This past weekend I was in Texas (escaping Seattle’s cold, wet weather for Austin’s . . . uh, cold, wet weather) for SXSW. I attended several standout Interactive panels on Saturday, but my favorite by far was the presentation given by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.
You know Zappos, right? The online retailer that started with selling shoes, that offers great selection and free shipping and free 365 day returns? They now sell other merchandise and eventually aspire to be the leader in online customer service. Their vision:
• One day, 30% of all retail transactions in the US will be online.
• People will buy from the company with the best service and the best selection.
• Zappos.com will be that company.
Hsieh’s presentation covered some of the Zappos core values and discussed the paramount importance of customer service. Their belief is that culture takes care of brand, and that their employees are more engaged because of the shared company values and culture. From their website: “We’ve aligned the entire organization around one mission: to provide the best customer service possible.”
It was an inspiring talk, and I came away feeling like every company could learn a thing or two from Zappos.
Before I left Austin, I somehow managed to lose my wallet. I know, right? I wasn’t even drunk. So I tried to call my airline to see what my options were for flying with no identification, and the first problem I encountered was . . . finding their phone number. The American Airlines website actively discourages phone calls, by driving all inquiries to email or their FAQ.
The next problem I had was with the bag fee. AA was less concerned about my missing driver’s license, and much more focused on my inability to pay the $15 charge to check my bag. I was told they couldn’t waive the fee, and so I dragged my suitcase through security along with my personal bag and laptop — after, of course, throwing away all my over-3.4-ounce gels and liquids (so long, fancy salon shampoo, with your promises of lustrous, manageable hair!).
After a few hours of travel time with many more to go, I begged an AA agent in Dallas for a food voucher, explaining my pitiful no-money situation, but they told me it was against company policy. Then, as I was boarding my Dallas-Seattle flight, they chastised me for having too many bags, and confiscated my suitcase to be checked. Yes, the same suitcase they made me carry on the flight in the first place.
FYI, on an AA four-hour flight from Dallas to Seattle, there are no free peanuts, pretzels, or snack mix packets. You can purchase a box of crackers for $5, assuming you haven’t lost your damn wallet.
My point in telling you this rambling Airport Story of Woe is to marvel over the immense difference between the Zappos service model and American Airlines. The thing that really stands out to me is that Zappos is committed to providing you with amazing service for, say, a $30 shoe sale. AA charged nearly $800 for these round-trip tickets, and still couldn’t be bothered to step even one inch outside their policies to help a customer in need.
In the midst of this terrible economy, what business can afford to turn their back on customer service? Especially a sagging industry like an airline? The companies that deserve to survive the recession and emerge successful are the ones who pay attention to the people who are keeping them in business. Who empower their employees to provide great service even if they occasionally lose money in the process, who know better than to place revenue above all other things.
As consumers, we can affect these changes. AA won’t be getting my business again, but I’ll tell you what: the minute Zappos starts their own airline, I’ll be first in line to buy a ticket.
Tell me, have you experienced any rave or rant-worthy customer service lately? What companies have got it figured out — or not?