Is Your CRM a Bigger Disaster than Hurricane Irene?

Want successful CRM? Its the empathy, stupid.

A recent experience reminded me of the importance of handling customers well, especially in times of need. Case in point, I was scheduled to go to the Salesforce Dreamforce event next week and I should mention seeing Marc Benioff speak is one of my favorite things to do. He is passionate and enthusiastic and always on the leading edge.

But it became abundantly clear to me this morning that I am not going to be able to leave this Monday morning from a New York airport to get to San Francisco for the event because of Hurricane Irene. I want to be there of course but even if the flight is able to brave a potential category three hurricane, I am not certain it makes sense to leave my family to deal with the situation without me.

So when my office called the airline to cancel the flight this morning and had to fight with the agent, I was surprised. Apparently the airline said we would get charged if we cancelled the reservation before the flight itself was cancelled. My office asked what if we don’t have power later, how do we contact you? After a heated back-and-forth, the agent noticed I had elite status at the airline and we shouldn’t worry about calling after the flight was supposed to take off and asking for a refund.

All this after a 20 minute hold. I wonder if airline execs ever wonder why their customers don’t really like them that much.

This is a bit surprising because JetBlue is moving its planes out of the New York airports to avoid damage. Yet, my airline – one which I have a love/hate relationship with and mentioned in this article (not JetBlue) has shut operations in some airports but hasn’t decided what it should do with New York yet.

Speaking of JetBlue, the company’s website has a weather link at the top of its home page allowing you to get valuable information while my airline – nothing.


One imagines my airline should have a contingency plan which involves notifying customers proactively if a flight is cancelled – and moreover, it should be assuring customers they have nothing to worry about. Airlines need to realize that when people are dealing with potential destruction on a massive and life-threatening scale, navigating complex airline IVR systems and rigid anti-consumer policies is enough to push them over the edge.

That reminds me, after my recent meeting with Nuance, maybe its time to switch to US Airways because at least they are proactively trying to improve their systems to be more customer friendly.

Perhaps what is most annoying to me is the fact that I am a pretty big flyer and get special treatment but what about Joe Average? How does he or his wife Jane deal with airlines in these sorts of situations? Is it fair to them to have to spend hours on the phone to cancel a flight especially when the likelihood of major power outages is fairly large?

The irony isn’t lost on me – I am unable to attend the world’s largest CRM show due to potentially largest hurricane of my lifetime and my airline reminds me that regardless of how good technology gets with Moore’s Law and super-powerful clouds, unsympathetic policies will always be the limiting factor in a successful CRM strategy.

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