I had just gotten off the plane at O'Hare International in Chicago after being in Washington for the day. I had given a speech to the board of trustees of a prominent rehabilitation hospital and then attended a roundtable discussion on healthcare quality. It was a busy day to say the least, and I was bushed. The only thing I could think of was getting home to relax. About midway through the ride home it dawned on me I had left a gift in the overhead rack on the plane. I had taken my briefcase down when we landed but forgot about the gift that had been presented to me after my speech. I immediately used the phone in the limousine to call the airline in hopes of recovering it. I never thought the process would be so difficult.
I didn't know what department to call when you lose something on an airplane, so I called the airline's domestic reservations desk. After I explained what had happened, I was given a number to call. The man who answered was cordial as I repeated my story. After apparently perusing a list, he gave me another number to call. I then told my story to the person who answered that number. She, too, was polite enough, but she behaved almost like a computer. She asked me a series of questions that obviously needed to be answered if she was to help me. Questions like, what seat were you in? What was your flight number? What time did you arrive? What was in the bag? All the things you would expect. After she had repeated everything to make sure she had the correct information, she told me: "It will be three or four days before this airline will be able to determine whether or not we have been able to recover your package. If you do not hear from us in that time you can consider your package lost." This was rattled off in a matter-of-fact, monotone way.
Don't get me wrong. What happened was totally my fault. I was spaced out from the hectic day and simply goofed up. But what really bothered me was the lack of urgency on each employee's part about my plight. Just to make me feel better, maybe the woman who took all the information could have said: "I'm so sorry this occurred, and I'm going to get on this right away to see if we can track down your package. We'll do everything we can and I promise we will get back to you as soon as possible." Nothing fancy, just an acknowledgement that the airline would try to help me. But that doesn't seem to be in the rule book these days. Companies say they care about customers, but do they?
This all reminds me of a book written by Eileen C. Shapiro titled Fad Surfing in the Boardroom. Shapiro is president of the Hillcrest Group, a management consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass. It's a terrific read for anyone interested in "Reclaiming the Courage to Manage in the Age of Instant Answers," which is the book's subtitle and best describes what it's all about. Chapter 9 especially hit home when I thought about how I was treated by the airline over something as common as a lost package. In that chapter Shapiro talks about the myths she sees today in the customer satisfaction movement. For instance, one myth is that "We are organized for the convenience of our customers." She contends most companies put their own convenience and systems first, ahead of the customer. To demonstrate her point she tells a story about a British bus company that had received numerous complaints about drivers zipping past waiting passengers. What was management's response to the complaints? "It is impossible for drivers to keep to their timetable if they have to stop for passengers."
Shapiro admits that might be an extreme example, but she reminds readers that there are plenty of other "customer-unfriendly" organizations. Enlightened companies realize that everyone likes to be treated with some measure of respect.
Give us a break,
Charles S. Lauer