentary speaks directly to my extremely frustrating and upsetting situation – I was more angry when I learned that the customer reps did not know the policy. Ignorance paid off for them and caused big stress for me (and frankly – two days of lost work as I focused on trying to solve my problem). Social media will increasingly demand accountability – even from these large, unresponsive, inflexible corporations.

      While I also try to avoid Air Canada, Air New Zealand had an equally failing grade in this situation. And by the way, Qantas, is about to put its customers in the same precarious position. With large corporations, unless there is a true commitment to customer relations (Westjet and SouthWest might be in this category) customer relations is more about managing the customer than satisfying them.

      P.S. I’m going to Tweet that link to Air New Zealand.

  5. Hi Dawn. We wanted to respond to this last night but have been working with our team in Auckland to clarify details, so have been battling the time change.

    Firstly, let me begin by saying that you are definitely right – we need to ensure that our policies are properly communicated to all partners and front-line staff. A communication was sent out to our call centres and trade partners, but obviously not soon enough to mitigate your understandable frustration.

    As a result of your experience, we are working to develop more appropriate protocol for communicating our policies in Canada in the advent of a strike or other potential travel disruption. We will also post these policies through our social media channels, on Twitter @airnzcad and at, to ensure that the public has better access. Thank you again for bringing the issue to our attention.

  6. sam says:

    do not blame the service on the airlines..where ever you pay for your trip that is where the customer service comes from. You have paid that company to look after you. If you book on the net with companies they are responsible for solving your problems and dealing with them.
    That is why I like walking into a travel agency dealing with the people directly. They are the experienced ones to handle problems not the ones on the internet. Like going into a bank if problems don’t tell me to go to a machine.
    Do you ever wonder why so many changes in the travel industry with everything going up?
    People book their own tickets on line then find out later names not spelled correctly or wrong date..that is why now AC has gone from 25.00 to a 75.00 change fee for mistakes like this. They are making money off clients own errors.
    That is why I always take cancellation insurance suggested by a good travel agency, as they inform covers delays,skd, changes and cancellation by airlines.
    I have learned deal directly with the person in office not over some computer who you do not even know, the machine does not give me service.
    We all love the net but that is where all our problems are created..

    • Dawn says:

      Hi Sam, Thanks for your comments. The reason that I wrote this post was to reflect on how we – as businesses – need to treat our customers.

      You say that we all love the net but that is where all our problems are created. Many of our solutions are found on the web too. You are correct that where you pay for the trip is where the customer service comes from. I learned that through this experience. The airlines have benefited from online sales as much as the consumer. I still believe that they have a responsibility to be sensitive to customers regardless of where the business comes from. I find it interesting that Air New Zealand responded to my post. At some level they also believed that they had a responsibility to me, the customer – regardless of where or how I purchased the ticket.

Let's talk! Leave me a comment