I’ve been thinking a lot lately about customer service; how it works at every point of contact we have with a business, and how even one broken link can weaken the whole chain and cost an otherwise great company repeat business. I’ve come to believe that customer service is far too important to be left to the customer service department. Instead, service to the people who keep a business afloat should be an attitude, a calling, that every single public-facing employee takes to heart.

My feelings on this topic were brought into sharp relief on a recent flight my wife and I took on Fiji Airways. The check-in and boarding went smoothly, which is the kind of thing you usually only notice when it goes wrong, and we got aboard the plane without incident. When we got to our seats, however, we found them covered with discarded candy wrappers and other squidgy rubbish. Naturally, I told the hostess about the problem, with the clear implication that as the person who had access to a bin she should clear away the mess, only to be told: “that’s not my job.”

fiji airways comic

Customer Service: Not Just for Specialists

It’s been said that one bad apple spoils the barrel, and that a drop of sludge in a cask of wine makes a cask of sludge. On the flight to Auckland I had time to think about how unfair it was to the company that a single bad interaction, out of the three we had at the airport, was all it took to shake our confidence in the airline and wonder whether they were serious about wanting repeat business. When I tweeted to the company about the incident – more out of curiosity about how they would handle it than anything else – I was disappointed again.

Fiji Airways never got back to me.

tweet to fiji airways

This is a disastrous approach to customer service, and we have the numbers to prove it. When polled, 72 percent of employees who report a grievance expect a response within one hour, preferably from a human being. Slow or nonexistent responses caused 38 percent of disgruntled customers to have a lower opinion of the brand itself. That translates into very real lost sales – all because of one employee’s bad service and a slow company response over social media.

customer servide stats

A Culture of Service

It doesn’t have to be this way. Indeed, great customer service can generate almost as much traffic as bad service loses. Southwest learned this just a few months before my Fiji flight, in December 2015, when flight attendant  Anissa Charles volunteered to walk a couple’s fussy 9-month-old baby up and down the aisle while Mom and Dad had their lunch in peace. Babysitting is another thing that isn’t in the typical stewardess’ job description, but Anissa’s great attitude and willingness to do a little extra got out on social media. In weeks, the original post had nearly half a million likes, almost 10,000 comments – all glowing with praise – and over 59,000 shares. It is statistically certain that at least some of the people who reacted to this story were planning holidays of their own and wondering which air carrier to check out first.

anissa southwest

Every interaction customers have with your business is a chance to lift up your brand through great customer service. Sometimes the opportunity to impress the customer comes along when and where you’re least expecting it. By training every employee in great customer service, and by encouraging a culture of service to the people you do business with, your business can get a no-cost leg up on less thoughtful competitors. 

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