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Why aren’t you listening to me?

In December I had to fly to the Seattle area for our project in Gig Harbor, WA. I flew Alaska Airlines, as they have a non-stop flight from Kansas City. They have an alliance arrangement with Delta Airlines where I have Diamond status. So on the flight home I was upgraded to first class.

Alaska called my cell phone the day before my flight home with an automated voice call to let me know I had been upgraded. The call told me about the upgrade, but also told me that my reservation code was changed. I was not able to write the changed code down at the time. I have never experienced a change of the reservation code on an upgrade on any other airline. But if that’s the way they do it, as long as it works, that was fine with me.

But when I went on-line to print out my boarding pass the night before my fight, I couldn’t, as it required my reservation code. No sweat, I figured. I’ll just get my boarding pass at the airport and hopefully there won’t be a long line at the counter – I hate wasting time in lines, as I’m sure you do also.

When I arrived at the airport, there was a very short line and I went up to an agent who issued my boarding pass. I commented to her that it would be more convenient for customers that if Alaska would text a reservation code change rather than use a voice call. She agreed. I then suggested she pass that on to management. She replied that management won’t listen to the frontline staff and I should directly pass the suggestion on to management using a comment form or on their website. I told the agent I wasn’t interested in taking the time to do that and walked away somewhat pissed.

Here’s what went through my mind at the time, “I’m taking the time to offer the company a suggestion on how to improve the customer experience, which most customers won’t even considering doing. I’m talking to their frontline staff, the face of the company that customers interact with, and being told they don’t want to listen. Instead, they want me to make an additional effort and take time to write my comment down and send it to them. Forget it. So the bottom line is they are telling me they don’t value my suggestion.”

I’m not trying to pick on Alaska Airlines. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had similar experiences with companies’ customer service representatives, both in person as well as on the phone. It’s just that the Alaska experience is the last one I had and the one that has prompted me to write this blog.

What a missed opportunity for companies. It’s the frontline staff that gets the feedback from customers. It’s just downright stupid for companies to block that communication channel and wait for customers to directly communicate with management. Most customers won’t bother unless they have had really bad experience. The ones who have suggestions on how to improve things will just walk away like I did and opportunities to get better will vanish, just like photos do on Snapchat.

This is the problem with most companies today. They have too many levels of personnel and management, so what the frontline hears never gets to the people who can make changes. The smart companies, even the large ones, understand that it is frontline staff who hear the voice of the customer, they value that input and set up communication channels so it reaches top management where it is listened to. It’s the stupid companies who expect the customer to go out of their way to be heard. What a loss for them.

So, getting back to my experience with Alaska Airlines, here’s a rely from the agent that would have really wowed me, “Gee Mr. White, that is a great suggestion. I will make sure to pass it on to management. Would you like me to follow up with you and let you know what happens? I’ll be glad to do so if you let me take down your email address.”

And then if I actually got a follow up email from the agent, good or bad, that would have made me feel that the company really valued me as a customer. The result would probably be to put them on my preferred airline list.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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