Companies can deliver stunning ads and effective marketing plans that create strong emotional reactions. But your personal experience creates a long-lasting impression. It comes down to customer service. What’s your amazing customer service story? Here’s one of mine.
In 1998, I was running a technical training department, selling capital equipment into semiconductor facilities. At the time, there was a lot of investment in new memory fabs in China, and that meant I spent a big chunk of my time in Shanghai, running onsite training programs.
One three-week trip routed me through the Narita, Tokyo, airport before heading to Shanghai. As I started my journey at security before boarding for Narita, I placed my luggage on the conveyor and moved forward. Unbeknownst to me, my planner binder (Remember those?) somehow got free of my laptop case and became wedged in the X-ray machine—where it stayed for an hour before they were able to get it out. Meanwhile, I had already boarded the plane and never heard the page calling me back to security. While it might seem a minor inconvenience to leave your planner at the airport, this particular book contained my passport, entry visa, boarding pass into Shanghai, and $500 in cash. I was in the air, headed to Tokyo, and completely unaware.
Somewhere over the Aleutian Islands, a voice in my head said to check on my planner. Imagine that profoundly sinking feeling when I realized I didn’t have it. Being this was 1998, I pulled out my credit card and used the airplane’s pay phone to call home. My wife quickly answered and I explained that I had lost my planner. I asked her to call the airport’s lost and found department, as well as Delta’s customer service number. I said I would call back in 30 minutes. Let me tell you, never had time moved so slowly as that half-hour.
When I called her back, she had plenty to report. Airport security had my planner, and would surrender it to Delta’s customer service, which had offered to put my planner on the next set of flights to Shanghai. Miraculously, it would arrive about 18 hours behind me. My planner would be delivered to my Shanghai hotel just as if it had been lost luggage.
Now, how did I get to Shanghai from Narita without a passport or boarding pass? I knew I could manage 18 hours without my planner, but I needed that paperwork for my connecting flight. I was pleasantly surprised once again when a Delta representative met me at the gate in Narita with a replacement boarding pass and a photocopy of my passport’s ID page. They said they would vouch for me at the gate, and when I arrived in Shanghai, another Delta agent would walk me through passport control with the photocopy.
Everyone involved knew that this was a high-risk plan; passport control officers might not let me through, in which case, I would have to wait in the international arrivals terminal for 18 hours until I could be reunited with my planner. Sitting on that plane, somewhere west of Kamchatka, this plan sounded preferable to being refused entry altogether.
I’m happy to say that the plan went off without a hitch. The Narita agent was there as I deplaned, holding a new boarding pass and two passport photocopies—one to show the gate agent and one for my pocket. Arriving in Shanghai, Delta once again came through. The next agent was there, waiting for me. She kindly walked with me all the way to the passport control desk, where I’m assuming she explained the situation (in Mandarin Chinese) to the officer and produced the passport photocopy. This conversation lasted for about two minutes, ending with a longish monologue from passport control before they both nodded, he stamped the two photocopies, and waved us on. The Delta agent motioned me to the side, explained that they were allowing me entry, and that my passport would be brought to passport control along with the stamped photocopy so that the stamp could be duplicated in my book prior to sending the whole planner on to my hotel.
The next day, while I was in my hotel still adjusting to the time change, I heard a knock at the door. A bellhop had my planner for me, the passport was stamped, and everything else—including the cash—was undisturbed. That, ladies and gentlemen, was customer service.
In this month’s issue of PCB007 Magazine, you won’t find customer service stories quite as harrowing as the one I’ve just described. Instead, our customer service coverage looks at the many facets of the industry by letting others tell their own stories. I am confident you will find something of value in at least one of those stories we tell.
Barry Matties files a dispatch from Houston, where The Ion’s Joey Sanchez is cultivating networks of people to bring complementary skills together. Joey’s philosophy is the core of customer-centric thinking. In addition, columnist Dan Beaulieu has been writing about customer service for years. We asked Dan to pick his five favorite columns on the topic and you’ll get to read those here.
Speaking of columnists, Paige Fiet discusses manufacturing as a customer service ecosystem, and Todd Kolmodin keeps his eye on positivity and morale in the workplace. Furthermore, you’ll find updates on solder mask legislation and regulation from Chris Wall, and an interview with American Standard Circuits’ John Johnson on their customer-driven focus on ultra HDI. Throughout the magazine this month you will find short pieces telling customer service stories meant to inform and inspire.
Customer service is equal parts science, art, and inspiration. Once you find your groove, you know—and you’ll know when you’ve fallen out of the groove as well. Delta Airlines demonstrated impeccable customer service for me, halfway across the globe. There is plenty of customer service success in our industry, too. As always, if you have story ideas, or your own customer service adventures to share, contact me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you.
This column originally appears in the May issue of PCB007 Magazine.