Have It Your Way…

“They really inconvenienced me,” says Brenda Campbell about American Airlines. On a return trip from St. Croix to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City, what was supposed to have been a brief layover wound up being an eight-hour wait in an overly air-conditioned airport in Puerto Rico. “At first they blamed the delay on the weather. A few hours later we realized it had nothing to do with the weather. There was no plane. We were waiting for them to find one and a crew.” Campbell wrote several letters to the airline and each member of her party was finally given a $100 voucher. “I’m not sure that was sufficient for the inconvenience,” she opines.

The “friendly” skies have become a little hostile recently and not particularly because of bad weather, airline bankruptcy, or potential terrorist attacks, but largely because of poor or questionable service. In fact, in 2002 the Aviation Consumer Protection Division for the U.S. Department of Transportation received more than 120,000 complaints about mishandled baggage during a one-month period, and more than 22,000 complaints from passengers who missed flights due to overbooking during a nine-month period.

Obviously, air travel is not the only industry with a high volume of consumer complaints. In 2002, PlanetFeedback (www.planetfeedback.com), a business intelligence tools and applications provider that provides feedback solutions to companies and consumers, received more than 8,000 negative fast-food related comments, and over 7,000 complaints about wireless telephone service. On any given day, interaction with hairdressers, wait staff, bank tellers, and store clerks may be a challenging, if not frustrating, experience. Greeted with attitude instead of smiles or pleasantries, consumers may not always feel like “they’re in good hands” or that “quality is job one.” Many companies seem to have set too high a standard for their employees to measure up to. Whatever happened to the old adage “The customer is always right?”

There are a number of reasons customer service has been on such a decline:

The deregulation of many monopolistic industries, including airlines, banks, telecommunications companies, and, most recently, electric companies, was supposed to provide better pricing and service options for consumers. But, in most cases, consumer rights have been the least of corporate considerations as companies compete for new business. For example, deregulation has exempted airlines from state consumer protection laws.

With all the advancements in technology, the delay in response time and the inability to reach a live person on the phone (because of automated phone systems and online shopping) have proved disconcerting for consumers. In a 2001 survey by business research firm Jupiter Media Metrix, 79% of shoppers said they were less likely to shop online with the same company if their service inquiries went unassisted for too long.

The tight economy has also impacted how companies and employees handle consumers. “During a down economy, when companies make cuts, they tend to cut customer service,” explains Pete Blackshaw, founder and co-chairman of PlanetFeedback. “In the eyes of those making the budget cuts, customer care may seem like soft