Customer Service

When I started in IT, I took helpdesk calls for a small software company. I was convinced it would help me to write better software.
I still think I understand users better because of that.
I learned that when a customer takes the time to call you, he is not only telling you his problem but he might also give you a solution.

I once had a Dutch speaking customer that toughed I was French speaking and he had a hard time speaking French to me.
I was originally Dutch speaking and I had worked very hard to become better in French, so my ego liked it that he could not hear it was my second language. I kept talking French to him, and I proudly told it during lunch with my colleague’s.
I don’t remember what my boss said, but he made it clear that I should not do this again, I should help the customer instead of making fun of them/ using them for my own ego. Although he did bring it very subtle, it‘s a message I never forgot.

Fast forward to yesterday.

I was invited to do my talk about self-organizing teams at Agilis 2009 in Iceland. Tickets, hotel booked.

My flight was leaving in Brussels at 16:00 (4 PM) going to Heathrow, where another flight leaving at 21:00 would bring me to Reykjavik.

By coincidence (does that exist?), I have accepted a position of agile coach, helping a large corporation in the UK. During the week I am in Staines, which is about 10 miles from Heathrow.

So today I need to go from Staines to Brussels, take a plane to Heathrow and fly to Reykjavik from there. I would need to leave Staines at about 8:30, to take a plane at 21:00 from 10 miles where I am.

Mmm, I know some things about removing impediments and waste.
What if I skip my first flight. And go on the second one.

So a few weeks ago I contacted my airline by their website. No answer for 1 week. I guess something went wrong as I never got a message they received my message. (Ok that could be my mistake, so I won’t hold it against them. Still if a website makes it hard to ask a question, that is a sign/smell to me)
After about 1 week I tried again, now I got a receive message. And an answer that I needed to contact my booking agent.

Mmm, they told me I had to contact the airline. I replied that. (And checked back with my travel agent)

To cut a long story short, after about 6 or 7 e-mails (and a lot of time) they finally gave me a number where I could contact them directly. (I could not find it on the website.)
When I called the number it was even better, it was one of those electronic helpdesk systems that supposed to help you find the correct persons quickly.
Only I never seem to know what to press. Is this just me?

Now it had options to:

- information before buying a ticket
- buy a ticket
- check-in
-etc

Of course my situation is special. So no options is made for that. Aren’t most call’s special? If it would have been a “normal” case, the information would be in the FAQ.  Ok not many people read these. Also in software, people call quicker then reading the manual.
Having an option, to talk to an operator press x would already be a good step (now this option was hidden behind at least three or four other selections)

First time I tried when I selected an option ==> Busy statement and my call was interrupted.
Second time, I got disconnected when I had explained my situation to a male person. (Not sure if it was my phone, the system or the operator)

The third time I finally got a person that took my situation seriously.
She let me wait a little and then explained that my flight was actually not serviced by their airline, but by another one, so she would not be be able to help me.

(If all these people answering mails had looked my flight up, I would not have wasted time with their airline (wasting both their and my time).

So calling to the new airline. This one only had a Belgium number (I was in Staines when I made the calls) (Which was funny for an international airline.)

For Dutch or English press 1, for French press 2.

1

I explain my situation in Dutch. Sorry sir could you speak English? Euh I pressed 1. Yes I only speak English. OK no problem I speak English, but another sign off bad communication. (It’s fine not to have that option, but when you have the option, be sure you support it.)

After about 5 minutes:
It is not possible to refund your ticket.

I’m not asking for a refund. I’m asking to skip a flight.
No there will be a problem with your luggage, you can’t check that in in London. mmm strange. Ok I don’t need much luggage. I’ll take everything on the plane.

No it is not possible.
Your only option is to cancel the whole flight (including return flight). And buy two separate one way tickets. (One leaving in London)

- London-Reykjavik
- Reykjavik-Brussels

Not sure about the cost price, probably about 2 to 3 times the original ticket. (which I would loose on top of that.) Mmm I don’t think the conference will pay that.

So much for customer service. Airlines are dictated by their software which says if you miss one part of the flight everything else is cancelled.

What are my other options:

- I could stay home on Monday and not help my client, but then they would suffer even more from this situation
- I could cancel my trip to the conference. Now that clients suffers from the lack of customer service from one of my suppliers.

Mmm, I could explain it, it would make a good excuse, but I prefer to take the responsibility myself.

Let’s go to London and go back on Tuesday, I might even be at a morning meeting on Tuesday.

So now I have to book another ticket to go from London-Brussels.
And this is where things become interesting.

I book a train with the Eurostar to go back to Brussels. Unfortunately I make a mistake and I buy a non-refundable ticket to return Monday instead of Tuesday. I notice this while I want to check in to go to Brussels last Friday.  (About 30 minutes after I bought the ticket.)

Now I’m sure I made the mistake (I still hear myself saying Monday at xxx hour.)
So I go back to the desk. I explain my situation, the lady is very friendly she advises me to talk to the same persons that has sold me the ticket.

When I got to that person I explain that I bought it for the wrong day. I’m expect to be told I need to buy a new ticket. (I was a non-refundable ticket after all)

Nope: Oh sure sir, he tears my ticket apart, so when did you wanted to leave?

Tuesday? At the same time? Do you want to sit again at a table near the window?
5 minutes later I’m out of there with my new ticket. And my old return ticket (Brussel-Londen) is still valid.

Thank you Eurostar. That is what I call customer service.
And they do this all the way. I’m typing this on that train from London to Brussels. My computer is hooked up to the electricity net. No I don’t have to be in First class to have this. Eurostar recognizes that electricity is a basic need on a long trip. Just as they offer that in London in the waiting room. (In most airports I almost have to fight to use an electricity plug.) [Edited in Heathrow, lot’s of electricity here also]

Could they improve? yes. And I’m sure they will over the next years (I have some idea’s)

But they are far ahead of the airline in the first part of my story.

I  am Yves Hanoulle, your virtual Project coach and you can reach me at blog at my training company .net or follow me on Twitter

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