A note from Charlie – customer service

September 7th, 2017 Inga Rundquist
Charlie Funk

As I sit down to write this month’s blog on a gorgeous Friday morning, I am looking out my window onto Clinton Street in Iowa City. The street is partially blocked off for the day for MidWestOne’s “Rock the Chalk” event. In a nutshell, Iowa City artists – professional and amateur alike – are competing with creative and precise chalk drawings. Washington Street, on the north side of our building has also been blocked off for the same reason. Local musicians are playing throughout the day and it looks like a great day in downtown Iowa City! Please forgive this shameless self-promotion, but this represents one of hundreds of similar events sponsored by community banks throughout America.

Now on to the topic of the day, which is MidWestOne’s 83-year-old mission statement of “taking care of our customers and those who should be.” I try to apply our mission statement to what I see in my everyday life with other companies. My wife and I recently had the good fortune of taking an 11-day-trip to France and there were plenty of opportunities to see good customer service (or lack thereof).

As I had a business meeting in Boston the day of our departure to Paris, we began our trip traveling from Cedar Rapids to Boston. When we arrived in Boston, our large suitcase came off the carousel with a large hole in it. I made my way to the United Airlines baggage service counter and politely said “I left Cedar Rapids with a perfectly good suitcase and now it is ruined.” The lady behind the counter came out and looked at the suitcase and then back at me and said “this one is on us.” She promptly gave me a claim ticket and told us to go buy a new suitcase and United would reimburse us for an amount up to the value of the suitcase.

Once we arrived at our hotel, Connie and I immediately went out and bought a new suitcase. The next day, I emailed the claim to United. While I do not yet have the money in my bank account, I have to give United an “A+” for their response to a relatively simple and routine matter.

There were far more examples of superior customer service in France. One of the best came near the end of our trip as we stopped for lunch at a small, family-owned café in Azay de Rideau, on the Loire River. The café had less than ten tables (six inside, a few on a patio) and was at full capacity by the time we left.  A friendly lady was waiting on all the tables and her husband was cooking in the kitchen. There wasn’t an English translation for the menu and the lady did not speak much English, but that did not stop us from communicating well with her! She was more than accommodating, the food was outstanding and as I recall, the total bill for a three course lunch was about 25 euro. There wasn’t one “aha moment;” rather the entire meal was pleasant, the atmosphere was quaint and local and the proprietors were very grateful that we stopped to eat at their establishment. We then told our tour guides of this fine café and asked them to direct future travelers there … isn’t word of mouth the best recommendation for new customers?

As we traveled home, we encountered necessary and heavy security at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris. I would estimate that by the time we arrived at our gate, our passport had been checked at least six times (and once more to board the plane bound for Chicago). Security personnel were mostly very professional and accommodating – with one notable exception.

As we stood in line to board the plane, we were talking with a couple about the high security and I commented on the professionalism of the officers. To which the lady replied, “One of the first security officers who checked our passports was on Ebay on her phone and barely looked up as we showed our passports!” This made me think of the old saying that “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.” Seriously, it just takes one bad experience with lack of professionalism to cause a person to doubt the entire brand and in this case, the brand was French Airport Security.

The last – and most appalling – example of customer service did not affect me. Our Chief Financial Officer was recently in New York attending a conference. She was scheduled to return home to Minneapolis from Newark on a Wednesday afternoon. Her Delta non-stop was cancelled due to heavy thunderstorms in the NYC area that afternoon. In fact, all Delta flights from Newark were abruptly cancelled that day! This is where the fun begins! Katie was on hold for a total of three hours and 18 minutes trying to get her flight rebooked.

When Delta finally answered her call, she was told she would not be able to fly back to the Twin Cities until late Friday afternoon, nearly 48 hours later! Meanwhile, our Chief Operating Officer was traveling with Katie. Kevin was scheduled to return to Eastern Iowa on United. His original flight was also cancelled but United managed to get him on a flight that got him home at 1:15 a.m. that night. His wait time to speak to a United agent on the phone – five minutes!

Meanwhile, Katie was searching frantically other options to get home sooner. She was booked on a United flight the next day but had to call United to confirm the flight. Her wait time? Three minutes! She was told that United called in extra personnel to re-book east coast travelers who were inconvenienced by the weather. Katie spent the night in Newark and tried to get compensation from Delta, but (of course) was told Delta takes no responsibility for weather related delays. Delta’s reimbursement evolved from zero to $100 to the final offer of $350 for Katie’s inconvenience. She arrived home, thanks to United and no thanks to Delta, 24 hours late.

Clearly United anticipated and staffed for customer inconvenience much better than Delta. Note that this author has nothing against Delta nor a reason to promote United. He just calls them as he sees them.

“Taking care of our customers and those who should be!” In the past 30 days, our data processing provider encountered a large glitch that affected our customers.  The glitch came on a Friday evening and lasted until the following Tuesday. Our staff rallied, worked overtime, and did everything humanly possible to follow our mission statement. My guess is that many customers noticed that – just as this customer noticed the different ways United and Delta handled the same problem.

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