5 lessons from customer service systems failures

Chris Foster

I’d like to share with you an experience that may wife and I recently had in order to demonstrate what can happen when customer service standards are flawed or fail.

Last year we had the fantastic experience of spending five weeks in India. What a great and enlightening experience! However, the memories of that experience were slightly tarnished by what we experienced on arrival back at Melbourne Airport.

Let me explain. Rather drive the car from home and leave it at the airport for five weeks, we took the option of purchasing return bus tickets. These were purchased online which would enable us to be delivered to the airport at the start and be picked up at the airport and taken back home on our return.

All went well for transfer to the airport at the commencement of our journey. The fun started when we returned and went to the bus stop to catch the bus home at around 7.30pm. We were first at the bus stop. When the bus arrived we presented our tickets to the bus driver. He told us that we were not on his list and that our return ticket must have already been used. We explained to him that this was not possible as we had just returned from five weeks overseas. He refused to let us on the bus as we did not have a valid ticket despite showing him our tickets indicating that we were booked on the bus that day. We suggested that a good resolution would be for him to accept the tickets as it stands, take us home and it could all be sorted out the next day, given that the bus company had our phone number and email address in their data base. He stated that he could not do this as the system would not allow it.

He then said that all he could to get us on the bus would be to sell us replacement tickets and we could go into the office the next day and sort it out. Reluctantly, we agreed to do this and handed him our credit card to make payment. At this point he informed us that he did not accept credit card and that he could only accept cash. The cost of the tickets were $76. Fortunately we had $80 on us so we could pay for the tickets. Prior to paying I asked the driver “would he leave us stranded at the airport at 8.00pm at night of we didn’t have the cash?” He promptly answered YES!

All this went on in front of other passengers who had turned up during this discussion. They, as well as us, were shaking their heads in disbelief!

After reluctantly making payment, we boarded the bus at which time we immediately went to the bus company Facebook page on our iPhone and vented our frustration at the deplorable customer service we had experienced and shared it with as many people as we could.

Within 10 minutes, the bus company responded on Facebook with a promise to contact us first thing the next day, which they did. So, what was the result? We got:

  1. An apology (most important)
  2. Refund of the additional fares we were forced to purchase
  3. Two complimentary return tickets on the bus service

What can be learnt from this experience:

  1. Avoid making rules that are designed to avoid circumstances which may rarely occur (fare cheats) that may penalise genuine honest customers
  2. Arrogance and pig headed company representatives are a recipe for disaster
  3. Customer service systems must have compassion. This is particularly the case where there is a genuine dispute and the financial risk to the company is low (in this case $76). In this case it would have saved them having to avoid providing complimentary tickets (cost to them $76 and negative exposure via social media
  4. Social media gives customers incredible power to get a negative message out quickly to a wide audience. Incredibly, we noted that our Facebook post was deleted by the company. I think a much better action here would be for them to respond to our post in the manner that the issue was dealt with – which we would have then posted a thank you. This left on their page would demonstrate how the company positively managed the situation. A great marketing opportunity missed by ignorance!
  5. Companies must monitor their social media pages regularly and respond quickly (but not just be deleting comments)

One final point – on leaving the airport on the bus, we observed the bus driver radioing head office – surely he could have just radioed head office at the bus stop to get appropriate advice as to how to handle the situation.