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Customer Service Kudos to Air Canada

This is the eleventh installment in an examination of customer service in nine countries. (for the previous installment, see this link)

kudos to air canada customer serviceAir Canada is the largest airline in Canada. Throughout the 90’s and 2000’s, they took a lot of well-deserved heat about their customer service. Their processes, policies and practices were not customer-focused, and they seemed to have more than their share of employees who really just didn’t care whether or not customers were happy.

The strides they have made over the last decade, however, have been tremendous. Although they don’t get a lot of credit for it – Canadian travellers still love to trash Air Canada – there is no doubt that their customer service ranks in the very top of North American airlines.

I recently made a trip from Florence Italy. The last leg of the flight – a 6 hour journey from London to Ottawa – was a great example of outstanding customer service. Here’s a quick overview of what made it memorable:

The flight attendants were cheerful and helpful. One in particular (I wish I had gotten her name) was genuinely a treat. I asked her if there was anything I could do about the malfunctioning power port my laptop was plugged into. At first, when she said, “let me see what I can do,” I really thought nothing much was going to happen. Five minutes later, however, she came back and asked if she could take my laptop to check other ports on the empty seats to see if any of them might work better. Even though I told her that I wasn’t overly concerned, she made a point to apologize several times, then kept checking with me to see how I was faring. Her concern about my satisfaction was genuine and there was no doubt that, when she was unable to resolve the issue, she had done everything in her power to make it right.

When we landed in Ottawa, my wife’s luggage didn’t. This is never a happy moment. But a terrific gentleman at the Air Canada luggage counter handled the situation with empathy, and very carefully walked us through the process they would be following. He told us what to expect, and how we could follow up. While we didn’t walk away with the luggage, we did walk away beleiving that getting our luggage quickly was important to him.

And that’s the thing about outstanding customer service. In every business, things occasionally go sideways. It’s inevitable. But an engaged, positive employee who takes ownership over situations can make all the difference between a bad experience and a good one. A customer still might be unhappy about the situation, but they are far more likely to give a company a mulligan if they feel someone actually cares about them.

Anyone who flies frequently on North American airlines knows how poor the industry can be. I wouldn’t have said this ten years ago, but Air Canada is one of the bright lights.

Is there a payoff for having better customer service than the other guys? Absolutely. People have a choice in this industry, and customer service plays a huge role in travellers’ decisions.
I’m heading off next week on the long flight from Toronto to Hong Kong, for example. Given my most recent experience with Air Canada, why would I fly with anyone else?

Congratulations AC – Keep up the good work!

(For everyone who’s been following this fun journey, I still have posts coming up on our visit to Florence, Morocco, Palma de Mallorca and Corsica.  Stay tuned!)


Shaun Belding is CEO of The Belding Group and has been consulting and speaking on customer experience for 23 years

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