Amidst all the last-minute packing (throwing stuff into a box counts as packing as long as the box is going to be shipped) and rush to get rid of accumulated furniture, I ended up experiencing (and hence thinking a bit about) customer service and the effect that it can have on you. I ended up realizing again how fragile a customer's experience is: a little thing can swing it from "great" to terrible and the worst part is you'd never even know about it.
Here's a list of a few companies that I've ended up interacting with over the last week.
I'm being a little harsh with the down arrow, cos they pulled it back a bit, but on this trip of mine Southwest came pretty close to losing me as a customer for good. A dangerous thing for any airline to do, given the economics of the business and the state of the industry.
Here's what happened. I come in rushing to check in two of my bags. One is 57 pounds (7 pounds over the maximum allowed), the other is 46 pounds ( 4 pounds under the maximum allowed.) It was suggested I move stuff between bags right there or just lose some of the luggage. Neither was going to happen, since closing my bags was an achievement I was proud of...and unsure I could repeat. So I shrugged, managed to flash a grin, paid $25 like they decreed, and moved towards the boarding gate.
Except that I was pissed! I was thinking "Wow! You weren't even the cheapest ticket I could have bought. I'm not even signed up to your frequent flyer program, and this is how you treat me! For just 3 lbs! Good luck trying to get my business again. " I calmed down right away, and recognized the irrationality in my initial impulse. However, my guess is most consumers wouldn't, and certainly shouldn't be expected to. If they feel unfairly treated, they will punish the airline the only way they know how: by taking their business elsewhere. That is something that no airline can afford right now.
Southwest does a great job of hiring people that are fun, keep the whole environment ridiculously casual, chat up customers and keep the flight enjoyable. I did feel better treated than on some other airlines. But was it enough to assuage my outrage from earlier on? I don't know. To think, if the person on the counter had said, "Y'know I'm supposed to charge you $25, but its just 3 pounds. Let's let that slide", I'd be hooked, and I have to imagine the lifetime value of a consumer isn't worth risking for $25. Its one thing to charge for additional services (like extra legroom, as some airlines do.) Its quite another to make the customer feel like they're paying a penalty. That can ruin an entire experience.
Just to be clear, it didn't for me! I was back to normal in the next second, but I couldn't help thinking that if I was in charge of the airline, that would be something to work on.
Similar to Southwest, Enterprise has a policy of and, does a great job of, hiring polite, upbeat people. Enterprise does the things its supposed to (e.g. picks you up), but also did quite a few things it wasn't supposed to. Once I returned the car without filling the tank back to level I was supposed to. As per the contract, they could have charged me much more to re-fill the car. There's a chance I would've let them, but instead the guy said, "Y'know it doesn't make sense for you to go out and re-fill. I'll just charge you the market rate." Similarly, they never seem to care that I continuously re-schedule my pickups. Once after returning the car the guy did the normal set of questions and finished with "And most importantly, how was our customer service? Could we have done better?"
Is it surprising I always start (and end) my rental car search with them?
Car salespersons in the Bay Area and Leasing associates in San Francisco
Wow...I hadn't dealt with either before, but apparently competitive markets get people to push hard. Whether it was giving me motherly advice (seriously!), trying to "connect" with me by finding common things to talk about or telling personal stories, encouraging me to talk about "me", car salespersons in the Bay Area have just blown me away. They have a lot of customer relationships software that helps keep them on track, but they use it really, really well and try hard to be personable. Its a fascinating negotiation exercise. Its remarkable how open some of them are with their data, and how they use it to build trust. They work hard to get you to like them, and make it that much harder to say "no." I'll genuinely feel bad at saying no to some of the people I talked to..