One day of poor service can risk erasing months of previous great service from a client’s mind. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality . . . one we should not forget.

By Steve Moran

For a long time, I was an American Airlines customer. Never a big fan, but they had lots of flights to the places I needed to go. The last time I flew with them, I paid extra money just for a legroom seat. However, they did an equipment change and moved me to non-legroom seat — not because legroom seats were not available, but because they just didn’t care.

I had no idea until I got onto the airplane and, by then, all the legroom seats were gone. To add insult to injury I had to work hard just to get my money back. I took the position that they also owed me $200, since that was what they would charge me every time I had to make a change as passenger (so why shouldn’t they be held accountable to the same policy they inflict on their clients?). They said no. I said goodbye. Delta here I come!

Much Better

Delta was much much better. Because I have a history of deep vein thrombosis they always upgraded me to extra legroom seats — at no extra cost — and, on one occasion, with very little begging, they have even made some reservation changes while reducing or waiving the change fee entirely.

All of thi,s making me a very happy camper.

Even better, the flight attendants and others I have interacted with were comparably nicer and more polite than the predominately surly American Airlines team members.   

Over the last couple of years I have spent a lot of money with Delta and gained some status, meaning I have been treated even better and fairly frequently get upgraded to First Class.

Then Came Atlanta

I was recently at the Senior Living Innovation Forum in Boca Raton and faced weather delays getting out of Florida. I made the decision to take a very late flight from Florida to Atlanta knowing it was likely I was going to get stuck there overnight, but also knowing I would be a couple hours closer to home and out of the Florida weather trap.

By the time I got to Atlanta I was indeed out of luck. I went to the service desk to see if they would give me a hotel voucher. I would not have been mad if they said no since it was weather related but I figured it was worth a try. The service desk agent said sure, printed off a voucher and handed it to me. I said thanks and walked away, only to discover that what she had given me was a voucher to a crummy little motel where I would still have to pay their negotiated rate, which was actually no better than their internet rate.  

I ended up finding my own much nicer hotel for just a few dollars more.

Then Came Sacramento

When I got to Sacramento, I picked up my checked bag that overnighted in some corner of the Atlanta Airport and it looked like it had been dragged across the tarmac. It was dirty and two seams had the threads pulled out. I went to baggage claim and the response was basically tough luck, just normal wear and tear.

I Like Them a Little Less

It is not like I am going to quit flying Delta. They have mostly treated me very good and are 1,000% better than American Airlines. But these two people ultimately just made me like them a little less. No vouchers available would not have done that, but it was insulting to be offered a valueless voucher to a crummy motel.

Even a little sympathy or a “let me see if I can do something” from the Sacramento baggage service office would have gone a long way.

Senior Living Needs This Lesson

Every day, each senior living community has hundreds of interactions with residents, prospects, vendors and visitors. Each one has the possibility to delight or to discourage, to serve or to disappoint. It is often possible to say no and still be positive.

It is also so easy to just make people like us “a little bit less”. It really takes no more effort to care than to not care, but these people, these Delta staff members, could just have easily made me love Delta as much as before by simply caring and showing interest or concern in my situation. But they didn’t. They clearly did not care. They made themselves look trivial and their employer look bad. This is something that needs to be guarded against. One day of poor service can risk erasing months of previous great service. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality . . . one we should not forget.

The Rest of The Story

I emailed a complaint about the voucher to Delta explaining that a “no” would have been fine. A few days after I sent the complaint I got a call from a customer service person at Delta apologizing profusely. It turns out that with my status she should have actually given me a voucher to a good hotel that would have cost me nothing. They were willing to send me a check for what I paid for the hotel, which was a decent service recovery. Instead, I suggested Delta bucks and we settled on a bunch of additional miles in my account.

It was a pretty good service recovery but it will take some time before the “like you a little bit less” goes away, mostly because it would have been so easy to prevent.