It’s that Customer Thing…Again

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

I had a great trip recently. First, there was the fourth meeting of our Baldrige Executive Fellows. I am still amazed by the great group of people in this first cohort and by the level of shared learning. This time we were graciously hosted by Cargill, with two business units that have received the Baldrige Award, Kitchen Solutions (formerly Sunny Fresh Foods) and Corn Milling. From the Fellows’ meeting I went to Dallas for the Texas Award for Performance Excellence. It was a time to see old friends and celebrate state role models. As always, their conference provided many learning opportunities for attendees.

Pastrami and cheeseIt all was great… until those customer moments at the airport! Two this time. I returned my rental car (well-known national company) and the bill was about 15% higher than the rental confirmation receipt. I questioned the agent at the return lane and he said I had to go to the desk, he only prints receipts. Obviously there was a line at the desk, but fortunately I was early enough to wait. When it was my turn, the agent explained the difference was that I had a car one class higher than the rental confirmation (not a luxury car by any means). I asked how I would know that since I went to the aisle I was told to go to and pick any car. Quiet on the other side of the counter…then, “I’ll change it this time but won’t in the future.” My response, “And will you also learn how to sort cars before then?” Wouldn’t life be a lot better if they had read the Customer Focus category of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence? Then they might have apologized for putting the car in the wrong aisle (BTW there were many of them in that aisle), corrected the bill and given it to me with a smile. The end result in terms of the bill to me is the same. The difference is a customer loyalty victory vs. an unhappy customer.

Next, I went to the food court in the departure area and ordered a pastrami sandwich from a large national vendor. The description read “pastrami on rye with mustard.” Perfect (or poifect, as we used to say in New York). When they were wrapping the sandwich, I noticed it came with melted cheese. I said i just want the pastrami, no cheese. The preparer said, “Then why didn’t you say so when your ordered it?” I said, “Because the description just says pastrami on rye with mustard, how should I know it comes with melted cheese?” She said, “Remember that for next time.” She begrudgingly remade the sandwich. End result, same as with the car rental!

Is the customer concept gone in America or just in airports? And, incidentally, if you want to be a well-served customer, please check out the opportunity to join the second cohort of Baldrige Executive Fellows.


About Barbara Fischer

NIST Baldrige
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2 Responses to It’s that Customer Thing…Again

  1. Walter Eschmann says:

    Your service at the airport is neither surprising nor unexpected. Quality customer service starts with quality employee training, which is mostly non-existent with employees in both of the industries you mention above. Maybe it’s due to employee turnover due to the lower pay scale, or because the positions are entry level, but I am fairly certain that customer engagement is not a part of the very short (if any) training period on customer service. It shows a complete lack of focus from management (or in the case of the auto rental companies) a concerted effort to add additional pricing to the bill based on the premise that most customers will not argue about the additional fees; but in any case, it is not a priority to provide anything close to average, not to mention superior service. I am most likely one of millions of fellow air travelers who have experienced exactly the same inconveniences as you mention above, and have learned the only recourse is to not patronize the offending company. The problem with rental agencies, is they all (at one time or another) seem to use the same play book, so it’s a bit hard to not patronize them again….We can only hope the big shots at these companies somehow have a magazine fall open in front of them to a article on the benefits of the Malcolm Baldrige process, by accident and actually read the material….. Walt E.

  2. Barry Johnson says:

    It could have come with mayo and chili. Oy vey.
    I am not inclined to be so kind as to let the travel industry off with “poor training” as the root cause of poor service. I beleive it is not a coincidence that the “resolution process” for travel industry operations requires you to make a time allocation decision unders high uncertainty that puts the risk on you of missing the next step in your journey. It is MNSHO that the “get in the other line” to resolve your porblem is DESIGNED INTO service process (and NOT IMPROVED) with INTENT to NOT HEAR COMPLAINTS.
    Want some more fun. Ask a flight attendant for a complaint form. There isn’t one. Just a P O Box in the back of the “SKY” magazine.
    My new all-time low was last month at the Albany NY airport. At the cab stand The “dispatcher” told me that all fares were flat rates – despite a visible working meter in the cab. The Albany tourism webiste and the hotel reservations rep BOTH quoted the expected cab fare as $10. My flat rate was $16. I met two other travelers at the hotel who has arrived later and gat a tazi to the same hotel. They were quoted $22 and $25 flat rate. Guess what the “rate” difference was baseed on. You got it.

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