Patient Experience And Wearing Sensible Black Pumps  

The TSA line was not open Sunday at Philadelphia International Airport. So like everyone else I made my way through the line that resembled the cattle pens at some Midwestern stockyard. As I approached the disrobing station I watched curiously the machinations of those who proceeded me—shoes off—no you may not take off the shoes of the person next to you even if you know them, belts off, remove your laptops and implanted medical devices. Watching everyone struggle to complete these basic tasks reminded me of what it would be like to watch chimps learning to use cutlery.

The next thing I remember was the flight attendant speaking, “In the unlikely event of a water (crash) landing your seatback cushion may be used as a flotation device.” Last year was notable for a high number of water landings in the southern Pacific Ocean. Of the thousands of hours of newscasts about those landings, not a single one of them displayed a picture of any seatback cushion serving as a flotation device.

So, the entire purpose of this missive is, how did I come to be on this particular flight Sunday? It is a good story, and one I thought I would never write. All of the credit is due to Tina. And who is Tina? Permit me to tell you.

I am flying to Detroit. I knew I was scheduled to fly to Detroit at 3:35 PM. However, Detroit was in the process of getting a foot or so of snow. I called my travel agent—is there any way I can get an earlier flight or fly on another airline or fly through another city and do the bunny hop from there to Detroit?

No. There is not. Her answer was quick. Too quick for my liking. Too quick to lead me to believe that she did anything other and glance at the Weather Channel and conclude—you are toast.

The time was 9:08 AM in Philadelphia. I called USAIR. I never voluntarily call USAIR. I would rather walk barefoot across the frozen tundra than call them. But one of the many voices in my head said you have nothing to lose.

And Tina from USAIR answered my call.

I explained to Tina Philadelphia, Detroit, and everything I knew about snow. Eskimos have more than forty words for snow. Tina considered that extraneous information. There was a pause in the conversation while Tina tried to help. Everything on the earlier flights on her airline and on other airlines was sold out—everyone else flying to Detroit Sunday was smarter than me and they called Saturday to change their flights.

There was another lengthy pause then, “Can you make the 11:10 A.M. flight?” I live an hour from the airport. I started shoving clothes into my suitcase without giving any single item much consideration. I do not know exactly what I packed, but it would not surprise me to find several pairs of my wife’s sensible black pumps strewn across the Marriott’s double bed. And if that is the case, chances are that I did not pack a suit that goes well with sensible black pumps.

Kudos to Tina. I do not know her last name or her employee number. Not only did Tina get me a seat on an earlier flight, I wound up sitting in first class.

I am not double platinum, chairman’s preferred anything. I have no incriminating information on the airline. I am just a passenger; like most of you. The kind of passenger who knows they are about to travel to the dark side. The kind of passenger who is told there are no seats available. Who is told, there is one seat left but it will cost you your first-born. On top of that, I have written a lot about the folly of flying, and most of it about the folly of flying on this airline. Enter Tina, stage-right. And there I was. And nobody was more amazed than me.

So what is my point? The point is that my travel agent made no effort, and she concluded she could not help me. Tina, on the other hand, made an effort. And Tina broke every rule in the book.

If anyone reading this happens to work for USAIR, please let me know how to thank Tina. If anyone reading this happens to work for USAIR, please promote Tina to Chief Customer Experience Officer.

From the perspective of USAIR’s executives, Tina just cost USAIR revenues by not charging me for changing flights, by not charging me for flying first class, and for my extra bag of pretzels.

Customer experience is what you make of it. And it takes work. It takes doing what is right, not what is expedient, not what is measured.

I am scheduled to fly home Thursday. Since I do not have Tina’s cell phone number, I have preloaded my angst to combat what I expect will happen when I next have to be a USAIR customer.

People call your company; patients call your health system. If you know anything about customer experience you know that a single good experience does not create loyalty. In fact, the simple act of having to contact a company, a health system, makes callers four times more likely to change providers. Callers expect a bad experience. And unfortunately, companies are happy to meet those expectations, and they do so at an alarming success rate.

Tina—call me!

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