How to Kill Customer Service With Bad Processes

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of process in delivering great customer experiences.

During my recent trip to Argentina and Toronto I’ve come across many process improvement opportunities that could help companies gain and retain customers.  A few examples:

How a Busy Hotel Could Have Kept a Cranky Crowd Happy


Key takeaway: Think about what your business can do to eliminate lineups or make them more pleasant.

Canada Customs Automation Fail!

After a 16 hour journey, we emerged, bleary-eyed, at Canada Customs & Immigration at Toronto’s Pearson Airport hideously early Saturday morning.

We were greeted with the exciting news that now you can have your declaration card scanned so you no longer have to line up to speak with a bored customs officer.  Yay! But …

  • Their staff were confused about where to direct people (not all were eligible to use the machines), so some went to the scanners, others into the wrong lines only to be told once they got to the front that they had to line up elsewhere.
  • They had ONE, yes, only one, person that all those of us who had used the scanners had to have manually check over the scan and our passports and mark that she had seen them. So how exactly was this saving any time? It just meant that someone a bit cheaper than a customs officer did the check, and they cut down from several inspectors to just one staffer even though she had to spend as much time per person! So the process was slower!
  • They then had TWO other checkpoints at which we had to show the scanned card and passports! (And we didn’t even have any checked baggage!) So, net, it isn’t clear they even cut back on the total number of staff needed for the process, they added hassle and expensive equipment, and made the process slower.

Air Canada Still Doesn’t Get Process & Customer Service

On our way from Edmonton to Buenos Aires, Air Canada informed us, shortly before our plane was supposed to board, that there were “mechanical problems”.

Every 45 minutes or so they further delayed their estimated departure time. A lineup of people worried about missing their connections in Toronto grew and grew.

  • Did Air Canada put anyone else on the desk to help answer questions and resolve concerns? No.
  • Did they look to see who might miss connections and offer to rebook those people on the next Air Canada flight to Toronto? No.
  • Worried that we would miss the once/day flight to Buenos Aires, I ran down to the gate of the other AC Toronto flight to see if we could get on it. Answer? No. In fact, said the agent, it is oversold. Too bad about your flight to South America.
  • Meanwhile, my husband was still in the enormous line at the original gate, and on the phone with his assistant and with Air Canada to see if anything could be done. Luckily, his employer books a LOT of travel, so he was able to access the premium phone line and actually speak to a real person. Surprisingly, they said sure, we’ll put you on the next flight. (The one I was told had been oversold.)
  • Did they bother to tell their own staff that they had given us seats? No. So, after we insisted and demanded that, if necessary, they check with their own booking agents, lo and behold two seats magically appeared on the “oversold” flight.

What amazes me is that in a business where delays and problems like this happen so often the airline still hasn’t figured out and implemented processes that work.

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