In an age when customers are prone to rant and rage about poor service, it was refreshing to see the global media impact of a quaint and gently sarcastic customer complaint letter to an obscure Caribbean airline last weekend.

Long-suffering air traveller Arthur Hicks wrote to Leewards Islands Air Transport (LIAT) after a journey involving six plane changes, security friskings at six airports, a missed ferry and a lost suitcase. He had every right to be furious but instead of raging at hapless junior service staff, penned a letter to the airline which was more reminiscent of Mr Darcy than Mr Angry yet which resonated in the Twittersphere.

Mr Hicks began: “May I say how considerate it is of you to enable your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean. Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday....”  He signed off with exquisite comedic restraint: “PS Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.”

The story developed wings (apologies) when self-styled customer champion Sir Richard Branson tweeted about it and hailed it as a great lesson in
‘How to write a letter of complaint.’

The episode had nothing to do with the Virgin brand but Branson was amused by the witty tactics deployed by Mr Hicks and reminded his legion of followers: “making customer service key to your company will keep your employees motivated and your customers happy, ensuring loyalty, business success and a better experience.”

I couldn’t agree more - and the story has resonance beyond the confines of the travel sector and Caribbean island service culture.

Few disgruntled customers will have the time, patience and masterful command of language to emulate Mr Hicks following a poor service experience, nor should they have to go to such lengths to have their grievances addressed.

There are several key learnings from this:
1.  Organisations need to be structured and run in an enlightened and customer-centric way which gives them an overview of their customer’s journey (literal or figurative) which is as real-time as possible.
2.  They need to empower contact centre staff to intervene and help customers at different stages of a journey so that a poor service experience does not result in loss of business.
3.  They need to break down information silos to share the information needed to help customers quickly and efficiently.
There are businesses out there getting it right, several of them have addressed CCA Convention or are members, including retailer John Lewis which enshrines the principle of ‘heroic recovery’ or airline Etihad with its crack ‘Guest Response Unit’ which uses land-to-air satellite communications to fix customers problems before they land.

Emulating that level of customer service may require a radical look at your processes and the constraints they impose and also at how you empower and reward your people to go above and beyond the call of duty. If you can break through the barriers holding you back, the sky’s the limit.

We’re into our third year of collaboration with Kcom on a major research project ‘The Future of Customer Service’ and we’ve sent out our members’ survey for it this week. The bigger the response we get, the better the insight we can produce on how contact and service strategies need to change for the benefit of Mr Hicks and all the other customers who deserve the very best. So click on the
link and share the wisdom.