Have you ever come across a hotel employee, airline crewmember or car rental agent who was either unable -- or just plain unwilling -- to help you? If your experiences are anything similar to mine, it's probably happen more then once.
It doesn't have to. Instead of being resigned to bad service follow these solutions to finding the right person to help you.
The first key to getting the right person to help you is to understand that there are two types of customer-contact employees. In my latest book, I refer to them as ducks and eagles.
Ducks are those workers who go about their job watching the clock, waiting for it to strike quitting time. Basically, they just go through the motions. You want to avoid them, because they'll only lead you in circles.
Eagles take pride in their jobs, effortlessly offering their support by providing exceptional service that exceeds your expectations. They understand the value of service and are willing to go the extra step. If they can't resolve your needs on the spot, they'll find someone who will.
To find your eagles and avoid the ducks, do the following:
Don't be a jerk. My friend Laurie was on a flight from Miami to Los Angeles that was delayed and eventually canceled. While she waited in line to have her ticket reissued for a flight the next day, she experienced a horrifying event. The lady in front of her berated the agent to the point of tears, blaming the employee for the cancelled flight. When Laurie approached the agent she told the agent to take a moment to recompose herself and apologize for that lady's behavior. The agent was so moved; she put Laurie on a flight that night, in first class, from Fort Lauderdale‚ and paid for her taxi ride to the airport.
Be patient. An impertinent representative can try your patience, often hoping you'll give up in dismay. During a recent hotel stay at a St Regis Hotel, my room service order was not up to par. When I called to complain I encountered an employee who flat-out refused to offer any assistance. After requesting his name more than 10 times, I made a request to speak to his manager, after a few minutes on hold, the representative told me that his manager has Mondays off. I then asked to speak to the supervisor on duty, again on hold. He returned saying that his supervisor had Mondays off. After going through this drill a few more times, I thanked him and called the front desk. By this time it was late in the evening, and most of the lead managers were gone. I did speak to the manager of security that also was serving as the manager on duty.
This eagle was so apologetic that he cleared the charges from my bill, and offered to send champagne to my room (which I refused). He did not stop there. Apparently, he wrote a report to the manager of room service detailing the event. Because the next morning when I called to order a cafe latte and a croissant, the director of room service came on the line and apologized for my embarrassing service. He sincerely gave me the impression that he cared about the quality of the hotel's service.
Keep moving up the ladder. If you can't get what you want from the contact-level employee, follow my lead from the above illustration and ask to speak to a supervisor. If the supervisor is still a duck, call the corporate offices and ask for the chief executive (you can get their name by asking the operator or on the company's Web site). In most cases, you'll end up speaking to an executive assistant who will properly handle your needs.
Be concise. As you move up the ladder, boil your story down to its essential elements; you might even practice what you're going to say in your mind a few times. Forget the irrelevant details and focus on the core issue. With the St. Regis example I just mentioned, it was the poor quality of food and the rudeness of the representative that was important, not that it was late Monday evening.
Know what you want and what the company can reasonably do. If I would have told the director of room service for the St. Regis that I wanted a week's worth of free nights, he would immediately read my intentions as being disingenuous. Rather, I did not request anything. (On his own he paid for my morning's breakfast.) On the other hand, when my friend Susan asked a Delta agent to credit her account for a flight that she took a week earlier without her frequent flier number in the record, the agent told her that “it was not possible." Basically he was just being lazy, not wanting to take the extra effort. Later when I called on her behalf the account was properly credited.
Document your trials. Believe it or not, some people try to take advantage of the good nature of travel providers. When you can provide names, confirmation numbers, dates, and the time of the event, you create instant credibility for your case. You also help the company track down where and how the mishap occurred, which can aid in resolving your problem quicker. This also helps you from starting at ground zero each time you need to call back, get transferred into some black hole, or the phone goes dead -- not that a service representative would ever intentionally hang up on you.
Don't be swayed by "that's not our policy." If I owned a share of Delta Air Line's stock for every time I heard a representative say this and was factual wrong, I would own the airline. Ducks like to use company's procedures as a smoke screen to get you off the phone. If they won't play ball use any of the above tips to find an eagle who will.
Be careful with what you say. A few years ago I came across a rather coarse ticket agent in Salt Lake City. I made the mistake of telling the agent that I would get an upgrade despite her. When I went to another representative, the agent noticed in my record that the previous agent wrote in bold lettering “do not upgrade passenger under any circumstance." The new agent was aware of the others agent's tendency for not being very helpful (a duck) and laughed at the comment and upgraded me anyway. In that case I was lucky. But keep in mind, just as you document your trials, the company is doing the same, and sometimes providing too much information to the wrong person can be deadly.
Finding the right person to assist you is an essential element for traveling in comfort and ease. Sometimes the route to find an understanding eagle willing to meet your needs can be long. By treating even the most inept service representative with respect, you'll eventually find those who are willing to go beyond what is necessary to assure you have a quality travel experience.

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