United Airlines provides today’s (unfortunate) customer service example

Here’s why so many companies have a customer retention problem. Ironically, this customer service example is from a Los Angeles Times article about how airline customer service has improved during the recession.

United Airlines lost a customer’s bag that had medication in it. So the customer had to replace the medication for the duration of their stay, costing them $750. This was three times what United Airline’s policy allowed so they were only reimbursed $250. The airline clerk who handled this apparently showed little humanity, seeming content to quote airline policy and do little else.

But later, after an LA Times reporter called United and asked about the incident, the airline generously changed their corporate mind and fully reimbursed their customer.

We all know why this happens.

Partly it’s the fault of the front line employee for not escalating the issue, which he should have done. No matter what the policy is, if you have an ounce of humanity, you should try to help your customers, not stonewall them.

But in the end, this is a management problem.

It could be they have a corporate culture that says policy is more important than customers. Or maybe that they have a specific strategy of only giving as much as they need to each time a customer asks for something. They make customers fight for everything. They do this because statistics work in their favor. They know most customers will give up. Only a determined few will call in the big guns (like an LA Times reporter).

But if this is their strategy, they’re stupid. Because every time it happens, they lose credibility with their customers. If they think the only costs are what they have to pay to compensate upset customers, they’re wrong.

Here’s a customer service retention tip: If you’re going to compensate a customer, do it fast, do it friendly and do it well.

Don’t hesitate. Don’t hide behind policy. And don’t make your customers work for it. Every time you do these things you tell the customer they can’t trust you. You send a message that you will do what’s in the company’s best interest, not theirs. You’ll communicate that doing business with you is risky. If something goes wrong, the customer loses.

And that’s exactly what we don’t want as customers. If it’s risky to do business with you, we’ll go elsewhere if possible.  As customers we’d prefer the safe, warm and comfy feeling of doing business with companies that look out for us.

Companies that show us we can count on them will earn our loyalty over and over. And they deserve our loyalty.

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz