We’ll take you under our wing

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This week’s number one post is remarkable on two levels. First, because it’s a good-news story — a rarity on this site. And second, because it’s a rerun.

Well, technically, Andrew Der’s story about Southwest Airlines helping a passenger in need is what we refer to as a “repost.” (In case you’re just joining us, we lost about three months’ worth of stories in a malicious hack this summer. We restored them in December and January, and now, we’re back, baby!)

I admit, I was a little surprised that a repost could still get so many visits. But, then I re-read the story, which was about a passenger named Peggy Uhle whose flight made a U-turn after leaving the gate so she could be with her son, who was in a coma following a fall.

It was one of those “above-and-beyond” stories that makes you believe customer service is alive and well.

We’ve been having a parallel conversation about the evolution of this website — what it was and what it’s becoming.

I think the reason this story resonated yet again is that people come to this site for hope. They want to believe that someone will take care of them when they buy a product or service.

Some of my colleagues feel we can outsmart corporate America, and that insider information is the way to gain the upper hand. That can work, until you run the numbers. Companies employ armies of lawyers and MBAs to write adhesion contracts and manipulate you into buying. You’re hopelessly outnumbered.

You’ll never be able to “hack” your way to better service, in the same way the bad guys can never hack us into silence.

No, the only way to solve this problem is by appealing to the conscience of each individual person who works for a company; the pilots, flight attendants and gate agents who surely knew that they would miss their schedule by turning the plane around for Uhle, but did it anyway, because it was the right thing.

This site’s quixotic mission is to shine a bright light at the unethical behaviors of corporate America and to use that same light to illuminate the good things that happen to consumers. The more you know, the better. The more they know, the better.

You may disagree. You may believe that becoming a “superuser” by studying the terms and conditions and attaining elite status will ensure that you’ll be treated right the next time you step out into the world.

I hate to disappoint you, but consider what happened to Uhle. She didn’t have any special status. Indeed, you shouldn’t need to have a Platinum card or memorize the airline’s contract of carriage in order for it to do the right thing.

So that’s why, when Andrew’s story rose to the top of this week’s charts, I was so heartened. Our readers understand what’s important. We’re busy building a community that lifts not just the elites, but everyone — from employees to customers — so that you’ll want to come back again.

We’ll take you under our wing. All of you.

Is better customer service a pipe dream?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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  • Not a pipe dream, but not always easily obtainable either.

  • judyserienagy

    Many of us are old enough to remember when customer service was a given. It will take lots of work and repeated pounding away to stop the sleazy slide into apathy. One of the many things I like about Elliott is our ability to spotlight the good guys … this has to be a positive influence on people who are on the front line.