Top-flight Customer Problem Solving

January 24, 2013 10 Comments

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By Allen F. Weitzel

I wish to revisit a familiar topic. One of my favorite stories is also an example of great customer service and problem solving.

Where It Starts

In 1978, my brother, Warren, and I were amusement industry veterans and we were both asked to speak at the IAAPA Convention in Atlanta, Ga. Warren was a newlywed, so his bride, Debbie, joined us on the trip – a second honeymoon. My wife was at home with our 1-year-old son. It was Debbie’s first exposure to the extravaganza of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions event. She was dazzled.

The Set Up

At the convention, the Games Committee had pulled out all the stops and presented a midway mock-up, complete with gaming tents and pitch games. They also partnered with a plush company, so the games were set up to allow the conventioneers to easily win prizes. Debbie wanted us to try our hand. Being a park veteran, I won a huge, white, stuffed dog right away. Debbie and Warren also played and, having many years of practice, came away with two dogs. These plush prizes were 42 inches in height, each.

The Prep

Also a veteran of travel, I knew it would be tough for me to haul the monster-size plush home on the plane. I quickly found a child who was also playing the games. He had won two small stuffed squirrel prizes. I asked the boy first, if he wanted to trade the two ‘suitcase-size’ squirrels for my big white stuffed dog. He was excited! After I knew the boy wanted them, I asked his mother if it was all right. What is she going to say? To refuse her son at that point would be impossible. I went back to Warren and Debbie and explained my strategy of trading my large dog for small suitcase-size plush. Debbie said she was going to take her dogs home on the plane, to which I thought, “Good luck, Deb!’

Battling The Airlines

The day we were to fly home to California, we were running abnormally late, for us. Debbie was still planning to take her dogs home. We decided to check in at the curb, to save time. The Delta Airlines attendant at the curbside said we would have to check our luggage at the inside ticket counter, because of the dogs. At the counter, we realized were running later than we thought. The counter attendants were perplexed by Debbie’s additional luggage of these two large, pure-white plush animals. We were told that we should have checked them at the curb, too late now. The attendant accepted our luggage, but suggested we check the dogs at our assigned gate.

Pass The Buck

At our gate, that attendant was just as frustrated. Now, Debbie was persistent yet polite, but she knew how to use her charm to get what she wanted. Time, now, was a critical factor. Plane departure was upon us. The Delta counter personnel decided to pass us along to the flight attendants, and hope there was carry-on room inside the plane. We hurried down the ramp; Debbie clutching her carry-on bags and Warren hugging two big, white dogs, one under each arm. The flight attendants were cheerful until they saw the three Weitzels and two stuffed dogs approaching the cabin. When Debbie explained her plight, the senior attendant firmly said they had a full flight and all carry-on space was in use. She told Debbie that they could call the baggage staff to come up and take the dogs, tag them, and stow them in the storage hold. Debbie said the dogs would get dirty there. The attendant started to inform Debbie that she may have to leave the dogs in Atlanta as the plane was ready to “pushback” and depart.

The Rescue

Just as the crunch-time moment approached, the Captain stepped from the cockpit and asked about the hold up. The attendant explained the whole story, but also advised that there was no space for the dogs. The Captain said, “That’s okay, they can fly in the cockpit jump seat with us, back to California.” And, so they did! Problem solved!

The Lesson

Customer service is joined at the hip with problem solving. The larger lesson is not only the issue of solving dilemmas that customers present to the line employees. The staff higher up in the work or management chain must be prepared to and capable of calmly solving tough problems quickly and with elegance. You must be prepared to provide top-flight customer service, and be a hero.

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10 Comments to “Top-flight Customer Problem Solving”
  1. Barbara Hogan says:

    Great article! I always enjoy Allen’s work because he makes it interesting, funny and always a good lesson to learn about his topic.

    Thanks again Allen.

    • Barbara, Thank you for reading the blog and providing comments. Sometimes, due to word count in a publication, writers cannot always put in as much humor or personality as we would like, for the readers. It is great when we can include a story, and the story itself provides the lesson/problem, some humor, and the solution. We were lucky that this story provides all three elements in a small space. I am pleased that you and other readers are receiving value from the blog. Thanks again for reading and responding. Warm regards, Allen

  2. Sandy Farmer says:

    Hi Allen,
    Enjoyed reading one of your stories. Very entertaining. Providing excellent customer service and problem solving requires giving your customer everything they expect and more. It is extremely important to that customer. Thank you for sharing the story about the dogs,Warren, his late wife Debbie and you. Jim has spoken about Warren for years and I finally got to meet him. He is a very special person. We became friends instantly.
    Thank you again,
    Jim and Sandy

    • Sandy, I’m happy you liked the story/blog. Good customer service is not difficult to provide if one thinks about it. The first key is to understand what the customer would like to see happen, then one follows the steps from there. I’m glad you and Warren hit it off. He’s a sharp guy and always willing to share what he knows. Thanks for reading the blog and sharing your thoughts. Warm regards, Allen

  3. Mark Hada says:

    Nice story and an elegant solution – thanks for sharing.

    Mark

    • Mark, Glad you liked it. Though we lived it, it was a perfect problem and problem-solved scenario. I’m glad we were smart enough to see it as that. Often times, people do not see the lessons to be learned when they appear right in front of them. Thanks again, Allen

  4. Paul Warren says:

    Dear Mr. Weitzel: I’d like to echo the comments of Mark Hada. That’s
    certainly an entertaining and effective story of good customer service.

    I enjoy your blogs. You have a unique and captivating style of
    weaving good business practices into a story format. Keep up
    the good work.

    Could you tell us a little more about your career and perhaps how
    you got into your line of work.

    Warmly,

    Paul Warren
    Faithful reader.

    • Paul, I am pleased that you and other readers are receiving value from the blog. We try to put a fair amount of time into topic selection and providing solutions, as opposed to some blogs where the writer merely wants to vent without substance. As far as my background, I started working as ride operator at a mid-size California park, and after about 18 months, I found myself in a management role. I progressed from there. I worked in 3 different parks, performed consulting for many others, and have worked in every job/department found in our industry – which has helped me relate to our readers. Thanks again for reading and responding. Warm regards, Allen

  5. Gary Marzano says:

    Allen, Good story…. I think a lot of that may be lost these days as everyone struggles for cheaper/faster but not necessarily better. Now days the 3 of you might all be sitting on the curb. Gary

    • Thanks, Gary. It’s always nice to receive input from professionals like yourself. You are probably right. We, most likely, would have not enjoyed the same result in 2013, if we had the same problem in front of us. I was impressed how the Captain took charge and resolved the situation without painstaking trouble-shooting. I guess that’s why he’s the captain. We should all aspire to be the captain. Best, Allen

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