Wednesday, September 26, 2018

#25 Dealing with Customer Misery

 ISSUE #25 –Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Posted by Denny Hatch

Dealing with Customer Misery

Turn Customer Panic into Comfort—Automatically

We’ve all been there—a flight delay caused a missed connection.

Suddenly you’re in a long line of fretting, scared travelers waiting for a glum, harassed clerk to bombard you with various options, connections and decisions.

One night in April we left Philadelphia on a KLM/Delta flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport with a four-hour layover for our connection to Basel, Switzerland. 

Three hours into the flight over Newfoundland the pilot came on the horn to announce the plane had lost a generator. The Boeing 767-300 has two engines and three generators. Two were working. But we were not allowed to fly across the ocean without a working spare third generator, so we were returning to Philadelphia.

On the way back to Philly, an announcement from the cockpit assured passengers with connections that we would be rebooked.

Back at the Philly airport we were told not to try to rebook flights. We were assured all the information would be awaiting us at Schiphol.

Philadelphia had no spare 767-300 generator in inventory, so one had to be located and flown to Philly. Further delay.

Seven hours later we took off for an uneventful flight to Amsterdam.

At Schiphol, a KLM gate attendant told us we could pick up all the information—including new boarding passes—at a Self-Service Transfer kiosk. 

We would see it at the end of the hallway to our right after passport control.

Look for the yellow sign.

Dutch Wizardry 

At each kiosk, scanning instructions were absolutely clear.

I pressed the old Amsterdam-Basel boarding pass against the glass for scanning, whereupon this marvelous machine started spitting out myriad personalized forms.

Not shown here: the revised itinerary and 10-Euro food voucher for use anywhere in the airport 

More than 100 such kiosks at Schiphol are loaded with these blank forms that can be printed out personalized for myriad uses.

Let’s say 280 of our fellow passengers missed connections. Problem automatically solved as promised.

No one needed to go through the stomach-churning experience of standing in long lines and dealing with an equally harried human being.

True the delay was a bit of downer. But KLM’s technology is dazzling.

This was Customer Relationship Magic at its best—efficient, and best of all automated. 

It was quick and seamless for us.

Cheap and easy for KLM.

We felt loved.

Takeaways to Consider
• A seamless automated system does not get tired, cranky and desperate for a smoke or bathroom break while interacting with a stressed-out, confused customer.

• An automated system that handles routine customer problems eliminates personnel and saves big money.

• CRM—Can you turn Customer Relationship Misery into Customer Relationship Magic using an automated system?

• "Times of adversity and customer screw-ups may be the only times when you can really show your customers how much you love them."
   —Malcolm Decker, Freelancer, entrepreneur

• When traveling with myriad connections for an important meeting, speech or cruise, consider leaving a day early. If the flight is delayed, you're covered. If you arrived a day early, you can relax, maybe do a bit of sightseeing and hey! you're on your way to getting over jet lag!


Word count: 526

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Invitation to Marketers and Direct Marketers: Guest blog posts are welcome. 
If you have a marketing story to tell, case history, concept to propose or a memoir, give a shout. I’ll get right back to you. (Kindly stay within the limit of 500 words.) I am:

You Are Invited to Join the Discussion!
Do you have a story to share about CRM—Customer Relationship Magic that became Customer Relationship MISERY and how it was handled (or mishandled) and what could have been done better? Do share!


  1. Denny, I have never seen you so easy to please! I agree it's refreshing to get an unexpected surprise from automation that actually works. I wonder, however, why a global network as big as Delta/KLM couldn't just take you to their nearest hub - Boston or NYC - and put all you folks on different planes to get to your European destination without a total of 13 hrs delay. Especially in April, when presumably transatlantic ravel is not at its peak.

    1. Peter,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment. Your idea might well be something for Delta/KLM to discuss and even test. However, with the existing automated system, all passengers are held in one airport (PHL), then flown to a second airport (Schiphol). The time delay of 7 or more hours gives Delta/KLM plenty of time to make all the new travel arrangements and get them into the Automated Kiosk system at Schiphol so the entire operation is smoothly executed with a minimum of waits, lines, a take-off and landing from a third airport and really nagging uncertainty and more inconvenience. One thing I know: am damned glad I don't work for an airline! Thanks again. Do keep in touch. Cheers!

  2. A brilliant technical solution to an all-too-real human problem. Bravo. Gee, if only this were able to be implemented elsewhere? But no, US airlines are too busy charging more for checked luggage, and squeezing more seats into a plane

    1. Richard, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I remember once flying from San Francisco to Hong Kong on Singapore Air. Over many hours the cabin was darkened to let us sleep. I read, watched movies, etc. Every half hour a flight attendant would slip into a lavatory and tidy it up. When we landed in Hong Kong, the loos were a tidy, clean and sparkling as when we left the U.S. You're right; international carriers care. Do keep in touch. Cheers.

    2. Good story. Thank you. U.S. carriers have to deal with volumes of passengers unheard of with foreign airlines. While not making excuses, they have to keep the planes flying, thus allowing no time to sophisticate the system. They seem to run amok rather than thinking about improvement. Too bad. That's why foreign carriers will always have business.

    3. Jeffrey, Great comment. Thank you. Like your thinking a lot. If you have an idea for one or more guest blog posts, would love to hear from you. (I try to limit to 2,000 words max). Give a shout.