Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Customer Service

You many not think of a professional pilot as a customer service representative. But excellent customer service is one of the driving principles in my career as a professional airline pilot. Passengers I fly pay a premium to be treated well and they require a minimum level of service. Customers are kept satisfied (and kept as customers) and money is made when that standard is exceeded. One of the recurring topics during my interview for my current employer was how I highly I regarded my responsibility of customer service in addition to being a knowledgeable, skilled and safe pilot.

Not only do I expect to give a high level of customer service, I also look to receive it. Even pilots who fly cargo must consider their customer service skills, even though the boxes and packages cannot complain about the lack of service. As professionals in a safety and service oriented industry, pilots still have to interact with so many other people in their industry. I cannot do my job unless the fuelers, the rampers, the caterers, the drivers, etc., do their job well. “People skills” are especially important if you fly as a crew. You must be able to work well with the other crewmembers. Respect for others is important, as well as being able to know that your input will also be listened to and considered as a member of a “team.” Oh, and it helps on those long legs to be able to converse with your co-pilot; helps to pass the time…

I pride myself on my professionalism, but I tend to be hard on people that don't seem to care about how well they do their job. For example, one of my pet peeves is going to the front desk at a hotel or FBO and having the clerk there eventually look over at me and ask, "Did you need something?" Why else would I approach the desk? It's almost as if it is beneath some people to ask, "How can I help you?" much less by actually extending assistance. I can't imagine doing this in my job, and for my own organization, Girls With Wings. I do as much as I can to satisfy website visitors – which is not easy to do via cyberspace. I also ask for feedback from everyone who orders from the online Girls With Wings Pilot Shop. I try to anticipate a customer’s needs and try to fix any inadequacies identified so they don’t happen again.

I understand that things do happen. Last night checking into a hotel, my room key didn't work (the subject of a previous post). Hey, it happens. But there began a long stream of inadequacies at this hotel - which now points to a lack of hotel wide quality assurance. And one of these items, btw, was a lack of a coffeemaker in my room. Wow. Anyone who loves coffee like I do will relate. Nothing can make up for no coffee first thing in the am. Every time I stay at hotel, I try to let the front desk know about things in the hotel that don’t work right so it can be fixed for the next guest. I have less tolerance for things that should have been noticed by housekeeping and identified to maintenance by them. 1. Who took the coffeemaker out? 2. Why wasn’t it returned? And 3. Why didn’t the housekeeper notice its absence and get one?

One of my duties at the airline includes sitting in the VIP seat of the airplane for a last look around to note any imperfections. It is then that you will find that a previous passenger left a gum wrapper in the cupholder that was hidden when viewed from a standing position. Or by moving the chair around that there are some crumbs between the seat and the wall of the fuselage. Yes, as a crewmember, I must keep the airplane clean, and that includes having a mini-vacuum for such tasks.

The economy is, some say, in the tank. Apparently except for in the medical field, all industries are experiencing a shortage of jobs and a surplus of workers. For a company to survive over their competitors, customer service is the one thing that can distinguish them and maintain customer loyalty. As this tip from Business Week confirms: Cutbacks should not snip away at customer service Businesses looking to cut costs to cope with the economy need to exercise care not to negatively affect customer service. To do that, businesses should make changes based on customer feedback, reward employees for providing excellent customer service and give extra attention to the needs of top customers. BusinessWeek/Today's Tip (1/21)

So, the customer service skills I employ when I’m “on the road” don’t get much room on this blog, but they are so important. During my interview I was asked for an example of an instance where I had really gone above and beyond for a customer. I had to admit that I had never done anything as heroic as giving a baby CPR or pulling a passenger from a burning wreckage (or heck, landing successfully in the Hudson River). I said that I attempt to always provide good customer service by treating every passenger as if he or she was a guest in my own home. By relating it as such, I emphasize that I try to anticipate needs as much as possible – and take it very seriously when I haven't!

1 comment:

  1. A long time ago, I worked for Compuserve, a company that should have been poised to make it big with the advent of the web. IMHO, they treated their customers as necessary evils at best, and today Compuserve is long gone and mostly forgotten.

    I was pretty sick of that attitude and went looking for an employer that understood customer service. I found a company (NetJets) that valued customer service so highly that every day in a company-wide managers meeting they would go through a list of customer issues, addressing each one and determining what could have been done better and/or differently. I sat in on one of those meetings during the interview process and I was sold on working for them.

    I eventually ended up attending those meetings myself, eventually earning the nickname "Mustang Man," but that's another story.

    These days, I will stop rewarding a business with my repeat business after just one unsatisfactory service experience. In my opinion, it is just as easy to put together a Big Mac with all of the layers lined up as it is to toss a handful of ingredients in the general direction of a bun and call it done. Anything less than that minimum effort is disrespectful to the customer and I take it as an insult.