Management: How are you being served?

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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is a rare company these days that does not claim to offer high standards of customer service. The truth, of course, is very different. Stuart Crainer's new series is dedicated to pointing out failings and the lessons learned. Readers' submissions are welcomed.

Travelling on a scheduled flight with our three year-old daughter, we were tucking into a G&T when the trays of food came round. The stewardess handed two of us a steaming tray, but ignored our daughter. When I pointed out this oversight she became irate: "You know she should not have a meal. She is not old enough."

Despite the fact that we had paid 80 per cent of the full adult fare, it seemed that our daughter was to be deprived of over-cooked potatoes, tinned carrots and turkey breast. Eventually a meal was provided - though only because they had one left over. The stewardess handed it over with bad grace and then made her continuing irritation clear during the rest of the flight. When we got home we wrote to the airline and complained. They apologised and said, yes, our daughter should have been given a meal.

The moral? Front line staff have to be committed to service. Accusing customers of trying to pull a fast one does not build satisfaction. The stewardess's reaction was needlessly confrontational. Had she been trained properly? The airline apologised but should have provided a goodwill gesture - a voucher for pounds 20 off our next flight or a promotional gift - to turn a negative experience into something more positive.

A friend was having trouble with her bank. She wanted to change her branch from one 10 miles away to another which was more local. The paperwork was duly completed and she went about amassing money, something she was very good at. Meanwhile, the bank had forgotten to transfer any of her standing orders. Letters from irate companies were soon falling through the door.

Over a year later the bank had still failed to sort out all of the standing orders. Sick of the hassle, my friend went to inform the bank manager that she was going to close her brimming accounts and move to a new bank. The manager was aghast and imploringly asked what could help her change her mind. "Well, all this has been such a strain," she said. "We could do with a holiday. If you put some money towards it, that might help me decide what to do." Next day, pounds 500 was deposited in her account. My friend took the money and changed bank.

The moral is clear: get the simple things right. Throwing money at a customer is not a solution, but an act of craven desperation - far better to have sorted out the problem in the first place.