Customer complaints provide valuable information for companies because they alert them to potentially costly problems with their products, services or procedures. Fixing these problems can improve customer service and reduce customer attrition. But companies who listen closely to customer complaints might find more than mere information—they might find inspiration too. Last month I was traveling to Orlando Florida and had an early flight back to New York City. I had already checked in online and had no luggage to check so I arrived at Orlando International Airport (MCO) an hour before my departure time and was dismayed to see a huge mass of people waiting to pass security.
I would have joined the line, except there wasn’t one. Instead, people stood in a pulsing mass letting the movement of the crowd funnel them toward the distant point at which roped lanes began forming orderly lines. Progress was slow causing many passengers to worry they would miss their flight. But with no airport personnel in sight to assist such passengers and the mood of the crowd being as it was, no one attempted to go around the mass of people to the front.
Indeed, tensions in the ‘throng’ ran high and the complaints were flying. People griped about the lack of crowd control, the stupidity of not extending the roped areas to accommodate the extra passengers or the lack of signage offering apologies for the extended wait times and crowded conditions. I heard several people pledge never to use this particular airport again.
Once I reached the civilized haven of the roped lines things improved only marginally. The TSA workers had to halt the scanners periodically because it took a while for people on the other side to retrieve their belongings. An elderly couple in front of me took minutes to pick out coins from their plastic bin (“Larry, don’t forget the dimes! They’re little! Look in the corners!”).
All in all, going through security was a customer service nightmare, one that must cost MCO untold revenue in customer attrition alone.
However, any airport executive standing in line with me that morning and actually listening to their customers would have been shocked to discover that the solution to every single one of their customer service problems was present in the complaints voiced by their customers!
1. Extend roped lines to accommodate the extra passengers waiting to go through security.
2. Include signage to apologize for the long lines and inform customers of wait times.
3. Have workers patrol the lines so they can assist passengers who are late for their flights.
The final customer service idea came to me when watching the elderly couple fish for pennies (and dimes) in the plastic bins after they had gone through the scanner:
4. Place receptacles for various charities before people go through the scanners. This will provide travelers the option of donating their change to charity and avoiding the ‘hunt & peck’ exercise to retrieve coins from the plastic bins. International travelers are often thrilled to get rid of their change and many domestic travelers will opt to donate their change as well—benefitting both the airport by having lines move quicker and many charities.
I should add that when I mentioned this idea to the TSA worker at the scanner, her eyes lit up and she rushed her supervisor over so he could take my name and write the suggestion down on a comment card. I have no way of knowing if my idea made its way to airport executives but their front-line employees certainly thought it should.
In short, companies that truly listen to their customers’ complaints will discover both information about important problems and often, the solutions to these problems as well. In many situations, such as the case at Orlando International Airport, fixes are easy to implement and cost effective.
Companies should therefore do more than just listen to customer complaints they should actively seek solutions within them.
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Copyright 2011 Guy Winch