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Showdown with airline teaches sales expert a lesson


I’m back! Much to my joy, I have been reinstated as a customer and a passenger on US Airways. As I write this, I’m on my maiden voyage from Bermuda to Washington, D.C., then on to my home in Charlotte, N.C.

I’m excited.

For the past 11 months, I have been denied flying privileges on US Airways, based primarily on my reactions to instances of poor customer service that occurred over a 10-year period. In short, they had enough of me and my antics.

Well, I’ve had 11 months to think about it, stew over it, reflect on it, recover from it and apologize (to everyone) for it.

After a few months of wild Internet chatter on www.flyertalk.com about whether I was “right” or “wrong,” things started to calm down and I decided to accept my fate. It was my problem to resolve, not theirs.

I started by trying to figure out the cause or the root of my confrontation habit. Easy answer: Not hearing what I wanted to or what I thought I should and having no patience.

And then I asked myself, “Is it only US Airways?” “Is it just with airlines?” No, it’s pretty much everywhere. The lack of service is pervasive.

In my judgment, service is no better anywhere in the world today than it was a year ago, and it’s not just with airlines. It’s everyplace. But the way I react and respond can make all the difference in the world.

Poor service is not always the fault of the person delivering it. This person may be doing what he or she was trained to do.

I’m in no way defending poor service, but many employees of many companies are not happy campers. Layoffs, cutbacks, internal problems and corporate politics have contributed to the low morale and poor attitude of front-line workers.

Not my problem. But how I react to their communications or actions is 100 percent in my control.

Once I figured that out, all I had to do was create a set of actions and guidelines. No problem. I just looked at what I used to do and reversed it.

So, here’s my personal 13.5-step formula for being a better customer:

1. Do not take it personally. Start friendly. This is the first rule of maintaining calm. They’re doing what they were told or trained to do. Keep your smile on, no matter what. Sometimes giving one gets one.

2. Count to three (or four). Be patient longer — way longer.

3. Respond by asking a kind question. React with inquisitive kindness. “How can I get…?”

4. Put the burden of solution on them. “What do you think is the best solution?”

5. Ask again. If you’re still not satisfied, follow up with “Is that the best way…?”

6. Ask for their opinion. Continue by asking, “What would you do if this happened to you?”

7. Humor might work. If it doesn’t, at least you tried. Laughter is calming.

8. Stay calm and be happy. The more you maintain “friendly,” the more likely you are to get what you want and vice versa.

9. Remember you’re “on TV.” Think of how you’ll be judged by others in your immediate area. They’re watching.

10. Rate the problem. If you still can’t get what you want, ask yourself, “How important is this?” If it falls under “no big deal” or “minor irritant,” just fugeddaboutit.

11. Think “thanks,” don’t speak sparks. Resist snide remarks. Here’s the secret: Rather than leave disgruntled, thank them and apologize for any inconvenience you may have caused.

12. Grin and bear it. Keep the smile. Maintain the positive attitude.

13. Just drop it. Thank them, smile and walk away.

13.5. To get service, you have to give service. Try giving them the service you expect to get or want to get. Offer to fill out a form or help them in some way. Your ability to see things from their perspective will often provide a solution to a problem and a happy ending.

On a personal note, I wrote letters of apology to all US Airways employees. I told them I would treat them with respect and that I intend to be a model customer. In support of their present financial situation, I purchased 10 full-fare tickets and intend to purchase 20 more before the year is out.

I’m grateful for my reinstated flying privileges, and I want to thank the people at US Airways for their help and consideration.

I landed safely. Happy as a clam. Resolved to be a better customer.

Free GitBit: Want more ideas on responsibility? Want to take a self-evaluation to see how responsible you really are? Go to www.Gitomer.com, register if you’re a first-time user, and enter the words I’M RESPONSIBLE in the GitBit box.

Jeffrey Gitomer gives seminars, runs annual sales meetings, and conducts Internet training programs on selling and customer service at www.trainone.com. He can be reached by phone at (704) 333-1112 or by e-mail at salesman@gitomer.com.

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