Greetings. Traveling is a great way to experience good and not-so-good customer service. So it seems fitting that our trip to Sweden would begin with some exciting lessons. The excitement began when we arrived at Dulles Airport to check in for our flight. As a bit of background information you should know that we always arrive at the airport three and a half hours early for international flights. It's a great way to avoid traffic on the Beltway and check in before a long line forms. That way we can sail through security, find seats at the gate, handle a few last minute emails, and then play soccer in the center of the terminal until it's time for boarding. It also gives us the chance to make sure that everything is okay with the seating assignments I arranged six months earlier and confirmed 48 hours ago. But this year, when we arrived at the SAS counter we were excited to learn that our seats had been changed due to "a change in aircraft." It seems that SAS had decided to send a plane with more business class seats and that decision meant shifting around all of us lucky devils in coach. So instead of the five window and aisle seats we had arranged, we were now moved to the middle of the plane. And, better yet, it was totally beyond the control of anyone working at the SAS counter or the gate. In fact, the new seat assignments were made by a computer somewhere else and, as the humans working there were quick to point out, "it's not our fault." And given that neither the computer nor the computer that supervises the computer that made the new seat assignments were willing to talk with us, we were stuck.
But we survived the flight and arrived safely the next morning. Which, in the final analysis, is the most important requirement for any flight. Comfort would have to wait until we arrived at our destination.
And wait it did, because the remarkable power and value of our reservations would rear its funny head again when we went to pick up our rental car at Europcar. For some strange reason, we arrived at their desk with a sense of confidence and optimism about quickly picking up our car and heading off to the beautiful Swedish countryside. An optimism fueled by their sign that read "inom 5 minuter ar du pa vag" which means–for you non-Swedish readers–that we would be on the road within 5 minutes. Now that's a cool promise. And they came within an hour and 55 minutes of achieving it. Because as I stood, with our confirmation and my Europcar "Privilege" card in hand, I was told that they had no record of our reservation or us. And that they were completely out of cars. They did agree that we had an actual reservation and that we actually existed, but it seemed as though our reservation had been made–and possibly canceled–by a Europcar computer and an international call center in England. And they were quick to tell us that the mistake was "not our fault." In fact, their initial response was that it was either our fault or the fault of some alien being posing as part of the vast company they worked for. That was a pretty amusing answer. And it wasn't until we mentioned that we were the customer and the call center was part of the very same company that they worked for that they started thinking about the problem with their initial response.
To their credit they then tried to locate a suitable car at one of the other car rental companies at the airport. And when this failed, agreed to contact another Europcar location in the hope of solving our problem. They finally found a car at a location in downtown Gothenburg–about 25 kilometers away, and told us that we could go there to retrieve it. All five of us. Along with our five large suitcases, four backpacks, a rolling computer bag, and a shortage of sleep. Yes, we do pack un-light. But remember, this is Sweden where summer weather has a bit of variation and you wouldn't want to be ill-prepared. We then suggested, again trying hard to think of ourselves as customers who were about to spend close to two thousand dollars to rent a Volkswagen Passat diesel station wagon (or "combi" as the locals call it), that it might be their responsibility to get the car to us. Now that sounded like an interesting idea, and after a bit of discussion they agreed to send one of their team members downtown to round up the vehicle.
He returned about an hour later with the car and we were finally on our way. To their credit, they were quite pleasant and ended up being quite helpful and understanding once they realized that it was part of the responsibility of working for a company that offers and reserves goods and services in different locations around the world. Even an apparently less than coordinated and collaborative company. And, they were even willing to give us the rate that was quoted in our written confirmation instead of the new and significantly higher rate that came up in the computer. Thank goodness for that as I was beginning to think that I might have to talk with the computer that supervises their computer.
We win in business when we put the customer at the center of our business. And when we figure out how to own and solve the problems we create for them. All in less than five minutes.