I’m a pretty reasonable and forgiving person. I will accept that things go wrong and sometimes customers are disappointed as a result. But when the same breech occurs more than once, I’m going to question everything about their processes, systems, and commitment to quality.
Traveling between time zones and climates requires a larger suitcase, as you can imagine. So last week, flying on a direct flight home, I checked my bag at the airport with an airline that, until now, had held my trust. My bags were lost. Okay that happens. And besides, I was home. They would deliver my bags that night, but regardless, being home, I’d have plenty of clothes and other necessities. It was irritating but I could look past the mistake.
However, just three days later, flying the same airline to a different city on another direct flight, they lost my bags AGAIN. This time, the bag was my lifeline. It contained my suit for an important presentation and all my workshop materials. (Strike two) The baggage counter attendant informed me that it would be two days to have Fed Ex deliver my bags to my destination. What? I was staying 20 minutes from the airport and the next flight would land in six hours. Couldn’t someone drive the bags to me? Nope. The only way to get them back on time for my presentation was to drive back to the airport and retrieve them myself. (Strike three)
When the airline failed to call me after the next flight landed, (Strike four) I called the baggage hotline and learned that the bag had indeed landed at the airport. I hopped in my car and drove the 20 miles. When I approached the counter, the attendant was looking at pictures on her smartphone, with a big smile on her face. She was so entranced with the pictures that she didn’t see me standing in front of her. (Strike five) Always the customer service mystery shopper, I stood quietly and counted the seconds it would take her to look up. Five seconds doesn’t sound like much in theory, but when you are standing in front of a customer service agent, it is an eternity. Add to that the fact that she was on her personal phone, it’s atrocious. And in this particular situation, it was adding insult to injury.
I told her why I was there and asked if my bag had arrived since the flight had landed an hour earlier. She asked, “Well, did we call you?” I told her no, that I had tracked it through the hotline. She looked up the belt where the other luggage from the flight had been dropped. Hearing it was on belt #1, I walked over to the belt. There it was, my blessed, but very lonely bag. It had been riding that belt alone for the past hour. (Strike six)
The good news is that I did indeed get my bag, but had to spend time and energy to get it back. And, by the way, I had told each and every agent with whom I interacted with, that this was the second loss in three days on their airline. Each one apologized, but it was a perfunctory response in each case. As a frequent flyer, I wouldn’t be writing this blog if the very first agent had said, “I’ll move heaven and earth to make sure you have your bags tonight, at our expense. Please don’t give it another thought.” But instead they made it my problem, my expense, and added even further irritation.
As I navigated this service breakdown, I kept thinking about how it relates to what we do in healthcare. When we fail to deliver as promised, our patients start to doubt us. If additional service breeches occur, it becomes harder and harder to maintain trust. If we can do nothing else in service recovery training, we must help empower each individual to take ownership of the service breech and do everything possible to make it right at the first inkling that something has gone awry. If we miss that opportunity to correct the problem, trust is broken and all bets are off.