A note from Charlie

April 9th, 2015 Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

This is the story of a 24 hour business trip to Phoenix and back. And about great customer service. And, poor customer service as well. The entire episode left me with definite takeaways for MidWestOne Bank!

United Airlines Flight 523 was scheduled to depart Denver for Phoenix at 3:15 pm. About 10 minutes before boarding, the gate agent informed passengers that there was a mechanical problem with the aircraft and maintenance personnel were on the plane looking at the situation. Just a few minutes later, the pilot came out to the boarding area and gave a detailed description of the problem. He said it would be at least 30 minutes before boarding could take place and he apologized several times. Some 30 minutes later, the pilot was back, apologetically informing the passengers that the plane could not be flown to Phoenix. All was not lost, however as he informed us that a different plane had been secured and it would be at a different gate shortly. Incredibly, we were soon boarding and were only one hour late after all of that.

Even more notably, the pilot stood in the cockpit doorway as we deplaned wishing us a good day and saying he was sorry we had to be delayed.

Hey, delays are a part of travel these days. Isn’t it great when someone empathizes with the paying customers and uses excellent service skills?

It turns out I had exhausted my good fortune with travel delays! US Airways flight 551 from Phoenix to Dallas was full, on time and ready to take-off the next day. I was feeling pretty good as I would get home before midnight with an on-time arrival. Just before we entered the runway for take-off, the pilot announced that “we have some bags on the plane we should not have” and we taxied back to the gate. After sitting for 20 minutes, we were told there had been a computer failure in the cockpit and there was no estimate on how long that the problem could take (this is never good). This ended any communication from the pilot and not once did he apologize. Not once! He was short, to the point, and clearly not in a mood to empathize.

Shortly thereafter, a flight attendant directed us to the airline’s web site “so that you can see if you are missing your connection.”  When I got to the web site, I notice that our flight was delayed for more than two hours and we were still sitting on the plane and had not been told this news! I asked a flight attendant about that and her response was (I am not making this up) “they never tell us anything.” We were then told we could deplane.

I walked over to a customer service agent and asked if there was any way to get back to Cedar Rapids that day. His answer? “Nope, you will be stuck in Dallas tonight.” Great service, pal!

We finally departed more than 3 hours behind schedule for Dallas with a new set of pilots (a more empathetic group, I might add).  Upon arriving in Dallas, I deplaned and asked the customer service agent about my hotel. Her response was that my records had been lost and I would have to go to baggage claim to meet with someone who would give me a hotel voucher. That person did give me a voucher and in the process told me that the Phoenix ground crew had wiped out roughly 40 passenger records (he was clearly angry that he was cleaning up their mess). Behind me in line was a lady traveling with her mother-in-law and six month old baby girl. Her baby’s car seat was checked baggage and she wanted it back so that she could travel to the hotel. She was told that was not possible and she would have to hold her baby en route to the hotel. Really?!

We finally got to bed about 1 a.m. and I returned home to Iowa the next morning.

My story has an ironic ending. As I deplaned in Cedar Rapids and stood on the tarmac waiting for my carry-on luggage, a lady holding a baby got in line. When the baggage cart arrived, the gate attendant yelled to the baggage handler “I want that stroller first.” How cool is that? That’s great customer service!

At MidWestOne, our mission since 1934 has been to “take care of our customers and those who should be.” Hard as we try, we sometimes fall short of expectations. When we do, we do all we can to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and we work hard to exceed expectations and make the situation right. Each year, I receive many e-mails or letters from customers who feel that they have not received the service they deserve. I answer each one personally after investigating the situation. That is exactly what our shareholders expect their CEO to do when a customer weighs in!

If you are reading this and know someone in management at United Airlines, send them this blog and have them track down the Captain in Denver who made a late departure tolerable with exceptional interpersonal skills. And if you know someone in management at US Airways, let them know that there is at least one person in Iowa who will only fly US Air as a last resort in the future!

Charlie Funk

About the author

Charlie Funk is President and CEO of MidWestOne Bank. He works with the MidWestOne team to oversee the daily operation of the bank.

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