Living in downtown Toronto, I always fly Porter Airlines. Porter is a boutique airline that flies out of city center Toronto, literally a 15 minute walk from the financial district and tourist areas. Catering to the business traveller, the airline prides itself on its white-glove customer service and amenities – harkening back to the good old days of air travel when the customer was treated like gold.
Flying Porter is truly exceptional. Until it isnÔÇÖt.
Fails and Frustration
Last Thursday there was a kerfuffle at the check in desks. From what I gathered, a young ladyÔÇÖs booking couldnÔÇÖt be found. Unfortunately, they only had one check in counter staffed, and that person spent an inordinate amount of time on this one issue. Other check in clerks casually meandered about doing anything but check ins. The line up behind me grew and grew, and people became more and more frustrated.
My first (angry) thought was ÔÇ£Come on Porter! This is not how you do business!ÔÇØ My second thought was ÔÇ£Ha! If I were at Pearson right now (TorontoÔÇÖs international airport) this wouldnÔÇÖt even be a blip on anyoneÔÇÖs frustration radar.ÔÇØ Pearson is notorious for crowds, delays and lineups (though from what I hear not as bad as OÔÇÖHare is). It would have to get REALLY bad at Pearson for people to start protesting.
This experience got me thinking. Might it actually be detrimental for companies to provide top-notch customer service?
We Try Harder
Then at dinner that night the subject of being number two versus number one came up. How difficult it is to be on top, and remain there. How people instinctively start to poke and dig in order to topple the winners (here in Canada we call that ÔÇ£Tall Poppy SyndromeÔÇØ). Naturally, someone mentioned the classic Avis car rental campaign: WeÔÇÖre Number Two. We Try Harder. What a wonderful position to be in, right? Things can only go up, and people really arenÔÇÖt expecting to much from you. I mean sheesh. ItÔÇÖs not like youÔÇÖre number one! That ad campaign – and I would posit the fact they werenÔÇÖt trying to maintain top dog status – saved Avis from certain financial ruin, and they continued to use the slogan for 50 years before finally dropping it last year.
No Really. Email me.
Then on my flight home, while reading the newspaper, I came across a full pager from the newly appointed CEO of Canadian Tire. For those of you not up on your Canadian business icons, Canadian Tire opened in 1922 and is Canada’s largest retailer. It is said 90 percent of all Canadians live within a 15-minute drive of a Canadian Tire store; nine out of ten adult Canadians shop there at least twice a year; and 40 percent of Canadians do so every week.
It was a nice introductory ÔÇÿletter to CanadiansÔÇÖ, his customers, highlighting the many things Canadian Tire stores do to give back to their communities etc. Then I read the last sentence: ÔÇ£…if you ever feel that isnÔÇÖt the case, send me an email at (email address) and I will make sure your feedback is heard.ÔÇØ┬á
The newly minted CEO of one of CanadaÔÇÖs largest businesses just gave out his company email address. To all of Canada. Incredible marketing move. Very human of him to do so. Clearly, he cares. But wait. What? When did things like this start happening? What about when he canÔÇÖt respond to the deluge of emails. How soon before people start getting upset and angry when their buddy CEO Allen doesnÔÇÖt get back to them for a few days? (I know, IÔÇÖm sure he has systems in place, and he wonÔÇÖt be personally responding, but still…!)
Once again, can customer service be too good? Are businesses setting themselves up for bigger fails and face-palms by trying to be the kings of customer service?
Loyalty and Trust
I figured I would go to the customer service king of FeedBlitz, Phil Hollows, and ask him.
Phil Hollows: ÔÇ£Short answer – yes. Because if you drop the ball it is more visible.┬áEspecially if to date customer service has been a differentiator. What can offset that is loyalty and trust – so if you have built that over time, customers can be more forgiving if things get bad for a while. But obviously there are limits to the reservoirs of good will.┬áAnd to not exhaust those reservoirs you have to recognize the issue, deal with it, and communicate that you’re dealing with it.ÔÇØ
Ok, pretty simple, and I 100% agree with Phil. The biggest issue I had while waiting in that airport lineup was the lack of communication. We didnÔÇÖt know what was going on, or how much longer we would have to stand there (im)patiently. Even a simple ÔÇ£Hey, sorry everyone, we have another person opening up in ten minutesÔÇØ would have helped. But, as Phil also mentioned, IÔÇÖm a loyal, borderline rabid Porter Airlines fan, and that wonÔÇÖt change with the odd misstep.
IÔÇÖm curious to hear what you think. Certainly thereÔÇÖs a fine line. One doesnÔÇÖt want to purposely provide BAD customer service.
But that said, have customersÔÇÖ expectations – and the bar – been raised too high?
Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, sheÔÇÖs a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and just welcomed Hank, a Vizsla/Foxhound cross, into her home.