The high cost of great customer service

Nikkytok/Shutterstock
Nikkytok/Shutterstock
The basics of good customer service, like courtesy and attentiveness, may be free. But great service? That’s expensive.

Consider what happened to Virginia Bibliowicz’ father, who rented a car from Budget recently. Shortly after he picked up the vehicle in Knoxville, Tenn., he suffered a heart attack and died.

“When my sister and her husband returned the car later, Budget refused to let them pay the charges,” she says. “I think Budget and this rep should be commended, and they will certainly always have our business.”
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These airlines are the poster children for bad service

Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
When you have a customer service problem with a company, it can usually be cleared up with a quick phone call or email. Unless you’re dealing with an airline.

It seems air carriers like to shield themselves as much as possible from the traveling public, particularly when things go wrong. And I should know. I’m this site’s director of research, and it’s my job to connect people with companies.
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Yes, customer service really is circling the drain – here’s what to do about it

Marcinski/Shutterstock
Marcinski/Shutterstock
Customer service isn’t what it used to be.

You’ve probably heard your parents or grandparents say it — heck, maybe you’ve said it — but other than vague memories of the way things were, you had no proof.

Well, now you do.

A new survey by Arizona State University reviews historical data on the customer experience going back to a 1976 White House study. It found the amount of people reporting customer problems climbed from 32 percent in the 1976 study to 45 percent in 2011, and then 50 percent in 2013.
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Maybe good airline service is possible after all

RealCG/Shutterstock
RealCG/Shutterstock
As Juanita Centanni boarded a recent Cayman Airways flight from Tampa to Grand Cayman, she braced herself for an awful travel experience.

She remembered what happened to her on a domestic flight not so long ago, when she was recovering from rotator cuff surgery. Centanni, a retired government employee, wondered if one of the flight attendants could help with her carry-on bag.

“Ask one of the passengers,” the airline employee snapped.

So when a Cayman Airways attendant met her at the door without any prompting, offering to carry her luggage and stow it in the overhead compartment, she couldn’t believe it.

“I was amazed,” she says.
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Does this “disgusted” passenger deserve a full refund?

Anna/Shutterstock
Anna/Shutterstock
Airlines often speak from both sides of their mouth.

They say their seats are unique products, and loathe the idea of “commoditization” which says all seats are basically the same. At the same time, they’re unwilling to promise these amazing seats in writing. (In fact, most contracts won’t even guarantee your flight will run on schedule or even you’ll be offered transportation.) And they’re more than willing to overlook their uniqueness to sell you a codeshare ticket on another airline.

All of which brings us to Sandra Dekoj and her case against Hainan Airlines. She asserts that her travel agent sold her a seat on a spanking new Hainan 787, but that she ended up flying on a dilapidated Airbus instead. And that package, which included a one-night hotel stay in Beijing, did not meet her expectations.

She wants a full refund, and she wants me to help her get it.
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Secrets for getting the very best customer service

Life/Shutterstock
Life/Shutterstock
It’s the proverbial man-bites-dog story for consumer reporters: an over-the-top customer service experience in which an employee goes the extra mile.

It’s even more rare — on the order of man-bites-man — to find a proven way to extract the very best service from employees.

I won’t mince words. Men are not biting men.

But a series of recent stories and one reader’s experience give me hope that it’s possible. In other words, you could get superior service every time you go to the store or log on to your computer to go shopping.
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Decoding service-speak: 5 employee insults you need to know

Aaaron Amat/Shutterstock
Aaaron Amat/Shutterstock
Spend enough time around customer service agents and you understand that what they say and what they mean are often two very different things. That’s never more apparent than when they are talking directly to you.

Fortunately for these employees, they’ve developed a secret lexicon of words and phrases that can only be interpreted in one way by the general public, but that to them mean something quite specific and often insulting.

For example, let’s say you’ve just boarded a flight and you’re sending a message from your phone as the cabin doors close. Flight attendants are roaming the aisle to ensure all seatbelts are fastened and electronic devices are turned off.

Just as you hit “send” and start powering down your smartphone, you feel a hard tap on your shoulder and see a grimacing crewmember looming over you.
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