Service failures can be forever


As a dealership owner or manager, you recognize that a service failure might not be your fault, but when it happens it becomes your problem. Moreover, it can be a forever event. Here’s an example of just what I mean.

Allegiant Air is a low-cost airline that’s got a great business model and is among the most profitable in the business. I’ve flown it several times and it’s always been a good experience. But when an employee(s) fails to deliver customer service, Allegiant suddenly owns a problem. The following excerpts are from a letter that appeared in a major newspaper and it tells the story:

“My wife and our four children were catching Allegiant Flight 904 from St. Pete-Clearwater to Kansas City,” David Stuckenberg wrote. “While accelerating down the runway . . . we experienced a loud bang, a compression stall — engine failure. Flight 904’s pilot and first officer reacted appropriately, but what happened next was inexcusable.

“Once we exited the broken aircraft, passengers were left sitting in a crowded terminal for better than three hours. The airline made no attempt to communicate the details of events that transpired. Passengers had no idea what to expect — just told not to leave the gate area as a replacement aircraft might arrive at any time; then again, we might be done for the night!

“Hours later, a replacement aircraft arrived. On arrival at Kansas City, passengers gathered to speak with the gate attendants who proceeded to argue that the departure (back in St. Pete) gate attendants should have helped passengers reconnect with missed flights . . . one member of Allegiant’s staff provided a piece of paper with a handwritten 800 number for customer service.

“When I called the number, I waited over an hour and a half to speak to an agent. After telling the agent I was a passenger on Flight 904 and would like to speak to a supervisor, the agent hung up!

“Operations failures and emergencies . . . can happen. However, failures in customer care, reasonable follow-up and basic human concern are inexcusable,” he concluded.

The Stuckenberg’s experience illustrates that not only did 100 or so passengers on Flight 904 experience a customer service breakdown by employees (in two locations), but thousands more also know all about it from this letter to the editor. While Stuckenberg’s published letter did not speak of any future consideration about flying Allegiant again, it seems more than likely the experience significantly damaged any ongoing relationship with the Allegiant brand, probably forever.

There’s no question that even when great customer service is built into a dealership’s foundational thinking, the best-designed and emphasized service priorities or processes will fail at some point.

The importance, then, of training the dealership team and continually emphasizing service standards they’re expected to follow cannot be overstated. Anyone in the dealership that works directly with customers should be empowered to resolve a customer’s problem, even to offer some recompense when appropriate to, hopefully, affect recovery and turn a negative into a positive for the customer and the dealership.

In today’s business climate, you don’t want to read in the newspapers or online about a customer service failure at your dealership.

(Note: David Stuckenberg is founder and chairman of the American Leadership & Policy Foundation and a veteran USAF instructor pilot. He noted in his letter he is a commercial pilot, albeit did indicate any airline. It should also be noted that Allegiant and its pilots are locked in a longstanding contract dispute. That said, his letter still serves as a good reminder about customer service.)


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