How to Lose a Loyal Customer in 12 Seconds
This weekend I traveled with Denise to New Orleans to speak at the City & Regional Magazine Association conference. I was doing break-out sessions on Guerrilla Selling and Guerrilla Marketing with Social Media.
We were nearly next in line to check our bag when a burly ticket agent turned on the crowd and barked, “WHO’S BAG IS THIS?!”
“Mine,” I said, sheepishly raising my hand. I had scooted it under the queuing strap so as not have to carry it an extra 20 feet, and was standing less than 6 feet away.
“YOU HAVE TO ATTEND YOUR BAGGAGE AT ALL TIMES!” he shouted. I was like, SO busted.
“I AM attending it,” I pleaded. “I’m standing RIGHT HERE!” demonstrating that I could almost touch it.
He shouted like a marine drill sergeant, “YOU HAVE TO BE WITHIN ARM’S LENGTH OF YOUR BAG AT ALL TIMES!”
“OK, Ok, ok . . . “ I muttered as I slinked forward in line, cutting ahead of four other people to hover, humiliated, over my bag for the next 12 seconds.
Keep in mind that I have enough frequent flier miles on United Airlines to qualify for the next Space Shuttle. They have always been gracious, accommodating and helpful. That’s why they’ve been my favorite airline for two decades. And I concede that I was breaking the rule, but a little courtesy would have gone a long way. Anyway, I love this airline so much that I can over-look one rules-happy power-crazed ticket agent who’s having a bad day.
The topper came when we arrived in New Orleans. We were waiting by the baggage carousel when Denise realized she had left her purse on board. She dashed back to retrieve it, and was stopped at the concourse security desk (of course). A call was made and within minutes a friendly United representative returned with her purse. So far, they’re 1 and 1.
In the cab she discovered that her cash was gone. We called. We got transferred. We got a lecture about how, “We’re not responsible for lost items.” Of course, that wasn’t the point. We assumed SOMEONE would share our concern that one of their employees was stealing. Seems no one at United was even interested. So we shrugged it off and didn’t let it ruin our day. It was only a hundred bucks.
But it DID ruin a twenty-year relationship. United has just joined Northwest and Air France on my “Do not fly” list. How can you trust them with your life if you can’t trust them with a purse?
Guerrilla marketers spend years and years and millions of dollars building customer loyalty. Everyone in your organization can do everything exactly right in thousands of transactions spanning decades. Even so, a single moment of carelessness, impatience, or greed can destroy it all. And you know what? It didn’t surprise me that someone took the money. People are desperate. The disappointment was that we cared more about United Airlines’ security problem than they did.
Never make your customers feel wrong or stupid, even when they are. Good manners are simply good business. Make certain that your commitment to your customers is demonstrated at EVERY touchpoint, EVERY time, and that EVEY customer experience is CONSISTENT across the board. And when there is a problem, give it your undivided attention, whether you mean to fix it or not.