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Moving Companies & Airlines - Two Kinds of Businesses Struggling With Customer Service Issues. Why?

Stephanie Thum is mad. So, mad in fact, that she posted some 10-20 tweets tagged #custserv about her moving company letting her down and delivering terrible customer service. Stephanie is a regular #custserv contributor (let's not hold that against her), who describes herself as Passionate about client feedback.

Why is she mad? For reasons that happen all the time. The moving company promised delivery on one day, and then, as she says, "unilaterally" moved the date to two days later.

Been there, done that, as many of you have, in all likelihood. So why am I writing this?

Her comments, some of which are reproduced to the left are typical of a customer who is upset, and really has no interest in considering WHY things happen as they do. The result is a fairly unreasonable, or perhaps better put, unreasoned bashing of, not only the company, but EVERY company in the moving space.

Her comments are typical of the kinds of customers my clients work with, because these end users have no interest in understanding what is told to them, before, or after something goes wrong, and lacking an interest in understanding another party's constraints and perspectives, they launch diatribes. Which is one reason I get hired to teach how to deal with angry customers.

The Reality of Certain Industries - In Case People Want to Understand First, Rather Than Attack First.

I have no idea whether Ms. Plum's experience is really a case of poor customer service. It would be so, for example, if moving company employees swore at her, hung up on her, or didn't explain properly up front how the moving business works. And, yes, an apology certainly wouldn't have cost anything.

But what about the delay?

Having done several cross country moves, I'd suggest that moving companies aren't that bad at explaining how they operate, why shipments get delayed, and how to track things properly. Of course, you have to pay attention to the contracts, and listen, and perhaps more importantly make an effort to understand.

The moving industry is a tough one, because as with airlines (see below), their prices and profit margins are often controlled by the price of fuel. As we know fuel prices have been exceedingly volatile this year, which means fundamental instability in the industry.

Moving companies can only stay in business if they optimize the loads in their trucks. Sending a half full truck across the country will often mean taking a loss. Smaller move loads are sometimes delayed so they can be "fit" into another shipment, and that can mean delays. My experience is it's built into the contracts that customers sign. My experience has also been that moving companies explain all this up front, because it's in their interest to do so.

No moving company wants an enraged customer who didn't understand the potential delays, and there are others that can occur. For example, a mechanical failure on one's personal vehicle is annoying, but it doesn't create nearly the problems that a broken down semi-trailer can cause on a road in remote Colorado. You don't call AAA for this.

It's possible that moving companies are not always the best at communicating with customers, but then again, there's not a single industry that doesn't have bad apples, hardly a reason to blast a whole industry. I don't imagine Stephanie cares much. Maybe she should.

Customer Service As Balancing Act

If you read people like Stephanie and those that are ADVOCATES for better customer service, you will find that their expectations, no, even demands, are often unreasonable. Unreasonable how? They forget that there are almost always BUSINESS reasons why things don't go the way they want, and they blame things on "not caring", without really having evidence to backup that claim.

Forgotten is that the business-customer relationships is an exchange of value, and that each party must receive enough value to continue to exist. This is clearest in business-to-business relationships, but still applies to end customers.

No company should employ practices that destroy it (well, except consultants). In fact, in the moving industry, if they operated the way Stephanie seems to want, it's likely the prices they would have to charge would be frightening, even beyond the means of many people. If they operated by ignoring the business realities that operate in the industry, most would go bankrupt.

It's unfortunate that people like Stephanie don't seem to want to understand, and that, perhaps might be at the core of her specific experience. If a customer refuses to understand the realities up front, doesn't read the contracts, and doesn't ask the proper questions, then that customer is less able to prepare when things don't go off on schedule.

The point is simple.


Each party has obligations and responsibilities, and in a good customer relationships, both parties do the "due diligence" to understand, and then protect themselves based on that understanding. When the customer refuses and plunges on, well, it doesn't work.

Airlines - Oh My

In the same vein (like I'd rather rip open my artery than fly these days), airlines suffer from some of the same issues regarding volatility of costs, and they have to deal with political issues, security, and have hugely expensive systems in place to manage their businesses.

I sometimes stare in wonder when my luggage actually DOES appear where it's supposed to appear, but the reasons why customer service is so terrible for airlines are much the same as with moving companies.

They operate in an environment where they do not directly control the costs required to stay in existence. The barriers facing any airline these days are huge, so it's really not surprising that flights are delayed, canceled, held on the tarmac and on and on. The result IS a terrible experience, one reason that I pretty much refuse to fly these days. I recognize that most airlines are doing what they can, and for me the experience is so unpleasant, I'd rather drive. Or stay home.

It's NOT because airline employees and executives don't care about customers. It's because it's NOT possible to satisfy customers, let alone delight them and stay in business.

It takes very little to tip an airline into the red, and the debts mount up millions each day, when things aren't going right.

Of course, none of these realities change the experience of sitting in a cramped airplane, on the ground, for 8 hours, as has happened far more often than anyone would like.

Question of Balance

For customers, how about making the effort to understand the situations of the companies you deal with, so your expectations and demands can stay in line with realities of the industry. Remember that there are very few companies making huge pots of money from you, and that, in all likelihood, the companies you deal with are trying to maintain sufficient profit margin so they can be there the next time you need them.

On the flip side, of course, companies need to do a number of things, one of which is to EDUCATE their customers, and manage their expectations. Another is to improve communication when things go wrong.

Companies these days simply can't bend over and give customers, particularly those that don't listen and are unwilling to understand the "exchange of value", what they want.

The relationship between customer and company MUST be predicated on an exchange of value that, on average, allows the continuance of the business, so it's there in the future.

Lest you think that's "theory" consider that if airlines, and moving companies complied with every demand and silly customer expectation, there just wouldn't be many of them around.

Walking to New York from California doesn't sound like a fun experience, particularly if you have to pull a cart full of your belongings.

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


Robert Bacal

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