The Truth about Customer Service

A few weeks ago I traveled to New York City on a business trip. Now that I run my own company the expense is out of my own pocket contrasted to the company paid account for most of my career. I’m not going to say I’m cheap but I am definitely frugal. I decided to search via a well known online travel agency for my hotel since my meeting was in mid-town and I was unfamiliar with the hotels in that immediate area. Under most circumstances and certainly in my own prior experience that would have been the end of the story, but it isn’t.

After booking and subsequently arriving in the city, I discovered the accommodation that I booked was not the one I found. I’m going to refrain from sharing the painful details since that is not the point of my post. What happened when I called their “customer service” line is the point of my post.

Now granted, I’ve been in the hospitality industry for over 25 years. It has been my pleasure to work with some of the most notable and customer service focused brands during my quarter century. I suppose it is part of my own servant leadership mentality or maybe just the fact that I enjoy the customer dynamic but I’ve always felt that great customer service makes a stronger brand promise than any marketing genius can ever articulate.

Back to my story: I had used this particular online travel agency for years. But I realized that most of those previous trips had been simple one-leg flight bookings or a few nights in a notable hotel brand. In all of those years, I’d never had a problem that necessitated reaching out to their customer service. What happened over the next few hours and in fact over the subsequent week was a case study in a completely failed customer service model. My experience began with the requisite never-ending call wait queue; the failure of their automated call-back to actually call back; the predicatable “dropped call” when transferring to a supervisor but while the poorly trained, unmotivated staff in the call center seems to be the obvious problem, I believe the real truth is a lack of belief in the value of customer service by the company.

Since I’ve been in hospitality for a quarter century, I know how to find executive contact information. Which I did in an attempt to escalate my problem to anyone who may be able to solve it. I posted my complaint on social media including the Twitter handle of the CEO. I also directly emailed their senior leadership including the CEO and their executives in charge of customer operations in the US.

Not a single acknowledgment much less a resolve to fix the problem or even an apology.

In customer service, the lack of response is a response. It is the, “I don’t give a crap about your complaint” form of automated response.

The point of my story is that customer service is a key component of the company’s brand promise, set by the CEO and adeptly administered by the minions.

The truth about Customer Service? Unless the CEO makes it part of the company’s brand and then sets the example by caring enough to answer customers, all of the satisfaction measures and surveys are pointless number crunching. Customer Service is the core of a brand promise, not a call center.

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