SERVICE

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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5 warning signs you’re about to receive bad customer service

Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
It’s been decades and my father still hasn’t forgotten: Threatened with arrest, his wife in tears, their anniversary ruined. And to top it all off, he was still hungry.

Every time I hear the story, I ask him how it came to that. My father replies, “I never saw it coming.”

For their anniversary, my parents had gone to a well-known eatery north of Boston. Always a popular place, this night it was particularly crowded.

They waited a long time to be seated. They waited a long time for menus, and for a server. They waited a particularly long time for the meals.
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Good customer service from the TSA? It’s no joke

Tifon Images/Shutterstock
Tifon Images/Shutterstock

Like most Americans, Jim Davies believes the Transportation Security Administration might benefit from a top-to-bottom reform.

And like most Americans, he wasn’t surprised when a Government Accountability Office study revealed widespread employee misconduct, including screeners involved in theft and drug smuggling activities, as well as circumventing mandatory screening procedures for passengers and baggage.

All of which made his recent experience in Philadelphia so noteworthy. As he waited in line to have his ID checked, he saw three elderly men approach the checkpoint.

“One of the gentlemen had clearly not been on a commercial flight in some time,” he says. “He presented his Medicare card and then his library card as his ID.”
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When airlines go above and beyond

Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Airlines and bad service. The two kinda go together, right?

They do if the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is to be believed. In its 2013 report card, the research company punished the airline industry with an overall score of 69 out of 100. That would be a high “D” if you were in grade school.

But this isn’t another story about airlines treating us like self-loading toxic cargo, which is apparently what some crewmembers now call us.
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5 phone tips for escalating your problem to someone who cares

Konstantin/Shutterstock
Konstantin/Shutterstock
The first rule of solving a customer-service problem may be to get everything in writing, but there are exceptions to every rule.

For some issues — a quick product question or a change in reservation — a phone call might still work fastest.

Or not. Phone agents can waste your time with scripts and long hold times. That’s when you need to know how to escalate your call to someone who can help you.

Here are a few tips to help you get that decision-maker on the phone:
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Help, my Honda radio is on the blink

Dubassy/Shutterstock
Dubassy/Shutterstock

Question: A few days ago, the display on the radio of my 2003 Honda Accord went on the blink. The radio still works, but I can’t see any of the stations.

I called Honda customer service and mentioned that I’d done some research and found that the radios on the 2003 Honda Accords had this problem. She looked into your corporate records and told me that there was a class-action suit and Honda would repair the defective radios for seven years or 110,000 miles. She told me that since that time has elapsed, Honda could not take care of the problem.
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“I was so touched I almost cried”

GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.com
GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.com

LuAnn Ezeonu’s son is a United States Marine deployed in Afghanistan. A year ago, before he left the country, he bought a laptop computer and an iPod from the Apple Store at the Flatiron Crossing Mall in Broomfield, Colo.

By the time he returned to the States, his electronics were in bad shape. Which is where today’s story of unbelievable customer service picks up: with Ezeonu’s son bringing the dented equipment back to Apple after his deployment.

“He returned from his first deployment with a computer and iPod that were dusty, sandy, beat up and the disk drive in the computer wasn’t working,” she remembers. “We took it to this same Apple store.”
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