My new year started off with delightful rest, relaxation, friends, family, good food and fun. My goals and intentions were firmly in place, as we had done our team strategic planning session in December, and so I was ready to get back into the office on January 6 and start the year off with a bang! My intentional words for this year are simplicity and kindness, and believe me when I say both of those words were put to the test very early in the year.
As a professional speaker, one of the topics I include in my speeches is about how in today’s highly competitive world, customer service has become table stakes. Your clients want “customer delight” in order to become and, more importantly, remain your loyal client. Come with me now as a I share the new-year journey I had, which I’m sure some of you other road warriors out there will be able to relate to, and which involved more first-hand customer service experiences than I care to count!
The morning of Tuesday, January 7, I headed off to Toronto Pearson Airport to catch my flight to St. Louis. I had meetings set up for early Wednesday morning and evening, and on Thursday I was facilitating a full-day offsite strategic planning meeting with a coaching client and her team. It was a spectacular day to fly, with no snow or bad weather at either end. It was going to be a direct flight, and life was good. So I thought!
If you have ever had the pleasure of flying from the Toronto Pearson international terminal, you will know how large it is. Because I had checked in online the evening before, I only needed to know what gate the flight was leaving from, so when I got to the terminal I headed to the departures board to check. I scrolled for the St. Louis gate number and, to my delight, what do I see beside the flight number but the word CANCELLED in not one but two official languages. My flight was cancelled due to . . . wait for it . . . mechanical failure. And the fun that was about to unfold for my first business trip of the year was underway.
Off I went to the first customer service desk at pillar 11, where I was informed there was a flight later that night but that only one seat was left, so I needed to hurry and rebook. “Fine,” I told the agent, “please do so.” But I was quickly informed that I had to go all the way to pillar 2 to do the rebooking. When I arrived there, to my frustration I had to take a ticket and was informed that the estimated waiting time would be close to two-and-a-half hours. However, a very lovely gentleman told me that I actually did not have to wait there, as I could simply go to the bank of white phones at pillar 15 and speak directly to a customer service agent. I realized then that there was going to be no worries about getting my steps in that day!
The customer service representative for the airline that had cancelled the flight informed me that their partner airline had actually booked my flight, so she was unable to help me and I needed to call them. When I spoke to the partner airline representative, he informed me that he could not book the flight and that I needed to call the other airline back, and he gave me the ticket number I had automatically been rebooked on for the next day to reference. So, I called the other airline again and was told, again, by a customer representative that they could not help me as it was the partner airline’s issue.
Well, folks, at this point how do you think I was feeling? Frustrated is the polite word for it. But thinking back to what one of my intentional words is for this year, kindness, the response I gave to her was, “It seems that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing here, and I have a big problem that I cannot fix. May I kindly speak with a supervisor to help get this problem solved?” To which she responded, “May I please put you on hold for a minute?” Well, put me on hold she did—for forty minutes—while I listened to the worst piped-in music I have been subjected to in my life, but I was not hanging up. When the rep returned, she told me she had ironed out the problem and that I was booked on the flight that evening. I told her she was an angel, thanked her very much for all of her help and then she asked me if there was anything else she could do for me.
Way too many hours later, I left Toronto and finally arrived in St. Louis, but I had already cancelled my morning breakfast meeting, since I was arriving way too late. Not one to hold on to things for too long, I shook it off, had a late breakfast, embraced another beautiful day and headed back to the airport to pick up the rental car to drive to the hotel where my meetings were scheduled for Wednesday evening and Thursday.
Now, there is something you should know about me: I am directionally impaired. Do not hit me with north, south, east, west; give me right, left, straight ahead or back up. And, no, there was not a GPS in the car (not one that I could find, anyway), so off I went on a glorious drive in the warm sunshine only to find I was an hour and 50 miles the wrong way from where I was supposed to be going. By the way, I know this is a little long, folks, but I hope you will hang in with me because I am truly going to wrap this all up with a bang. I promise!
The good news was that I had a great dinner meeting with my coaching client, and we ran through the agenda for the strategic planning meeting the next day over excellent salmon and a lovely glass of wine. On Thursday, we had a highly productive and successful day putting their plans together for 2020. While we were together, I shared my adventures about my flight and getting lost, and I jokingly said my next book should be called Travels with Jane.
I slept a full ten hours that evening and checked out of the hotel Friday morning refreshed and eager to head home. I checked my emails and messages one last time before leaving only to find, to my delight—are you ready for it?—you are correct: my direct flight was cancelled AGAIN. And it was the same airline! Off to the airport I went to return the car in time, and I have to tell you something, they are really good at hiding the rental return kiosks at the St. Louis airport!!
