Ritz-Carlton Demonstrates Customer Service Excellence With Missing Stuffed Animal

I think I must be hormonal, because this story just made me tear up. The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Amelia Island, Florida, is getting some social buzz this week because of the video posted above, which details their quest to go above and beyond for exceptional customer service.

The story is simple: a family went on vacation and left behind their son’s beloved stuffed animal, Joshie. Riley, the family’s child was notably upset at the loss of his favorite toy giraffe. Luckily, the Ritz-Carlton notified the family that the giraffe had been found safely in the laundry and would be returned as soon as possible.

But here’s where the magic happened: dad Chris Hurn, seen in the video above, asked if the hotel would help substantiate a little white lie that he’d told his son, namely that Joshie was taking a few extra days of vacation and that he hadn’t been forgotten.

What arrived? In addition to Ritz-Carlton swag, Joshie came home with a storybook binder detailing his trip, including photos at the spa, the pool, with the resort’s parrot and even in the loss prevention office (where he got an honorary security badge).

The work surrounding the story was substantial, and from what we’ve seen of Ritz-Carlton hotels, isn’t out of the ordinary – one time we entered the Ritz-Carlton Georgetown to find a photo of us and our dog by the bedside table.

But it’s certainly a heartwarming tale, and one we particularly love because it wasn’t part of a PR stunt or media blitz. It’s simply a great example of a luxury brand proving why people would want to pay extra to stay in a hotel of this class.

Kudos, Ritz-Carlton.

Hurricane rebooking madness: US Airways wins, American loses

Stella Service just captured an interesting slice of airline customer service data during hurricane Irene. The weather catastrophe, which stranded hundreds of thousands of travelers throughout the weekend, left many trying to rebook their tickets at the airport and on the phone — only to be met with hours of on-hold-music and frustration.

Not all airlines handled the disaster equally, however. Based on a series of eight test phone calls and a dozen tweets to each airline, Stella determined the responsiveness of each airline and ranked them accordingly. What they found was that on average, hold times with US Airways were an average of only 2 minutes and 38 seconds long, while to reach an agent at American it took over an hour and a half.

Similarly, Delta was the best at responding to Twitter issues, responding to 100% of Tweets in an average of 14 minutes, while neither American nor United nor AirTran even bothered to respond.

These data paint a rough portrait of the state of customer service at the airlines during a weather emergency, though they should be taken with a grain of salt. In their defense, American and Delta have more flights departing from New York City, so it follows that more passengers were probably displaced on those carriers. Southwest and US Airways, conversely, have their major hubs inland.

Attention to Twitter, however, is harder to defend. Any airline can devote manpower to a Twitter feed, and letting customers stew in that medium without resolution is just plain irresponsible. As a silver lining to this study, hopefully these data provide incentive for the airlines to put more thought into their social media strategies.

You can read the full dataset over at the Stella Blog.Update 1: United Airlines issued the following statement following the release of this data:

STELLAService sent 12 Tweets to our inactive @Continental handle, and we replied to six of those from our active @United account. A short time later, we saw the same 12 questions submitted to the @United handle. STELLAService’s assertion is that we didn’t reply to any of the questions they submitted to @United, which is only true because we had already answered the identical questions they submitted to @continental.

Had we not answered the questions they tweeted to our inactive @continental handle, we would have replied to the questions they tweeted to our active @United handle, just as we replied to more than 200 other customer inquiries on Twitter.

Update 2: American Airlines issued the following statement following the release of this data:

We disagree with the findings of the study. We believe it is highly inaccurate and based on an insufficient sample size – eight calls and 12 tweets on average – that that skewed results and does not represent reality. We handled more than 100,000 calls on Friday, and during the period in question our customers waited an average of 21 minutes – far less than alleged and in line with most of our peers. Our response time for AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold customers averaged from 30 seconds to less than three minutes per call. Of the 78 tweets directed to us from Thursday through Sunday, a significant number of which did not request action, we responded to 46 tweets either publicly or privately to assist customers, and we also sent four proactive tweets with travel information related to the storm. Each day, and especially in times of service disruption, we make responding to and informing our customers – whether through social or other traditional direct channels – our highest priority.

Five reasons the airlines don’t need to care about you

I’m getting on a plane next week, and I’m not looking forward to it. This will be yet another long, painful flight this year – and I’ve already had more than I have in a while. Though I’m getting used to this sort of business travel again, I can’t say that I like it. All the time spent in transit, quite frankly, blows.

