I’m back from my trip to Philadelphia (where the ASMP SB2 team met again–more on that as it becomes available). This trip offered not one, but two examples of customer service screw-ups, one of which is particularly egregious.
The first one occurred at the Hyatt where we team members were staying. ASMP was footing our accommodations, of course, and they had faxed in their credit card info well in advance of our arrival. However, somehow that info never made it into the system. When I checked in, they said they had no record of anyone else paying for my hotel room. “Okay” I though “someone dropped the ball and this will get worked out–no big deal” and handed over my AMEX card in the meanwhile. Two days later, it had still not been fixed.
The worst part about this was the lack of employee empowerment. ASMP knew exactly to whom they sent the info and had a confirmation that it had been received. However, the only person who could check on that was one particular manager…who never seemed to be at the hotel. The desk clerks all nodded in sympathy, but said there was nothing they could do. Only this (mythical?) manager had the power to make things right. How dumb is that?!
Eventually, after everyone else had checked out (I left the following day), it got rectified. But in the meantime they had several upset guests and a bunch of workers who looked like boobs because they couldn’t do anything. Way to go Hyatt.
Then I boarded my first train for the return trip. I knew that there was a chance that I would not be able to get across the Mississippi because of the flooding, and I was checking the amtrak.com website (and several local news info sites, from the flooded region) to keep up with events. First Amtrak said that my train would not be able to get through, then it could, then, again, it couldn’t, however they would put passengers on a bus to get past the flooded area. Then I got a call from Amtrak to let me know personally this same information and was told that I should go to the Passenger Services area when I got to Chicago to discuss options and/or get refunds.
Okay, I’m not thrilled with this situation–who likes long bus rides–but the flooding is clearly out of their control and they did a good thing by calling me. Unfortunately, once in Chicago, things got worse.
I went to check in to the Metropolitan Lounge (which is for passengers with sleeping compartments) and when I said I wasn’t sure what was up with the #3 train (my train)–that is, if I’d be on it at all considering the situation, they got snippy and said I couldn’t check in until I decided. They informed me that I would be bussed from Chicago to Kansas City, where the train would be waiting. “It is an express bus–no stops” I was told. “How long of a ride?” I asked.
“You’ve been doing this bus thing for a couple of days–you have no idea how long it is taking?”
Seeing this was going nowhere, I went to the Passenger Services area to get more info.
Now I should tell you that along with the problems with the #3, another major cross-country train was entirely cancelled and a third was also doing the bus-to-train thing. All of this was occurring in Chicago–that is, the trains all originated there. So you’d expect people to be prepared to deal with the situation, right? Wrong.
The woman in the Passenger Services area was not yet busy. She had one gentleman ahead of me (picking up a lost cellphone). Before finishing with him she turned to me and asked what I needed. I started to tell her, and the phone rang. She took the call. Then she returned to the gentleman because he asked if he was waiting on someone bringing him the phone or if he needed to do something else–still on the phone, she was. Then she asked me something, then said something on the phone, then back to the man. Repeat ad nauseum.
All she needed to do was take care of us one at a time…but she didn’t. She also could not tell me how long the bus was, saying only that she assumed it took about as long as the train usually did.
“How long is that?”
“I dunno…look on the schedule.”
“Um, okay, I’ll do that. Now, let’s say I decide I can’t wait and want to get a refund for my ticket. How much would I get back?”
“You’re telling me you can’t look up how much my refund would be?”
“It would be difficult…since it’s just part of your whole trip…”
“Ballpark–I’ll take a ballpark idea.”
“Um…” (phone rings, and she’s off again).
I eventually got that ballpark number and found out (on my own) that the train usually takes about 7 hours to get from Chicago to KC. But, since this bus was not supposed to make any stops, I thought we might be able to do it in a bit less. I decided to stick with the original plan and take the bus/train option.
I checked into the Metropolitan Lounge. They did not take my ticket, so I could still bail if I changed my mind. I used my time in the lounge to access their free wireless and check on some things, including flight possibilities. However, when I learned that there would be severe storms in the area, flying resumed its usual “no way” position in my head.
At the appointed time, we were taken to the waiting buses. There, we stood in the heat while they tried to coordinate things. The Amtrak people were not doing a good job. Eventually, we all got on–packed in there like sardines. I’m about 5’9″ and a lot of that is leg. I did not have the room to even cross my legs–my knees were pressed hard into the seat in front of me.
Then they handed out sandwiches and offered sodas–as I don’t drink soda, I took a pass, waiting on some water. We had been told there would be refreshments on the bus, so I had not gone out and bought food/water for the trip.
The water never came. We left, and there was no additional liquid on that bus.
We also stopped. Twice. In Princeton, IL and Peoria, IL. And still no water.
I won’t even talk about the two times the driver almost wrecked.
And it took eleven unbearable hours to get to Kansas City.
Okay, my point: crap happens. I wasn’t angry with Amtrak for the flooding and I was totally willing to roll with the situation. I knew we passengers would just have to deal with things being screwed up because of the flooding. Same for the Hyatt–that is, I wasn’t angry about the error–things get misplaced. However, their employees (in both cases) were either unable or unwilling to service their customers. That pisses me of.
When something goes wrong in your business–something out of your control–you still need to service your customers. Even if it is totally not your fault, offer them something to make up for their pain. That something could be anything from reshooting to refunding a bit of money to giving them a big iTunes gift card or whatever.
“I’m sorry” is your friend in these situations. If one of these people would have said, “I’m sorry–this is a big pain for you” that would have helped loads. Just make sure you don’t say “I’m sorry, but ______” [it's not my fault/I can't change the weather/dingos ate the gaffer tape/whatever]. Express sympathy and offer something more than excuses.
Doing otherwise is a short road to losing clients. But when something goes wrong, you can often keep (or even win over) clients by how you handle the bad situation.