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AMEX knows how to resolve customer issues: a traveller’s tale

By May 5, 2015August 18th, 2015Loyalty and retention, Mark Satov
Customer Issues

Mark Satov
Owner, SATOV Consultants

We have all heard about the guy who went to the Nordstorm store to return a set of tires and was allowed to do so even though he bought it at a different store in the same location.   That is one of the most over-hyped and least instructive customer service stories I have ever heard; few customers would expect something so over the top (in fact many would be confused or put off by the largesse), and no company can afford to set a precedent of handing out free money for goods it can’t move.   But I do think that companies can turn customer issues and frustration into loyalty if they train and empower their employees.  Here is a recent experience of mine and some quick lessons for customer service providers:

I was facing a long layover in O’Hare last week.  Needless to say I was dreading the throngs of harried travellers and vast array of fast food joints.  I longed for the lush tranquility that an American Express lounge would provide.  I was surprised to find out that AMEX doesn’t actually have a lounge at O’Hare.  Their clients have access to lounges of the airlines that fly out of there.  When I inquired at the American Airlines lounge they told me that they no longer take the AMEX card for entry but I could pay 50 dollars for a one-time fee.  So I called up AMEX to double check that there wasn’t another lounge in my terminal.  Lisa answered the phone and quickly confirmed that their only lounges were in other terminals.  I thanked her for the information, and was about to resign to finding a quiet corner that didn’t smell like French Fry grease where I could catch up on emails.  But Lisa asked me again about the American Airlines fee and wanted to know if I would be happier to go in there.   ‘Why don’t I credit your account for 50 dollars…no make that 60 Canadian to account for currency…and you can enjoy the lounge without having to switch terminals?’  It is hard to surprise and delight me but I must admit I wasn’t expecting the gesture and appreciated the fact that Lisa had a quick (and more than fair) fix.  What was great about this interaction?

  1. Lisa started off by being helpful
    Too often customer service representatives start by figuring out whether or not their employer is at fault. ‘Well sir user error is not covered’ or ‘I am sorry we aren’t allowed to provide that service’. Customers want help with their problem, and if you get them to a happier place quickly, the financial part of the transaction is less relevant.
  2. Lisa was well trained and empowered to use her own judgment
    She didn’t have to check with a supervisor to give me a credit. She knew that I paid 700 dollars per year to get travel benefits including lounge access. She was skilled enough to know that getting into a lounge would improve my travel experience and she even caught the issue of the rising value of the American dollar.
  3. The problem resolution matched the issue
    Recently I was at a hotel and had an issue with the cleanliness of my room. After being unable (or unwilling in my opinion) to have the room cleaned until the next morning, the manager offered me a 25 dollar credit towards any incidental expense in the hotel.  Unless the 25 dollars could have been  applied to a taxi to another hotel, that was a largely useless gesture. In the AMEX example, I needed a lounge to work quietly and short of building me one all she could do was pay to get me into another. I was out about 50 dollars and getting it back seemed to me to be quid pro quo. Had she offered me 20 dollars I would have hemmed and hawed about the lounge access and not improved my day as quickly. Had she offered me 100 dollars I would have thought it was over the top, and may have wondered why they have so much extra margin.

Even the best of companies face disappointed customers every day.  Training and empowering agents can help turn bad situations into surprise and delight.

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