Monday, April 20, 2009

Annals of customer service: a shame for the neighbors

United Airlines to Paris. Lufthansa to London. Shall we compare and contrast?

United Airlines
We took a short connecting flight from Hartford and left the country from Dulles, headed for Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. Announcements on the ground and in flight were mostly in English, with some eventually repeated in French. A minority of the cabin crew sported flag pins indicating they could speak French if pressed. No other languages were available, apparently.

The food was about the worst the United States has to offer. The dinner entree was a nondescript chicken dish with rice, palatable but dull. It was accompanied by a bowl of iceberg lettuce and a container of gloppy ranch dressing, a roll that had been kept at the same cold temperature as the salad, rendering it inedible, brick-hard butter, some sort of plastic-wrapped brownie-like confection for dessert. The breakfast-time “snack” consisted of a sealed plastic pouch that held a container of flavored yogurt and a so-called pastry (held at the same cold temperature as the yogurt, of course) that was as inedible as the previous night’s dinner roll—and tasted even worse.

For the sake of the French nationals on board, I was embarrassed to be an American.

From Charles de Gaulle, we proceeded by two short-hop flights to London on Lufthansa. Both of these flights were on full Boeing 737s, with flight times of about forty-five minutes each. Neither was at mealtime. Snacks only. Instead of soft drinks and peanuts or pretzels, as we would have been lucky to get in the United States, we were given freshly made sandwiches. One was an interesting, multi-grain, seeded bread, cream cheese, cucumber, lettuce, and tomato, all crisp. The other was a different interesting bread with a good German cheese, crisp lettuce, and a mayonnaise-based spread. Sandwiches, choice of beverages. (Just coffee? Would you like something else—water, perhaps? Still or sparkling? With ice?) All of this was done efficiently, without hurrying, and with a smile, by cabin crew fluent in a minimum of three languages.

Draw your own conclusions about the value of training, customer service, and customer communication.

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