Dealing With Customer Misery – Part 1

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How KLM/Delta automates its way to passenger bliss

I have in my massive private archive a number of stories of airline passengers detained on the tarmac for hours with no food, water or toilet facilities; passengers unfairly bumped from flights; near-riots at ticket counters and in waiting rooms.

Several years ago, our flight from Nice to Paris was canceled and long lines of ticketed passengers were in shouting matches with Air France ground personnel, creating a knot in my stomach and a sense of dread.

This is old-fashioned CRM (Customer Relationship Misery).

I have to believe the cold, clinical term CRM (Customer Retention Management) was dreamed up by some nerdy MBA.

Sensitive marketers, who knew better, softened it to “Customer Relationship Management.”

Online, in person, on the phone, in the mail, a measure of success is how well a company creates what I call “Customer Relationship Magic.”

On April 1, we left Newark, N.J. on a KLM/Delta night flight to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where we would have a four-hour layover until our connection to Basel, Switzerland.

Over Newfoundland, the pilot came on the horn to announce the plane had lost a generator. The Boeing 767-300 has two engines and three generators, of which two were working O.K. But we were not allowed to fly across the ocean without a working spare third generator, so we returned to Newark.

Seven hours later we took off for an uneventful flight to Schiphol, but had obviously missed our connection to Basel.

No problem, the Delta/KLM ground folks told us. KLM had rebooked us on a later flight to Basel and we could pick up all the information—and new boarding passes—at a Self-Service Transfer Kiosk, which we would see at the end of the hallway to our right when we left the airplane.

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Rebecca Cashman

    The more we move toward automation the less jobs there are for people. I, personally would prefer to not have human contact for 90% of the things I need (I am anti-social for the most part). However, when I want a human there to help me, and can’t find one, that ruins it completely for me. Whether I am in a retail store (i.e. Home Depot) or on the phone trying to get an answer to a simple question and am forced through a myriad of automated options that don’t pertain to me.

    There are too many points of possible error, which can cause a huge amount of chaos… If something occurs where the system shuts down (come on, you all know that software applications always have revisions… because they aren’t perfect the first time around, or the second, or the third… you get the picture..). Then you are left with one or two "greeters" handing out bags, and thousands of unhappy attendees. There needs to be a balance… let the attendee have the option to choose how they proceed.

  • Ben Gay

    Great stuff , Denny! And while I always enjoy your input, the "Your call is important to us . . . " line made me blow wine out of my nose!
    All the best!
    Ben Gay III

  • Peter Rosenwald

    As usual, a great piece Denny. The best thing I have ever heard about CRM was at a conference where the speaker described CRM as being "like high school sex. Everyone is talking about it. Very few people are really doing it. And those who are are probably doing it very badly." It is still true because most companies think that CRM is about technology when it is really about caring, about thinking of all the things you can do to make the customer experience (like your KLM experience) easy and pleasurable.

    Incidentally, may I recommend to you and your readers another extraordinary book: ‘Why The West Rules…For Now’ by Ian Morris. Like your recommended title, this guy knows everything and provides a 50,000 year history of the world that never ceases to fascinate and engage.

  • Munron

    I agree with Rebecca. A backup plan would need to be in place. Also the cost of those amazing machines is likely prohibitive…but maybe not. Just thinking out loud. Nevertheless, your point is well made Denny and I couldn’t agree with you more. Until North America stops taking its customers for granted and starts focusing on quality product and exceptional service we will continue to lose market share to Europe and the third world. It may already well be too late to reverse that tide.