It isn’t unusual at this point to lament the state of customer service in an industry that won’t even call us customers. How nice it would be to be treated well and given a product worth consuming, right? Well, we all know that isn’t going to happen. And the truth is that there’s no reason for it.

The airline industry really wouldn’t benefit from making our lives better, while the impact of the status quo on airline shareholders is as positive as it is evident. Let’s take a look at five reasons why it would be stupid for the airlines to start treating us better:
1. You get what you pay for: when I booked my flight to London (my upcoming trip), one thing mattered: price. I went with Delta, and it’s been years since I’ve had a good experience on that carrier. That didn’t matter to me, though. Price did.

Even if good service were a differentiator, it probably wouldn’t cause sales to surge. If you don’t pay extra for leg room or other forms of premium seating, then you definitely wouldn’t pay more for a ticket on an airline committed to customer service.

2. The current model seems to be working: a la carte pricing, extra fees and few (if any) amenities – along with route cuts and other operational changes – have taken the airlines out of the red and into the black. They’re making money, which really is the only reason they exist.

The fact that people gripe doesn’t mean they aren’t responding to the product. We’re spending a lot of money on extras … because we want them. Lower fares, net of amenities, provide travel consumers with the starting place they want. They can add (and pay) if they choose. In this market, service just isn’t a priority.

3. The right people are happy: the first thing you’ll learn in any business ethics course is that a company’s primary obligation is to its shareholders. So, if a company can create shareholder wealth while pissing off its customers, then it should probably stay the course. The airline industry, generally, has been doing this.

If shareholders are happy, we don’t have to be. If customer service becomes a problem for airlines to the point that it causes sales to drop, then the shareholders won’t be happy, and customer service becomes a priority.

4. Expectations are low and probably won’t change: let’s say you’re an airline executive, and you want to rehabilitate your company’s image. What would you have to do? The answer is pretty simple: spend a lot of money. You’d have to invest in equipment, operations, training and (after that) marketing. You’d have to change the business fundamentally, and it would cost a fortune. Would you do all this just to keep your customers happy? In all likelihood, you’d do it only if the financial upside were sufficient to justify the hefty investment. The outcome you’d need, however, doesn’t seem likely in this market.

It’s not impossible. JetBlue did turn itself around a few years ago, becoming an efficient and customer-friendly organization. It’s a smaller airline, though, which made the process easier. Also, there were issues beyond customer service that made such a bold change necessary.

5. You wouldn’t appreciate it anyway: why? Let’s face it – we buy on price. It keeps coming back to that. We want cheap, and airlines want profit. The airlines have found a way to deliver the former in a way that enables the latter. The travel industry and its consumers appear to have found some degree of balance in this regard. Ultimately, we really don’t care much about service … so why should the airlines?

[photo by Refracted Moments via Flickr]

Spirit Airlines goes public … with dirty laundry

Remember when Spirit Airlines talked about going public? The company felt the need to disclose customer service as a critical risk in its initial public offering documents. One would expect nothing less from the carrier that used flight attendant-turned nutjob-turned spokesman Steven Slater to sell seats. Well, Spirit hopped into the arena of public finance, raising $187.2 million in its initial public offering last week.

What’s interesting is that the folks with the dough – Indigo Partners and Oaktree Capital Management – weren’t shy about looking for the exits. In addition to revealing the problems with “[n]egative publicity regarding our customer service,” Spirit noted in its filing:

“After the offering, our private equity sponsors may elect to reduce their ownership in our company or reduce their involvement on our board of directors, which could reduce or eliminate the benefits we have historically achieved through our relationships with them.”

Time to brace?

Poll: Cruise vs Air: who has the best customer service?

Not long ago we talked about what airlines could learn from cruise lines and started a bit of a firestorm in comments from readers. I also got a bunch of emails both in support and against cruise lines and airlines. It seems some readers have a horror story to tell, others think one or the other does a good job and a few have inspiring tales of customer service people who really went above and beyond the call of duty.

How about you? Have you had the need to engage customer service people at either an airline or cruise line? If so, how did that go for you? Vote in our poll today and feel free to add a comment, share a story, vent your frustration or applaud great stuff that has happened to you.

Flickr photo by hjl