2013 Customer Service Awards

Best ServiceSouthwest Airlines

You expect to get outstanding service at Four Seasons, and with rare exceptions, you do.  Most of my experiences with 5-star service providers in 2013 were great, so no real issues or callouts.

But in 2013 I interacted a lot with one decidedly ‘coach’ class service provider with generally surprisingly good results:  Southwest Airlines.

Milwaukee’s airport and the travel routes it now provides is a shell of what once was.  Mismanagement and external market forces drove Midwest Express Airlines over the edge, and since then, the airline situation has only worsened:  far fewer choices, and limited non-stops to where you’re often going. 

Let’s face it, flying coach is a cattle call; you can’t get around that.  But with Southwest, nearly all the flight attendants, gate attendants, maintenance guys and pilots seem uniformly committed to making the trip as convenient and efficient as possible.  The team is pleasant, and they’re more friendly than not.  They approach their jobs with a sense of purpose.

And for whatever reason, that positive energy is picked up by the passengers.  I can’t explain it, but it sure seems like most everyone on the plane are decidedly in a better frame of mind than on competitor’s flights.

Worst Service:  Tie - Burke & Herbert Bank Web Site; Baggage Claim at Milwaukee Airport

Without a doubt, the worst customer service experience I’ve had in 2013 involves trying to use the web site of my Mom’s  bank in Virginia, Burke & Herbert.  This isn’t just one awful visit; it’s virtually every time I go to the site.  It is shocking that a web site can be so glitchy and so frustrating.  And the people you call to try to resolve issues are often nice, but seemingly incapable of dealing with it.  They seem numb to it all.

Mr. Burke & Mrs. Herbert, whoever you are, how you get away with this is a mystery to me.  It’s 2014 and your website works like it was built in 1995.

Equally frustrating, on over a dozen occasions in 2013, is the crazy long times it takes for baggage on an incoming flight to arrive at baggage claim at Milwaukee Airport.  Always, and I mean always, it takes more than 40 minutes after arriving at the gate. Talk about being numb to the situation - the people at the customer service office by the carousels are unapologetic and unsympathetic.

There is a vibe about this consistently horrendous service that for whatever the root causes (understaffing, no doubt), the people involved in this simply don’t care anymore, if ever, and have given up.  But what is fascinating about this is the willingness for so many passengers, weary from a long flight, to tolerate such incredibly poor service.  Yes, I have the patience of a five year old, and yes, patience is a virtue so chill out Jeff, and all that, but I sometimes I feel like I’m the only one going to the small office there and asking the person what the heck is going on.  

This relates back to a truth in my previous book that remains as accurate as ever:

The amount of mini-screwups that occur during the process of interacting with people, purchasing things, communicating with service providers… whatever, is absolutely staggering.

And somehow, sadly, over time we have become accustomed to customer service levels that are now marginal, and often downright shitty. We’ve gone from doctors making house calls to now being in a crowded waiting room for an hour.

All of this adds up… it impacts your life… and I maintain that it’s tied to the fact that so many people don’t enjoy their jobs and don’t produce the desired results.

Sure, on this point you may want to say to me, “Hey, lighten up,” but I think you’d be missing the point. Staying on top of coffee orders, food orders… whatever, requires a certain skill set that is not so easy. If you’re going to be really efficient with these jobs, you need to have your act together.

Now, having just dumped on the working masses for the last several pages, I must also point out that an 80/20 rule applies here.*   They’re the 80%. But there is about 20% of exceptionalism out there in the workplace.

* The 80/20 is admittedly arbitrary, but the ratio is about right to make the point.

Rusinow, Jeff (2011-06-15). What I Really Think: The Business Chapters. ETR Publishing Group, LLC. Kindle Edition.

Photo:  Arizona Dessert, Spring, 2013