Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Case Study in Bad Service

I normally write about customer service in higher education but I have run into such a grievously bad customer service situation that I am going to use it as a short case study.

The company I am dealing with is American Airlines. It would appear, American Airlines does not care about its most loyal customers. Nor reply to emails.

With all the travel I do and with AA credit card points, I have accumulated 421,821points. My wife and I planned to use them to go to Europe to celebrate one year of new life with my new kidney as well as out 48th anniversary. We planned to use the points to get two business class seats through the AA miles program as a real treat. But when I went to book the two seats I found out that there are NO, that is NO,  mile saver seats  available from February 2017 through November 2017 and probably all year. Not a one. All that was available was a flight on British Airways and that had an add-on cost of $2,260.72 to use miles for a "free ticket".

It would appear that this is may be a deliberate plan of American Airlines to deny their most loyal customers benefits they have earned by flying AA in the past. American Airlines is turning its backs on loyal customers. As a customer service consultant since 1999, I can see that AA has no concept of customer service, hospitality or loyalty.

Looks like I and my twelve employees will be flying other airlines in the future if American does not step up and resolve this issue. As customer service consultants, you are also providing a great case study of how to not service customers which we could easily share with our readers and the thousands who attend our presentations and workshops annually.

I request that this issue be addressed. This can be solved easily by opening up two regular mile award business class seats as miles saver seats for us to go to Heathrow and return from Paris on American Airlines. They can be taken from business class miles reward seats and it would not even cost you anything to resolve this situation.

I am willing to look at most any date in March, April, May or even September or October.

Once we resolve the issue I will be glad to post that AA was responsive and I and my employees will again fly American. I have posted this letter on Facebook where it has received over 50 comments and an equal number of likes. I would be pleased to put up a post on Facebook and my blog that says AA has resolved the situation and I hope to be able to do so. 

But it also appears that American is not interested in solving this customer service issue. Their response to my letters has been to tell me that they cannot open up seats to try and solve this issue. There is no legal reason they cannot do it nor any ethical rationale holding them back, just a lack of customer service attitude. So far, American has resisted doing so or even contacting me about it other to say they cannot open up two seats

As a result, they will lose me and my employees as customers. I will not be retained by a company that does not respond to customers who have a problem and has offered a valid solution. I urge you to use other airlines too.

Now how does this apply to colleges and universities? That is simple. All classes have seat limits. Often there is a student who needs the class to move ahead in his program or even to graduate. Yet, some schools adhere to the seat limit even if there is not affixed number of available seats such as in an auditorium or lecture hall. They allow faculty to refuse to open up another seat.

This obviously makes the customer/student quite unhappy and even angry enough to say “the hell with this place.  I’ll take my credits and money elsewhere.” For lack of flexibility, the college can and does lose students when there is no logical, legal or ethical reason to not open up another seat in the class.

Does this happen? The experience we have had interviewing student while we conduct a campus service audit for a school says “yes”. This does happen. We have talked with students who have left a college because they could not get into a class they needed. They just got fed up with the poor service and transferred out.

This when a department chairman, a dean or a vie-president or even president should step in and open up a seat for the student who otherwise would be hurt by the lack of a seat in the class. This is when someone needs to stand up and do what is right. Otherwise for lack of a seat, the school can lose a student.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Role of Managers in ACS

A huge segment of the population on campus that has a great deal to do with controlling the culture is the management group. Not senior executives but directors and such. These are the people who
control the various functional offices that students encounter. Like the bursars, registrars and director of this or another office. They influence a major segment of the customer service culture since they set the tone for how people in their office should work how they interact with students and how they relate with their employees which is in reality a major factor influencing behavior.

We learn how we are expected to act towards other by how we are acted upon especially by our bosses. If our boss treats us and others coldly we are being taught that it is alright to be curt with those we work and interact with. Here’s an example.

There was an office in a university that was well known for being very rude to students all the time. Students dreaded to go there because everyone treated them as if they were an impediment to the work in the office when the real work was the students.  The employees were treated poorly, given little respect and were told that office work came before students. Besides, most of the student forms and work had been transferred to student operated kiosks supposedly to give students more control and options. But it was really to get the students out of the office. In fact when the office was mystery shopped during a customer service audit we were asked to conduct, the receptionist actually told the shopper that she would like to help but was not permitted to do so. There was an electronic kiosk set up for these sorts of interactions and the shopper should use that.

Then the director of the office retired. Another one was hired and within a few months the office was known as a place in which students were welcomed made to feel important and they got their work accomplished with friendly people

Turns out that the first director was a very officious, rude person who treated her workers as if they were an impediment to her getting her own work done. As if they were students whom she did not like. She never thought of their needs; their lives; or the simple fact that they had lives outside and inside the office. They were just workers to her and that was reflected in the way they worked. They saw there were no rewards in being nice or helpful and in fact doing so could lead to sanctions so they did not go out of their way to try to be helpful or nice.

The new director came into the office and spent the best part of the first month getting to know her colleagues. Yes, colleagues. She saw everyone in the office as having value and an integrity that needed to be recognized and encouraged. She spent time simply talking with her employees and getting to know them. She encouraged them to take care of their personal business before coming to work but knew that this could not always be done so she was lenient in allowing employees to take care of business even if it delayed office business when possible. She did not bend over backwards but here is an example.

One of the workers had a young son at home who was quite ill with the flu. She told the employee that she should feel free to take an extra half-an-hour for lunch so she could go home and check in on then boy who was under someone else’s’ care at home. The employee left for work early but also came back early. She did not take the extra tie but felt important to have been offered it. She did not stay late that day since she wanted to get home to her child but when her son felt better she often worked late and harder. Why? Because her boss had shown that she cared and that she was important enough to receive some great employee customer service.

This office turned around under the new director’s direction. It became a place that students knew they would be treated well. She knew that if her people were going to provide great customer service it has to begin with her. She knew that offering to get someone who is busy a cup of coffee just embeds a sense that the needs of others exceed their own at times. This is a fine example of integrating good academic customer care into a system by a manager.

So what is the lesson here? Get to know and treat employees as if they are the customers that they are too. Managers should give them the correct attention and customer service  they need. Sometimes we forget that the people we manage are customers too and how we treat them will reflect on how they treat others.

NRaisman & Associates has been helping colleges and universities improve their retention through academic customer service and other strategies since 1999. We have assisted over 450 institutions increase their retention in the US, Canada and Europe.

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