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Thursday, August 2, 2012

The World Needs The Customer Service Gurus - Part 2

Summer usually seems to be the season of relaxing, enjoying the outdoors, but we have been especially and gratefully busy at The Customer Service Gurus.  There is much to accomplish before we ramp up for the fall. 

But before we get to all of that, there are still service adventures to report from my spring trip to Europe.  As promised, here is part two of The World Needs the Customer Service Gurus.

Come Fly with Me, but Shop with Me not so Much

We island hopped in the Mediterranean during EuroTrip 2012, as I like to call our spring itinerary.  Chania is a city in Crete, the Greek island.  It is a beautiful place, and surprisingly the harbor looks like a smaller version of Venice because of the Venetian occupation at one point in their history.  We had a wonderful time during our week there.

As we waited to fly out, as typical we had time to kill at the airport.  The airport is primarily a military base, but in the tourist season it also services a few daily commercial flights.  Let’s just say it is more functional, than hospitable.  My husband went to browse the various stores, which were only three in the entire airport, to stretch his legs before our flight. 

He ventured to a shop not very far from our gate, maybe less than 100 feet or approximately 30 meters for my non-US readers. It was in the late afternoon, the store seemed to be open, but a sales clerk rudely informed my husband he had to go to another store with the same exact merchandise because he, my husband, was flying out of a different gate. Remember, we are talking less than 100 feet and no more than 7 gates.   It seems the last flight of the day just left the store’s area and clerk did not want to wait on anyone else, but the store was clearly not closed because my husband could easily walk in to the shopping area.

The Guru’s Solution

This one is common sense.  Well, at least I think it is.  If the store is physically open, then it is open and customers should be serviced.  If it is not open, then put up a barrier for customers not to go in the door.

Some of this could be culture related as well.  Not all cultures work on the premise of the customer is always right, so sometimes it is necessary to readjust our norms.  I have worked in retail in the US and remember nights when we left late because of a customer walking in the door three minutes before closing time.  But I have also worked retail in France, and when it was closing time, it was closing time.  It is not good or bad; it is simply a different norm.

My advice to Chania is, especially since they are having a difficult time with public relations due to the overall impression of the Greek financial crisis, it would be worth mentioning to workers that without tourist euros they will have no job at all making things much worse in an already fragile world.  It may be quitting time, but every sale is important. 

Train Station – Who’s on first? 

Here is the last story, even though there are more, but you need to get to work!

Poland and Ukraine hosted this year’s major soccer tournament Euro Cup. This tournament takes place every four years and equates in US terms to the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA finals and Stanley Cup wrapped up into one event.  It takes almost a month for the tournament to complete, from group play to the finals.

Emotionally, this is huge in Europe and it is very prestigious for a country to put on the tournament. Many Europeans believe this tournament is even stronger than the World Cup because it is restricted to the overall stronger European teams.

Breslau is one of the larger cities in Poland and hosted some of the group games.  We arrived in Breslau a week before the games started to visit extended family.  When it was time to leave we found ourselves at the new train station still under construction.  More of it was built than not, but the new signage was not all in place.

We needed to buy an international ticket from Poland to Germany.  The new train station had no window labeled, “International Tickets,” among the 10 or so windows labeled in English, “Domestic Tickets,” but it was unclear if where we could buy our tickets.
We were lucky that our extended father-in-law, who speaks Polish, came with us for our send off.  He first asked other passengers in the train station where to buy international tickets.  Strangely, he received a different answer from every person.  This was absolutely confusing so he and my husband went to the official information desk.  The information agent said it could be bought at the labeled domestic windows. 

They waited in that line for at least 15 minutes, but when they get to window the domestic ticket agent said an international ticket could not be bought at that counter.  My husband was within sight of the information agent that instructed them to the domestic window and said so.  Waving him off with no concern at all, the agent said, “The new train station is not complete so you have to go to the old train station to buy an international ticket.” 
Forty-five minutes later we find the international ticket counter in the old train station and roughly make our way through the transaction.  The agent only spoke Polish, so luckily we had our relative translator.   Very frustrated, but finally with ticket in hand, we said good-bye to our family and head to the train. 

The Guru’s Solution

This would not take much to fix.  First, any agent working an international counter should speak at least one other language or there should be other accommodations to combat language barriers.  I thought a form would help.  The passenger would complete the form in their language and hand it over to the ticket agent.  It would be a small upfront cost, but save a huge amount of aggravation for both passenger and agent.

Secondly, the management could write a simple memo, and then supervisors could conduct quick team meetings to explain where international tickets could be purchased.  We bought the tickets in the old station, but actually caught the train at the new station.  It was confusing even to the most seasoned of travelers.

I think what upsets me the most, from a service perspective, is the information agent not knowing the right place to buy the ticket.   What is the point of an information desk if the information cannot be trusted?

Final Thoughts

That wraps up my look at service abroad.  As I said in the first blog, these were a few incidences in an overall wonderful trip full of many people providing excellent service.  Travel frustrations come with the adventure of being out of one’s comfort zone, and much of it is relative.   For example, my international friends get just as frustrated in the States with our tipping customs and road rules.  So I encourage you to experience the world.  It will certainly provide you with an interesting perspective on the value and importance of delivering excellent customer service.

Now get out there and enjoy this last month of summer!

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