I just flew back from a speaking engagement. It was a rewarding and fun time, but as small as this part of my business life (speaking) can be, it was exhausting.

My last changeover in Atlanta was very tight. But after a swift train ride and a sprint for a scheduled 10:45 p.m. departure, I skidded to a stop at my gate to see the status board announce: “Delayed: Departure 11:20 p.m.” Whew. Made it. A small crowd of significantly bored people flipped through magazines in the waiting area.

So I grabbed my iPad, went to an adjacent restaurant for a glass of water and a brief rest. At 10:58 p.m., I walked back over to my gate to board. Then I looked in horror to see the entire waiting area empty. Reeling in denial, I asked the gate attendant if they were through loading.

“Oh, they left. You weren’t here and they left.” Her concern was similar to that of a cantaloupe, yet with less expression.

The rest of this story is for mature audiences, or those who’d like to reach their destination on the airplane they purchased a ticket for.

I just stood there. Stunned. Tired. Disbelieving. I was at the gate 22 minutes before the announced time, but the plane was gone. I expressed myself in a now-embarrassing tone of voice, asking, “Why didn’t you page the nearby area to let people know you were leaving early?”

The Delta attendant (Motto: “We dehumanize everyone equally! Care for a pretzel?”) said, and I promise this is true: “We only page in the immediate area.”

“So,” I ask through mildly-clenched teeth, “You only page to locate people who are already here?” She failed to see the irony. I failed to be able to bring the plane back. So I rented a car, bleary-eyed at midnight, and drove 3 hours to get home.

After a series of laughably ineffective emails with their Customer Disservice Department, several people in charge of alienating passengers chose to toss a meaningless number of SkyMiles my way to “make it better.”

Let’s get this straight: They burned time trifling over peanuts — almost literally — with a legitimately discontented customer at a cost in real company dollars (salary and silliness) and real sales dollars. They did this for — all together now — “Customer Service.”

I’m not mad at Delta. I’m sad that corporate idiocy hires teams of people to deliver thoroughly neutered results.

Remember folks, in this age, information directivity has turned and multiplied so customers control the message by controlling their version of your publicity. Facebook, customer review sites, emails to thousands, virally damaging videos and discussion boards can all work gravely against bad service. (Or for good service, as you’ll see below.)

Yet pitiful platitudes about “… sorry we weren’t able to deliver the measure of service and quality you had previously come to expect from our airlines” requires an air sickness bag all its own.


The new revenue

Two customer service efforts earned me as a “fan for life” at these companies.

No. 1: Luggage lust. I received a Kenneth Cole luggage set two Christmases ago. I love it and abuse it. Not intentionally, but it goes from being empty in a sweltering attic to an “all you can eat buffet” overload to rolling across varying terrain, clomping down escalators and being heaved into a rented trunk. A hard life.

So, not unexpectedly, a wheel came off. I was in a very crowded Denver airport, pulling said case when it suddenly did an imitation of a three-legged dog on a jogging leash and nearly pulled me face-first into the breast region of a complete stranger. I glanced back to see the wheel skip off into darkened grossness under a vending machine.

I contacted Kenneth Cole to compliment the company on its luggage that had withstood so much and to purchase a replacement wheel. The company response: “We are happy to have you as a customer and are very sorry for the inconvenience. Regardless of treatment, that shouldn’t have happened. So, I can send you a complete set of replacement wheels, or you can take the bag to a qualified service facility for repair and we’ll reimburse you.”

Which they did. I kept the email. And the luggage. And my loyalty.

No. 2: Watch this. I ordered a Victorinox watch from Bidz.com, a site specifically built for impulsive, easily distracted watch and jewelry buyers. This is my daily watch. Stainless, tough, waterproof.

I “do things” to automobiles nearly every weekend wearing this watch, then wash the grime off and wear it through the week. After a year’s faithful service, the bracelet broke. I believe it was trying to escape. I contacted Victorinox, was complimentary and asked if I should send it to the company for repair or was there someone recommended locally. I didn’t have any idea what the warranty was.

The company responded: “We consider that a malfunction that could’ve caused you to lose your watch, which we expect to last for many years. I have overnighted a replacement bracelet. Thank you for contacting us and I hope we can serve you again.”

I was so happy with the service, I just bought another watch.

Customers are the new currency. Relationships are the new revenue. Build them and your business builds itself.

As contractors, you have many opportunities for exemplary customer service. Only a small percentage require “saving” like these examples. It’s mostly done on the front end by doing what you say, when you say and exceeding expectations at all reasonable points. If you do this, you will be so far advanced from the “normal” contractors out there that no one could ever go back to the others.

Raise the bar. You may find you’re the only one on it.


Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. PM readers can get the free report, “Do You Know the Most Important Link in Your Customer Service Chain?” and a subscription to the Sales&Marketing Insider by emailing their request to FreePMstuff@hudsonink.com or faxing to 334/262-1115. Readers also can follow Hudson, Ink on Facebook (Facebook.com/HudsonInk) and LinkedIn (LinkedIn.com/company/hudson-ink) to keep up on the latest marketing trends.