When I answered the phone last Thursday afternoon, I said, “New Albany Gazette. May I help you?” I smile as I answer the phone, just the way I was trained to do many years ago in a customer-service class on phone etiquette.
It creates warmth in your voice and makes a good first impression on the caller, the trainer had said. Who knows if it works, but I still do it. Can’t hurt, and it might help.
“I’m trying to reach Wayne Mitchell,” said the caller, who was listed as “anonymous” on our caller ID window on the phone.
Uh, oh, it’s somebody trying to sell me something, I thought, as my smile faded.
“This is he,” I said, in a little sharper business tone.
“This is LeMarkus Jones from United Airlines in Chicago,” he said.
Double uh, oh, I thought. He’s probably calling to chew me out for writing a column about our problems with United, trying to get home from our summer vacation. United cancelled a flight, stranding Jenny and me in Chicago, and we ended up having to rent a car and drive home.
Jones, who I learned later is manager of corporate customer care at United, said he had read my column and wanted to get more information about which flight I had written about and the details.
I was stunned. How had he seen the column, which had only appeared in the Gazette the day before?
He said the airline has a service that culls Facebook, other social media and web sites to find out what people are saying about their experience with United because they want to improve the airline’s relationship with its customers.
We discussed how few vacant seats exist on airline flights these days, which is good for the airlines, but not so good for customers if a flight is cancelled. In our case, it was going to be more than 24 hours before United could find two seats for us on another flight.
During what turned into a very pleasant conversation, I learned that he was born in Tunica, but left Mississippi to attend UCLA and now was settled in Chicago. And he learned a little about Jenny and me and our travels, as well as a bit about New Albany.
He said he couldn’t find any record of me filing a complaint with United about our experience. I told him I generally wasn’t the kind of person who complains, and that United had sent us a small refund for the unused portion of our tickets.
He said he was going to send us vouchers good for a discount on a future trip on United because we had incurred so much expense. I told him that was not necessary, but he insisted, saying it is what he does for customers who have similar problems.
A few minutes after hanging up the phone, he sent a note by email thanking me for taking time to discuss our flight problems with him. A day later, the vouchers arrived by e-mail.
In a short time, Jones changed our whole view of United, as an airline and as a business.
Customer service 101. He gets it.
T. Wayne Mitchell, publisher of the Gazette, can be reached at 662-534-6321 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.