Three Service Lessons from a Lost Suitcase

Consider these three realities.   Air travel can be a hassle.  Service mistakes happen.   We can learn from others’ mistakes.

Have you heard about Sy Haze and his lost luggage nightmare from a few weeks ago?  His London to Minneapolis flight time was actually shorter than the time it took to resolve his luggage woes.  Believe it or not, his luggage gained more frequent flyer miles than many business travelers do.

Through a series of service mistakes, his luggage had this journey: London to Boston; Boston to London; London back to Boston; Boston to Minneapolis.  Then his real troubles began.

When he received the bag, he noticed a strong smell of urine and felt moisture on several articles of clothing.  He also found his toiletry bag with toothpaste smeared all over it and a missing aftershave.  Click here to read his story and here to see a video displaying his luggage.

The airline issued a statement declaring their intent to find a resolution to the problems Mr. Haze encountered.

So does the story end there?  Probably not.  In a world where instant marketing is available through tools like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the negative spotlight can shine on companies far longer than anyone desires.

So  even if your company doesn’t face the danger of losing someone’s luggage, if you are in the service industry, this story applies to you.  So let’s learn from their experience and three important realities in service:

When service involves people, you will mess up
It is inevitable.  Humans make mistakes. And because service interactions involve people, occasional mistakes will occur. As you teach employees the art of taking care of customers, it is critical to focus on service recovery. What does this look like in your world? How do we say I’m sorry?  What power does each employee have in making things right? Yes, the goal is service perfection. But you know what? That only occurs in theory.

Customers don’t care about your policies
Policies and procedures are important for they create order in chaos.  And while neat and tidy service steps provide guidelines for employees to act, when problems occur customers don’t want to hear about them.  We forget that poor customer service has more to do with emotions than the product.  Expectations are not met (for whatever reason) which trigger an emotional reaction.  All the customer wants you to do is “fix” whatever is broken and apologize at some point for the error.

Employees’ greatest skill is awareness
So what can leaders do?  The key is awareness.  What does this mean? Your employees must develop a keen skill of observation.  As they interact with customers, they must have a heightened awareness in listening and watching for signs of discontentment or frustration a customer communicates.  Sadly, negative emotions rise before an employee reacts.  And at this point, diffusing a negative situation becomes much more difficult.

I wonder what will cross Sy Haze ’s mind the next time he travels?  I’m betting he will bring a carry-on if at all possible.  The real question is this: how will the employees of that airline respond the next time a problem occurs (and it will).  And what about your team?   How will they be ready for the next service mistake?

One thought on “Three Service Lessons from a Lost Suitcase

  1. This is a great post. I recently did a post on customer service as well. Why is good customer service a hard thing to sell to management sometimes? I bet if Sy had encountered some friendly faces along the way his experience would have felt different.

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