Doing Right Or Doing Better To Improve Customer Experience?

I arrived at the airport early. The check-in agent was very polite, but also concerned. Despite my confirmed Business Class ticket, the airline had no record of my reservation, and Business Class was already fully booked.

I asked if seats were available in First Class. The agent said “Yes.”

“No problem,” I smiled. “How about an upgrade into one of the empty seats upfront?” She smiled back, but did not issue a boarding pass to improve customer experience.

Twenty minutes later I was still standing nervously at the counter while two staff members double-checked the  computer, spoke at length with my travel agent on the phone and then called their manager for instructions on how to improve customer experience.

Again I said politely, “I have been a qualified frequent flyer with your airline for the past five years in a row. Surely you can provide a bit of special treatment by upgrading me into one of the empty seats in First Class.”

The staff replied sincerely, “We will definitely do an upgrade, Mr. Kaufman. But there are other passengers seated in Business Class who have even more years of frequent flyer qualification than you do. The person with highest seniority will move up to First Class.”

“Wait a minute,” I replied. “The passenger with ‘highest seniority’ has no idea a problem even exists. I am sure he would enjoy moving up to First Class, but he’s probably quite content where he is right now in Business Class.

“I, on the other hand, arrived at your check-in counter with a confirmed Business Class ticket to find you show no reservation in my name. I’ve watched for twenty minutes while you and your colleagues try to sort this out. I’ve been delayed at check-in, and I am completely aware of the current problem. And now you tell me that you are going to upgrade a passenger who has no concern, no problem, and no complaint? This makes no sense. The passenger you upgrade should be me!”

She knew my suggestion was right but replied quietly, “It’s the company policy.” And company policy prevailed – not an attempt to improve customer experience. Unintentionally, the airline added insult to inconvenience and did nothing to improve customer experience.

The passenger who was upgraded to First Class had seven years of frequent flyer qualification; I had five.

On board I read the airline’s in-flight magazine. An article announced the airline’s brand new customer service initiative. It said, “We are talking about empowering frontline service staff to seize service opportunities as they arise… A more personalized and innovative service will be possible through a flexible approach to systems and procedures.”

After the flight, the airline did explain its policy to me in great detail, but did nothing more to soothe the pain. “Talking about” is not the same as doing something to improve customer experience.

I remain a loyal customer of this airline, praising them often in my speeches around the world. But I am also keen to help them improve customer experience and grow.

When they deserve the praise, I say it. When they need constructive feedback, I send it in. You should do the same to help companies you care about improve customer experience.

Key Learning Point To Improve Customer Experience

It is not enough just to make announcements and speeches and launch new service campaigns. You must give your people the power to do the right thing, not just the right policy thing if you want to improve customer experience.

Action Steps To Improve Customer Experience

Learn to see the world from your customers’ point of view. Truly empower your staff to improve customer experience. Allow them to make customer-friendly decisions when they know it’s the right thing to do.


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Copyright, Ron Kaufman. Used with permission. Ron Kaufman is the world’s leading educator and motivator for upgrading customer service and uplifting service culture. He is author of the bestselling “Uplifting Service” books and founder of Uplifting Service. To enjoy more customer service training and service culture articles, visit

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