Today I was told that several South American countries, in particular Ecuador, have tighter restrictions on baggage weight around the holidays. I don't know how much truth there is to this claim, but it seems like passengers are only allowed 23Kg per bag and can't pay for overweight baggage. I learned about this law the hard way when I was checking in for my flight at 3:30 am this morning and found out that one of my bags weighed 25Kg and the other weighed an embarrassing 29Kg. The airline clerk not-so-politely informed me that there is an "embargo" type law that that would not allow me to check my bags. I was not happy with the way she handled the situation and my overall experience with COPA Airlines today has not been very good.
Since this morning I have been paying close attention to the COPA staff and one thing I have noticed is that they don't seem to be very enthusiastic about the company they work for. In at least three separate occasions today I heard the classical "well it's not my fault" response to a customer's complaint. I'm not suggesting that employees should take personal blame for all things that annoy customers, but for a company to really have an effective customer service every single employee has to be committed to providing an exceptional customer service and truly believe that is their job, not just push around a beverage cart and harass customers to put their seat in the upright position. The airline business is a very tough one and the last thing any airline needs is a reputation for bad customer service.
To be fair, the airline attendants are not entirely at fault at COPA. It is mostly the fault of senior management not having the right priorities and reading through the editorial of the airline magazine I now have a clear picture of what their priorities are. The president of the company emphasizes new destinations, environmental friendliness and pilot training programs as the most important achievements of 2008 but never talks about customer service. Technology and a green image can be paid for and are easy to improve on, but it seems to me that there has been little to no investment in the aspects of the business that interact with the client.
Several technological tools, such as better seat assignment software or a more modern feel with more comfortable seats, can positively impact the customer experience and make it easier for the employees to focus on providing outstanding service. However, if customer services is not ingrained in the company culture and senior management rewards that behavior as a core value, spending money on new technology will not fundamentally transform a company in and of itself.
I think I have been hung up on customer service for the past few days because I recently had a great customer service experience. I went to a Jason's Deli in Richmond, VA, and ordered a half muffaletta but when the order came out I was presented with only a quarter. I made a comment about it and the waiter (probably one of the managers, now that I think about it) immediately shot back "sorry about that, let me get you another quarter then". He didn't say "sorry, pay more attention next time" or "well what did you pay for?" or didn't even try to blame it on the guy at the register who was not paying attention when he took my order. Even though I told him I didn't need the full half because I only paid for a quarter, he brought it anyway and said something along the lines of "I know what you really wanted was a half and you weren't getting what you wanted. Here's another quarter for you". Now THAT is awesome customer service. The incremental cost of that quarter muffaleta is insignificant compared to the good will the business is building with it's customers.
I am probably biased against COPA right now because of the incident with my baggage checking in, and getting stuck on the very last row of the plane - the one that doesn't recline - for a 6 hour flight, but my opinion stands regarding their customer service: It is not good and it has to improve if COPA wants to compete with LAN and the other Latin American carriers. I wish I had flown Jason's Airlines instead. I'm also certain the food would have been better.
In case you were still wandering how the baggage problem got sorted out, you may want to know that I am now carrying more than a dozen books in a plastic bag as part of my carry on luggage. It's not that bad if you don't count people looking at me like a cheapskate who couldn't afford another carry-on and the hassle of finding enough overhead space. By the way, I should probably explain that even though I'm only going on vacation for tree weeks, the majority of things filling my luggage where entrusted to me in some way, including a box of books form my dear sister.
Disclaimer: Having grown up in a small town I don't consider myself a huge complainer, but I thought I would share this experience with you and start implementing the feedback I have received regarding the other two posts (and not doing a very good job at it, might I add). Also, I'm still doing my research to find more info on this crazy baggage-natzi law and share it with you if I do.