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Don’t let poor customer service impact you negatively

My brother a bad experience travelling on Christmas Day. He had a flight booked to Mexico. He hadn’t looked at an email that arrived the week before from the airline. Unbeknownst to him, his departure time had been moved forward from 1.30 pm to 7.00 am.

The woman that was working the check-in desk when my brother arrived was unable to find his flight reservation because it had been moved. She was a contractor and was inexperienced.

She told my brother that he had been the victim of an internet scam and that his $1600 was simply “gone.” She told him to go home and to be more careful next time.

It took my brother another 90 minutes for him to figure out what had happened, to read the email he had received, and to book a flight out the next day with the same airline with another agent at no additional cost.

My brother was aware that several people’s nerves were raw while he was waiting to be served. He watched several people “lose it.” There weren’t enough workers at the check-in desks and no one was managing the crowds. He saw a complete break-down in service from the airline.

Several days later, after he had landed in Mexico, he concluded that he could file this experience under the same heading he uses for the greater break-down of customer service he has been witnessing over the past several years.

Here is a partial sampling from the larger list he has compiled. You likely have a list of your own if you are over 40 and can remember the good old days when service was better.

  1. There aren’t enough cashiers at the grocery store, and you may be expected to check-out your own groceries if you shop after six pm.
  2. It’s difficult to get a good service provider on the phone when you call about your cell phone service, internet service, or cable service.
  3. You will likely have trouble getting someone to help you on the phone after you book a hotel room on-line.

But I digress. I should share how the Mexico story turned out. My brother wrote a letter of complaint to the airline about how he was treated at the airport. He was offered a credit voucher worth 6% of the purchase price of his ticket to apply towards his next flight. He laughed because he’s not inclined to fly with the airline again.

I write all this to illustrate the point that poor customer service has become increasingly common. I’m old enough to remember when a receptionist would answer the phone and ask you how she could help… but those days appear to be over.

So, what can you do when you know that service is not a priority, and that this has become the norm?  You know the lack of service is annoying, but it’s so pervasive that you can’t always vote with your feet and change providers because there may be no one better to turn to.

I know a few things you may find helpful when you find yourself in these situations.

  1. After hearing about people losing it at the airport, you can decide you won’t be one of them. A lack of service can be annoying, but you want to have a long, healthy life, and losing it will take years off your life. Anger causes micro tears to form in the arteries that direct blood away from your heart, and these micro tears cause hardening of the arteries. You don’t want to die young because of what a contractor at the airline counter says.
  2. You can get better at managing our anger so that you won’t feel tempted to lose it in the first place. It may take practice, and possibly the help of a good psychologist, but life is so much nicer after you’ve learned how to remain calm.
  3. You can get better at reading emails the airline sends prior to your departure date, and more philosophical about the fact that you didn’t read them when it leads to a mix-up. It may be tempting to get upset because you booked your flight months before your departure to avoid being in exactly the situation that the airline has put you in. This will only improve the situation 5% of the time, but improvements will come in 5% increments, and so onwards.
  4. Perhaps you need to accept there is no service these days because society has swung pretty far towards the “no service” side. Everyone seems to be accepting it, so perhaps you should, too. You don’t have to like it, or even agree with it, but for the sake of your heart, it will be healthy to try. You can grieve the fact that airline agents can be rude and get away with it. But if you’re unwilling to have your heart give out, it may be helpful to accept that service is what it is.
  5. You can vote with your feet to the degree that that’s possible. The moment you hear about a business that offers good service, your feet can be in motion. Some of these businesses exist, and they’re not necessarily more expensive. They’re just run by people that understand that offering  a coupon worth 6% of the original cost of a flight after a bad experience with an airline will not keep most people as a customer.


Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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