Service of Someone at the Other End of the Line

January 23rd, 2014

Categories: Communications, Customer Care, Customer Service, Travel

Vintage telephone operator

In the middle of Tuesday’s snowstorm, while we were crawling in traffic, I listened to a friend call a hotel restaurant–our destination. She wanted to say we might be late. She also wanted to ask which entrance we should take as there were several. [One of us had recently recovered from a broken ankle which sported a pin. She wasn’t in the mood for a hospital reprise from a misstep in slush/ice/snow.] After as many as 25 rings she ended in voicemail, left the message and asked that someone return the call to inform her about the entrance. Nobody called.

On phone in snowShe next tried the hotel switchboard—where the operator answered the entrance question—and after many more rings, still nobody picked up. On our arrival–the room was almost empty due to the weather–my friend asked the hostess if there was a phone at her station and recounted her experience. “Someone picks up downstairs,” the hostess replied, noting that yes, there also was a phone at her station.

After this the service was perfect.

Delta takeoffMy friend was due to leave the city Tuesday evening but her flight was cancelled. This well-travelled Elite Service member called me the next morning to tell me of an astonishing thing that just happened when she called Delta Airlines to gauge her chances for her Wednesday afternoon flight. A computer voice welcomed her by name, apologized that the airline had to cancel her Tuesday flight and asked her to push a letter on her phone if she wanted to speak with someone. She did, expecting to wait ages when almost immediately a live person asked her, again by name, how she might help her.

Even though when we spoke** she still didn’t know whether or not the afternoon flight would go—all Wednesday morning and night flights had already been cancelled—this 30 year Elite Service member was brimming with delight that it had been so easy for her to reach a live voice, at an airline no less, under these stressful [for them after a storm with so many cancelled flights] circumstances! “It was a first,” she said. **She was scheduled to depart on the afternoon flight when we spoke again just before takeoff.

Hooray for Delta! What a difference an easily accessible caring voice can make. Wonder why more businesses don’t realize this [especially one, like the hotel restaurant, that’s already paying for two people to answer a phone and nobody does]?

Children playing telephone 1

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6 Responses to “Service of Someone at the Other End of the Line”

  1. CKP Said:

    What an appropriate post for a blog on service!

    I have travelled a lot over the years because of my job and sometimes in dangerous and unhappy places. Consequently, I used to find it especially reassuring that American Express, although they charged more, had live knowledgeable, English speaking operators to help you if something went wrong. Then, playing “follow the leader,” they automated and worse, subcontracted their telephone answering to India. I complained. Nobody cared, and I cancelled my card.

    Even worse are the automated phone services used by otherwise great doctors. Although I cannot prove it, I’ll bet that those infernal machines have already cost lives.

    Please keep on reminding us that good service is what people, not machines, do for you.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It is frustrating when you can’t get through to a doctor’s office. I asked my eye doctor’s staff about this.I’d leave a message about making an appointment and I wouldn’t hear back from anyone which meant I had to remember to call again. The receptionist told me next time to hang up and call again as I’d probably get through to a person the second [or third] time. Hence my advice is to ask the doctor’s assistant or receptionist what the trick is. They’ll know!

    To your first point, when there’s weather trouble at an airport, there’s pandemonium. When folks used travel agents, you called yours and from their desk in a calm office they’d sort you out. I get goose bumps when I think of an airport horror experience a friend wrote about on this blog in “Service of Travel,” She spent a night from hell in an abandoned airport. I suppose she should consider herself lucky that she and her business associates weren’t sent out to sleep on the flightline.

  3. DManzaluni Said:

    You have obviously missed the most important trend in call services recently: Computers which answer and are programmed to speak like a human, which engage in banter “how are you?……I am fine thanks, thank you for asking,………….what can I do for you……..So you would like to book a flight……etc etc etc” and which can recognise all the most obvious questions and repeat what you say “So you want to go from Boston to Los Angeles, right? So you want to go from Boston to Los Angeles, right?” then before you say anything else, you cant move on until the computer hears a YES ” So you want to go from Boston to Los Angeles, right?”

    Obviously, if you become aware of this, you arent going to get any great deals in flights from a oomputer which is only going to look up obvious information you could look up yourself!

    (BTW, as far as canceling Amex is concerned, they are the only company which doesnt do this and they have without a doubt the best telephone support in America!)

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    D Manzaluni,

    I imagine my friend has had her fill of those voices which is why she stopped everything to call me about the real voice, even though we’d spent hours together the day before.

    Whether or not the company doesn’t use a computer with lifelike voice [annoying as most of the time my question isn’t one of the obvious ones–and you may not want to say “yes,”–so I hit 00000000 with fingers crossed that I can get out of the computer nightmare to speak with someone], I think many businesses expect you to use their website for info.

    That’s another potential horror….especially when they haven’t updated the information and you show up at the airport or train station when all flights are cancelled or having just missed a train you could have caught but didn’t because somebody forgot to update. This need happen only once and it’s back to looking for confirmation with a real person.

    As for the restaurant, this wasn’t a fast food joint but an elegant place where you would expect someone to pick up the phone.

    I keep thinking of the instance I’ve written about previously: Another friend’s advice to her hotel clients. She applauds their use of the latest technology to capture the hearts and business of the tech-savvy who want all the info they need to check in flashing on their smartphone as they walk off their flight. She warns the hotel owners not to forget their other customers who want valet service to take a suitcase to their room etc. If they do, they will soon be out of business.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Storms tend to knock the feathers out of most of us. While not standing up for the hotel, we don’t know what kind of crisis might have been taking place at the times unanswered calls were placed, and that people just weren’t standing around there watching phones ring.

    Let’s not compare an airline to a hotel, which if not member of a chain, is a relatively small operation and may not have the resources for so fine a phone system.

    It’s easy to criticize, but not wise to do so unless all the facts are at hand.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I chose the two businesses as one was far more stressed than the other–handling thousands of callers in an industry known for horrible service yet it did a great job–while the other, in a place with a reputation for fine service and plenty of staff to provide it and prices to cover the cost of their being there, was sub-par in a similar aspect of service.

    The facts we had support my scorn: The restaurant was almost empty, hence the hostess didn’t have work to do other than stand at the entrance. The wait staff was there in spades so she wasn’t pinch-hitting for anyone in that regard. Had the person downstairs, who also was supposed to pick up the phone, not made it in because of the weather, she could easily have answered phones.

    Another fact: The operation is not small, it shouldn’t need any fancy phone system and even on the busiest day, two people could easily have kept up with the standard number of calls that come in to a place like this.

    Further, why make a customer wait 25 rings before an answering system picks up to take a message? Does anyone listen to the messages? Apparently not.

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