Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Two reasons why companies fail their customers

I flew back from San Francisco a while back on KLM. The flight was delayed 5 hours. KLM managed to make this unfortunate situation worse in ways that led me to wonder why so many companies fail their customers. Or rather why so many companies let opportunities to delight customers slip by.

The cause of our delay was that our 'plane was held on the ground in Tokyo by a typhoon. Once airborne it had to fly first to Amsterdam and thence to San Francisco. KLM Operations knew of the knock-on effect of the delay to our flight more than a day in advance of our scheduled departure. And yet, KLM failed to tell any of its customers of this delay until we were at the airport. Their website showed the flight as on time, even their customer service people told me it was on time when I 'phoned before I left for the airport. If I had known of the delay I would have stayed in the city to have lunch. As it was I spent 5 dull hours in the airport waiting.

What a missed opportunity. The delay was unavoidable of course, but wouldn't it have been great if KLM had contacted us, the passengers, to tell us it was delayed and to suggest a new, later, check-in time? I would have thought "wow, what a company, they really think about their customers".

Mistakes and delays happen all the time of course. A smart company understands that whenever this happens, they have a golden opportunity to delight their customers. Expectations are usually low, so even small things can make a big difference. A dumb company just shrugs its shoulders and apologizes. What a missed opportunity.

A friend on the same KLM flight was connecting in Amsterdam and flying onwards. She missed her connection of course and KLM rebooked her on a later flight - much later - an additional 5 hour delay for her. Her flight was due to arrive after 10 p.m. She then needed to catch a train home. Now late-night Saturday trains in most European cities are not pleasant places to be, especially for a woman traveling alone. The trains are full of drunken party-goers.

We explained this to KLM. We asked one of their ground staff if they would book her on an earlier flight, if necessary with another airline. They refused. We asked if KLM would pay for a hotel so that she could travel home the next day. The reply was that it was not KLM's responsibility. How we chose to get to and from the airport was up to us and had nothing at all to do with KLM. End of conversation. Goodbye.

What a missed opportunity. A smart company understands that customer engagement often starts long before they buy a product or turn up at the airport. And they understand that along the way there are great opportunities to delight the customer. A dumb company rarely looks beyond its own borders and hides behind its policy and procedures.

While I was in San Francisco I went to a new restaurant called Saison. It is located in an "interesting" neighbourhood - the taxi driver who drove me there wouldn't leave until he was certain I was at the right place! After the meal, I asked them to call me a taxi to take me back to my hotel. The meal was terrific but imagine my surprise and delight when I got back to the hotel, tried to pay the taxi driver, and was told the restaurant had taken care of it. What a great customer experience. They didn't advertise this service, nor was I expecting it. It makes me love the restaurant even more and, of course, I would happily recommend it to anyone.

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