Paying it forward pays off!


With the advent of social media, customers who feel mistreated can freely admonish and disparage companies online, usually with impunity.  A great example of this new dynamic, is the recent Twitter skirmish between conservative commentator Anne Coulter and Delta Airlines.  Ms. Coulter unleashed a barrage of insults towards Delta, over a last second seat reassignment.  She was immediately berated on Twitter as someone who was self-entitled and deserving of public shame and scorn.

Delta responded like most companies, by trying to appease Ms. Coulter and squelch the online tirade.  However, as the backlash against Coulter began to grow, Delta decided to launch a final (and sarcastic) salvo at her, by offering a $30.00 refund for the inconvenience.

As most of us have experienced, flying can be a very stressful and exhausting endeavor.  I flew down to Rio, a few years ago on American Airlines to meet some friends to celebrate the New Year.   I had been to Rio a few times before and assumed that my visa was still valid from the previous trip.  However, when I arrived, I discovered that my visa had expired and that I would not be allowed entry into Brazil.

You can only imagine how surprised and frustrated I was about flying a total of 13 hours to my destination, only to be denied entry.  I tried to persuade and reason with the Brazilian customs officials to grant me an exception, to no avail.  As the reality of my predicament began to sink in, I felt a mix of shame and frustration.  How could I have overlooked my visa status?  Why didn’t the airline confirm my visa status during check-in?

Once I accepted my fate, I began to consider my options for returning back home to L.A.  I made my way to the American Airlines lounge, where I was greeted by a very friendly and helpful employee.  I explained my situation to him and he empathized with me and immediately began to search for flights that would get me back to L.A. asap.  However, it was late and most flights were not available until the following morning.

The friendly associate was able to find a flight back to Miami, which left in an hour but my connection to L.A. would not have departed until the next day.  Which meant that I was destined to spend a night in the airport, whether it was in Miami or in the Rio airport – was up to me.

The associate sensing my disappointment, began to explain that the lounge was equipped with showers and that I could help myself to their buffet.  Once the idea of showering and eating a good meal, popped into my mind – my disposition began to change.  I accepted the fact that I was not going to be able to enjoy a festive New Years Eve in Rio, and that I had wasted my time and money traveling so far.

Despite my debacle, I was impressed with the attentiveness of the American Airlines employee.  He went out of his way to assist me which helped alleviate some of the stress I was experiencing after a long flight.

The following morning, I awoke, took another shower and grabbed a quick breakfast before heading towards my departing flight.  The helpful attendant was long gone, but I had decided that I was going to write a glowing letter of recommendation for him.

After arriving back in L.A., after another long journey.  I was completely exhausted and slept for quite a long time.  A couple of days later, I wrote an online letter to American Airlines, explaining my situation and expressing my appreciation for the employee’s assistance and professionalism.

When I wrote my letter, I had no expectations of a reply or remuneration.  However, one week  later, I received an email from the airline, informing me that they were at fault for not verifying my visa status prior to departure.  They also indicated their appreciation of my kind remarks regarding the Rio based employee, and that they would be refunding my original ticket purchase AND sending me an additional international travel voucher.   I was elated!

I was quite surprised at their generosity and prompt reply.  Once again, I had no expectation of a refund, I simply wanted to acknowledge the great customer service I had experienced during my stay at the airport.

I assume that 99% of all letters written by customers are to express their frustration and disappointment with their service.  By taking the time, to share positive feedback on my travel experience, I was able to turn a botched situation into a blessing.

Throughout the years, I’ve made a habit of sharing positive stories about my customer service experiences and the good karma just continues to flow.  Next time you encounter a friendly and helpful employee, take the time to let them know how much you appreciate their attitude and extra effort.



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