Contact Center Solutions Featured Article

Customer Service Scenario: Lost Luggage

August 11, 2008

What industry is ranked lower in customer satisfaction than the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)? If you guessed the airline industry, you’d be right. 
The airline industry scored 63 (out of 100) on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). The airlines’ worst score ever was two points below the IRS, notorious for having a bad reputation.
In addition, at a time when fuel costs are soaring, bags that go missing on a passenger's arrival cost the airline industry roughly $4 billion per year, according to SITA, a Swiss airline technology provider (as reported in Business Week Travel News on July 30). Last year, customers in the U.S. filed over 7.5 million mishandled baggage reports — roughly seven per 1,000 passengers. Were you one of them?

At a time when airlines have resorted to cutting flights, stripping away passenger conveniences, and even slowing down planes to offset fuel costs, they are overlooking an opportunity to save money, and at the same time, improve their customer service.  
Just recently the TV news reported that there was a computer glitch regarding baggage at JFK Airport in New York. Passengers were given a choice: Take your flight and leave your luggage, or miss your flight and (try and) find your luggage. And some weren’t even given this option but learned of missing luggage while on the tarmac awaiting take-off.
This sounds humorous but it is no laughing matter when it happens to you. 
With airlines expected to pay more than $60 billion for jet fuel this year, you’d think they'd be eager to find ways to save money and improve their customer service. By the way, the cost of returning a missing bag to its owner, including fuel, manpower, and ground transportation, is estimated at around $90 by the International Air Transport Association, and at more than $100 by some airlines. Plus, an airline is liable for up to $3,000 for lost luggage.
Just as important, however, is the cost of repeat business. If the airlines loses my luggage, they have a good possibility of losing me as a customer. My dissatisfaction (and I bet yours as well) negatively impacts trust of that (or any) airline. The truth is maybe I’d let it go once, but never a second time. 
What is the cost of a bad customer experience for your company? What is the cost of losing that lifetime customer? This has been addressed in previous columns but we all know it’s high.
The challenge and opportunity in a case like lost luggage is how to deal with the customer to make the experience as least horrific as possible. Many bags are returned, but late — past when the passenger needs it, as in the case when my luggage when missing and didn’t show up until after I needed the suite inside for a series of customer service trainings. The person who needs the bridemaid’s dress for a wedding, or the present for someone’s parent’s 60th anniversary will definitely be unhappy if the luggage is returned too late.
How an incident is handled, as well as the prompt return of misdirected luggage, is paramount. Customers talk on and on about the negative customer service experience long after the luggage (hopefully) has been returned. The relationship created by the customer service department with you, the customer, is what lives on well beyond the flight. 
In fact, such situation often become ‘war stories’ with humor attached six months or a year later — but not at the moment when the problem occurs. If the result is a negative  experience, won’t you think twice before flying that airline again in the future?
I’ve learned to travel with carry on luggage only. It’s not easy, but I’m a good packer, have one rollerboard and my laptop case on wheels. It’s a bit of a hassle getting me on and off the planes, but I get where I’m going and more importantly, so does my luggage (and of course, I don’t have to wait and watch the carousel go round and round hoping mine will show up shortly).
In spite of rising fuel costs, security issues and labor woes, Delta’s CEO James Whitehurst commented in a recent MSNBC story that “the root cause of why we are in bankruptcy is because we lost sight of the customer.”
Accoring to a Business Week article, airlines with the lowest rates of mishandled bags attribute their success to the human touch.   This is not a coincidence. The human touch will never be replaced.
I strongly believe that achieving high levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty takes an investment in a company’s people. For example, Home Depot made a $350 million investment in store operations, new hires, and more training, which helped the company improve its ACSI ranking by 4.5 points in 2006.
This is in large part a training issue. The customer service representative must be trained how to listen to what is being said, empathize, diffuse any upset/frustration/anger, take great care of the customer and then follow through on tracking and delivering the lost luggage and keep the customer in the loop (to avoid unnecessary callbacks).
Good customer service requires a number of things: a clear customer-centric mission statement, hiring practices that focus on positive-minded reps; training programs that not only give people the skills they need, but teach them experientially; and a robust feedback system.

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Rosanne D’Ausilio, industrial psychologist and President of Human Technologies Global, writes the Call Center Training column for ContactCenterSolutions. To read more of Rosanne’s articles, please visit her columnist page.