As I See It

by

Published: February 9,2004

It all started innocently enough. Wife Debra and I were in Miami last week attending our newspaper publishers association annual meeting. Good meeting. Now, it`s time to go home.

Things began unraveling at the Miami airport. We used the curbside check-in for our luggage. The Delta agent said that he was giving us our boarding passes for our connecting flight from Atlanta to Jackson, but we would need to use the telephone at the counter to get passes for the Miami to Atlanta flight. No problem we thought.

Debra used the designated phone and got everything squared away, we thought. The operator told her that we were, “good to go.” So, we got in line to clear security, only to be turned away because we didn`t have a boarding pass.

My purpose in telling this tale is to show how good customer service can make a bad situation better. The security guy who sent us back to the Delta counter to get the boarding pass told us to come to the front of the line when we got the pass rather than going back to the end and starting over. A roving Delta agent sensed our frustration and helped us get to the right place with minimum delay. The guy at the Delta counter gave us the boarding passes and, without our requesting it, reserved us a spot on a later flight out of Atlanta in case we missed the connecting flight.

Our flight out of Miami was delayed about two hours because Atlanta was iced in. Of all the problems I might have expected in traveling, a delay caused by Atlanta being iced in was not on the list. Finally, we were on board and got airborne.

Our Jackson connecting flight was delayed so we were able to make our originally scheduled flight. Nonetheless, it was comforting to know that we had the back-up option of a later flight if things had not worked out. Finally, we were on our way to Jackson. We had been sitting in the plane for some 15 minutes after everyone was seated when the captain said that he was intentionally holding out until all the baggage could be transferred. I thought, “that`s a nice touch,” particularly since some of that luggage was probably ours.

I was reminded of a similar experience that I had 30 years ago, also with Delta Airlines and also in Atlanta. I was flying home on leave from my Army duty station in Washington, D.C. Flying military standby is an anxious experience since you don`t know until the last minute if there will be room for standbys on the flight. The Delta agent called us military guys over and told us that he could get us to Birmingham but we might get bumped at that point. We had the choice of taking our chances with that flight or holding out for a better deal later that evening. Birmingham is closer to home than Atlanta, so I took the flight.

Later, after boarding the plane, the pilot told us that he was going to wait a little while longer since there was a late flight due from Chicago that included some passengers scheduled for our flight. And, he said, “This is the last stagecoach out of Dodge City tonight.” I doubt that any but the most selfish among us objected to this inconvenience in pursuit of helping other folks get where they wanted to go.

Now, back to last week`s trip. After we got airborne in Atlanta in route to Jackson, the stewardess came around with the beverage cart. Not knowing which beverage choices were available, Debra asked for a Diet Coke, which was not one of the choices. The stewardess said that she would see what she could do and showed up a little while later with the requested Diet Coke and a cup of ice. I had asked the same stewardess for an aspirin and she not only got it for me, but also brought it with a little bottle of water.

Why should anyone care about the details of the traveling Joneses? Air travel has changed a lot since the terrorist attack on September 11th. There`s no way around the fact that it`s a hassle. Nonetheless, some organizations are trying to deliver quality customer service in this difficult environment. If they can do it, so can the rest of us whose business isn`t conducted in the anxiety ridden arena of air travel.

My long experience with Delta Airlines has been positive. Their attention to customer service explains how a little crop duster outfit in Monroe, La., grew to be a major airline.

Some basic lessons would include being watchful for opportunities to make things better and easier for your customer and keep communication flowing. Customers appreciate communication even when they don`t like the message that is being communicated. It`s easier to hide and avoid customer contact when things are going sour, but that`s the worst possible strategy.

Thought for the Moment – The influence of each human being on others in this life is a kind of immortality. – John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), the sixth President of the United States

Joe D. Jones, CPA, is publisher of the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact him at cpajones@msbusiness.com.

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