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I recently enjoyed flying First Class from London to Bangkok with a well known airline.  It was a treat for me as I don’t expect clients to pay for luxuries; Business Class is fine.  But it was an upgrade and a welcome one for a long flight.

What did I most enjoy about the experience?  The extra space was good.  The food was fantastic.  And the wine was superb.  But the best thing about the whole experience was the cabin crew: they were wonderful – attentive without being obtrusive, polite but not fawning and very slick in delivering the service.  I was impressed.  I could feel my satisfaction with and sense of loyalty towards the airline growing.

I reflected that in theory there was nothing to stop every cabin crew member being as wonderful.  But in reality, the best performers are selected for First Class and doubtless that ‘labelling’ nudges motivation even higher – but not all staff can work there, so the reverse effect might even be true for staff back in Economy.

Unfortunately, it was not long before my newly re-invigorated admiration of the airline was to take a blow.  Upon reaching my destination, I noticed a booking had appeared in my account that I did not make.  I do not wish to travel to Munich in August…though perhaps there was another customer who did.  So being a considerate fellow I emailed the frequent flyer club to let them know.  The response I received was thus:

Thank you for writing to us about your reservation query.  Your particular requirement needs to be handled by [our] Service Centre, as only they have full access to your booking details, including its historical data. Telephone numbers can be found at: [link provided]  Please don’t hesitate to let us know if we can help you with anything else.

So let me get this right…although the responder knew exactly which part of the company was best placed to deal with my problem and how to contact them, (s)he thought it better to get me to do the contacting, rather than forward my email internally.

This happens a lot – customers are expected to join up disjointed businesses.  Organisations need segmented of course, but bad design can leave the problems of reintegration on the customer’s side of the fence.  The right kind of systems, processes and training can sometimes avoid this, but all too often they don’t.  It seriously damages customer service and thus satisfaction.

I enjoyed First Class, but back on the ground the customer service experience means I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.  And that surely represents a strategy execution challenge for the airline.

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