Day one of the trip to the United States and we had one of the most bizarre episodes of “Die Bahn macht mich mobil” moments ever recorded in my time here in Germany. Actually we had two incidents but on the same train, an ICE-train to Frankfurt from Erfurt. And it involved a pair of seats and a retro-active reservation. A family boards the train in coach 21, expecting to have seats 81, 82, & 83 – with table and two of them next to the window. Another woman had the same seat reserved- seat 81. An elderly couple were sitting in two of the seats- 81 and 82- and refused to move. All three parties had their seats reserved. Which one of the parties lucked out and why?
Enter the conductor who speaks with a stuffy nose but has a Berlin accent but looks and behaves like Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, the first of most likely two Supreme Court nominees of President Trump. The verdict: the family is out of luck and has to sit somewhere else.
We found out that “Mr. Gorsuch” claimed that the train ticket was valid on the 6th instead of the 16th. AND here’s the kicker: That ticket was reserved on the 9th! Since when do you book retroactively, three days AFTER the trip had “taken place?”
How does the ticket person get out of this fix: Simple- defer responsibility on the customer. Tell the customer that the Deutsche Bahn has a disclaimer that says customers should pay attention to their ticket when they purchase it because they are not responsible for any mishaps that happen- all written in tiny little letters which require the magnifying glass.
Nice going, Gorsuch!
Same day, different situation, different place- Frankfurt Airport.
Sitting at Gateway 46 for hours, passengers going to Pittsburgh are becoming anxious and annoyed because our scheduled flight was for 4:00pm and it was well after the hour. One passenger decides to investigate the matter and ask the ticket agent who is extremely busy but was professional about it- friendly and persistent. End result: Gate 48 and we don’t leave before six!
The kicker here: The airline (Condor) offers us free drinks-including alcohol plus free premium entertainment for the entire flight to compensate the customers for the delay.
Now look at the difference between the two for a minute: one behaves like Gorsuch and chastises the customer and the other one apologizes and tries a “Wiedergutmachung” with the film and drinks. They are both German-run companies and they are both trying to win and keep their customers by providing the best service possible. Yet history shows if a provider makes a mistake and tries to defer responsibility onto the customers, chances are more likely that that provider will lose the customer more quickly than the one who makes the mistake, says sorry and makes up for it. It’s a principle I learned from working a hellish summer of 1997 for an eccentric restaurant owner in Iowa, which is always make the customer happy.
While some of things he did while working in a hot kitchen at 40° C left us scratching our heads, he realized that we were all human beings and sometimes mistakes can happen. Therefore if a customer was unhappy, he made sure that the food was done right. If not, he gave them a free dessert or cocktail of choice.
The Happy Customer model has worked for all businesses that provide services to their customers with a goal of winning and keeping them. If one defers responsibility, the customer leaves. If the provider begs and pleads for a positive feedback when addressing a problem by e-mail, the customer can also leave. The incident with the Bahn added to the pile of reasons for having bought a car for commuting purposes, which is a story saved for another time. Perhaps they should look to the likes of Condor to address their problems of service on the train.
And as for the second argument, that is in reference to the next entry on my trip through the States……
BTW: CHeck out this Genre of the Week about the Bahn. A song from the Wiseguys and more I will not say here. 😉
And to the person who taught everybody how to make the customers happy, enjoy your retirement. You taught us well. 🙂