Customer for satisfaction: reaching beyond the sky?

A recent survey by Atlanta based  Polaris a full service market research company found that "fully one-third of Americans believe customer service is getting worse across all of their purchases. Forty-four percent of American consumers believe customer service is staying the same and less than one-quarter (23%) believe customer service is getting better. Polaris also observed that there were demographic variations with ratios that were different depending upon sex, age and race. More Males (35%) than females (30%)  were likely to believe that customer service is getting worse; Consumers over 50 years of age were more likely to believe that customer service is getting worse (41%) while Caucasian consumers  are more likely than other ethnicities to believe that customer service is getting worse.

The survey's results elicited a wry coment from the company's president that "It is somewhat surprising that, with so many companies struggling for survival, the American consumer is still pessimistic about customer service" and went on to add that "Treating customers well is a low-cost option for increasing sales and loyalty”.Nevertheless, at a minimum. as the survey indicated, customer expectations vary with with demographics. But beyond that is the seemingly unbounded nature of (some) customer expectations as a recent Financial Times article headlined "How to handle difficult customerrequests" explained.

The British broadsheet wrote about how a Virgin Atlantic passenger asked a flight attendant to take her children to the playroom while another asked that the pilot be requested to slow down the flight so that he could get a full eight hours of sleep. In the service industry such breathtakingly audacious if not impudent requests, indeed demands, nowadays are par for the course. But it makes training for customer service associates an even greater challenge. 

As the FT's article notes that "a tongue-in-cheek reply is sometimes the only polite response to such requests, they also raise an interesting question: in a world where we are constantly being told to deliver exactly what the customer wants, what should companies do when the customer’s request is confusing, vague or impossible to fulfil?" The FT article points out "unusual or weird requests pose a problem for most companies as their "regular" frontline staff are not geared to deal with them as they do not fit into a pattern and cannot be into "a straight-jacketed procedure”. The answer, of course, is expert staff who can think on their feet and who have management discretion to back up a variation on what is normally offered by the service provider.  But responding to far fetched requests is not limited to humans. Skyscanner, a flight search site was recently asked to book "flights to Mars in 2020"! The site's programmer's anticipating such outlandish , no pun intended, requests programmed it to respond that  "while they might be available, they would be expensive"!




Published by

Vijay Dandapani

Co-founder and president of a New York based hotel company for 24 years. Grew the firm to five hotels in Manhattan and also developed a greenfield project at MacArthur airport, New York. Speaker at numerous prestigious forums including Economy Hotels World Asia, Lodging Conference, NYU, Columbia University Real Estate Roundtable, Baruch College's Zicklin School and ALIS. President and ceo of New York City Hotel Association since January 2017.