Finally at the terminal, I went upstairs to the airline service desk to find out what my other options were. To my delight, what did I find? No one was there! However, it was my lucky day because right across from that desk was the desk of, you guessed it, their partner airline, whose solution to my issue was to provide me with a toll-free number to get my flight rebooked.
All this time, my husband was at home in Toronto and trying to help me. I gave him the toll-free number to call, as my cell needed charging. He called it, and this is where it gets even better, my friends. The message on the answering machine informed him that there was no one there to take his call and not to bother leaving a message as there was no one who would be calling him back. Oh, joy!
What do you think I did next? You are correct! I had no choice but to go back to the partner airline desk. But, to my actual delight, the agent for the other airline was there and helped to get me rebooked, albeit not on a direct flight, but on another one through Newark to Toronto. He told me I would have to hurry and he kindly called the gate to tell them I was on my way. He was a tall guy, but I stood on my tiptoes and gave him a huge hug.
Thanks to my Nexus card, I breezed through security and rounded the corner to my gate. To my dismay, I realized the gate was at the far end of the terminal, and it was one busy place. Wheeling my carry-on bag behind me and with my briefcase-size purse planted firmly over my left arm, I set my sights and headed to the gate. As I mentioned, it was crowded, so I wasn’t running, but I was rushing. And the next thing I knew, I had somehow planted my left foot solidly on the floor and I was going down. I literally flew forward (ten feet, I later found out) and then, next thing I knew, I was trying to brace for a fall head-first as I went down like a box of rocks and solidly banged my head on the concrete floor. I always knew I had a hard head, but I had no idea it could actually bounce on concrete!
By this time, this is when the simplicity start to my new year had almost gone right out the window; however, it was the moment the door opened and an abundance of kindness walked in. The number of people who came to my aid in my hour of need was amazing! A pilot who saw me fall was there to see if I was okay as soon as I rolled over onto my back (conscious, thankfully); a waitress who saw the entire thing was by my side until the ambulance came, and she talked to my husband to keep him informed of what was happening; and there was a young girl with her parents who kindly made me a pillow from her sweatshirt, got me water and helped me to drink it through a straw while I laid on my back on the floor in the St. Louis airport feeling like an idiot but thankful for the incredible help.
Needless to say, I did not make that flight or any other flight that day, as I ended up being taken by ambulance to the emergency room at the SSM De Paul hospital, where everyone was amazing and so kind. I am sure you can appreciate I was a little rattled by this time and, on top of it all, I was there by myself. A CAT scan was done to make sure I didn’t have a concussion, and an upper-body X-ray was taken to rule out any broken bones or fractures.
I left five hours later with six stitches in my right eyebrow, a wicked bruise that was already coming on full force, and a thankful heart that I had bled out and not in, as the doctor said. I was very relieved that I had not broken anything and thankful that I was only going to be banged up and sore. Fast-forward to now as I write this, my stitches are out, my multicolored black eye is starting to look a lot better and, although I am still sore, I am on the road to recovery.
So, why have I shared this story with you? Do you think it’s because I wanted to get some sympathy for myself or because I think I am the only person this kind of thing has ever happened to? No! I have shared it with you because of some important things that I took from this experience and would like to leave with you:
- Customer delight is not provided by handing someone a toll-free number and washing your hands of the issue. It is provided when you take the lead and make things right.
- Sometimes the plans we make in life don’t always go as we had envisioned, and we might have to hit the reset button.
- Sometimes you just have to go with the flow, not fight what is happening, and accept that you cannot control everything.
- Sometimes you might need to step back to heal in order to step forward to thrive.
- The great news is that kindness is alive and well in the world and human beings really do still care about others.
- Look for the good in those around you, and make sure you come to the aid of someone in need like the kind folks in St. Louis did for me.
- Be grateful.
- I think I just wrote a chapter for my book, Travels with Jane (LOL!)
- Last but not least, never ever travel without having up-to-date travel health insurance! (I am still waiting for the hospital bill but the ambulance bill is $1,557.33 USD)
To those of you who might read this story and realize I am the lady you helped, I want to offer you my sincere and profound thanks for taking such good care of me, for making it simple for me to let go and trust in your help, for everything you did to help me to get home safely and begin the healing process, and for all of your kindness and support. Our entire family is forever grateful! To everyone else, I hope this article has been inspiring and helps you to knock 2020 out of the park! Please feel free to share this article with your family, friends and colleagues.