In the Trenches: Standing in the Customers’ Shoes

They always say that it’s a good idea to stand in your customers’ shoes every so often in order to be able to empathize. That’s probably particularly useful for a concierge business like ours, because we’re always trouble-shooting when people are in distress. This week, I’ve had the chance to sit on the other side, and I’m grateful for it, even though it’s been a miserable experience.

You may have heard about Hurricane Rina. She’s currently angling toward Cancun and should be there tomorrow, the same day that I’m supposed to arrive there for a wedding. As you can imagine, that’s not good. And I’ve been able to experience first-hand the grief, anger, annoyance, and everything else that comes with it.

I’ve been able to marvel at the hotel’s ability to explain to me that they don’t care if my flight was canceled. I still have to pay (at least, that was one agent’s take). Oh, they’ll be so generous to let me change my reservation to a later date, but considering the wedding isn’t changing its date, that’s completely unhelpful.

I’ve also struggled with the airline itself refusing to give much guidance on the situation. Flights are being canceled mere hours before departure without any concern for passengers having to make decisions further in advance. The “waiver” policy is truly unhelpful — only allowing you to shift your trip by a few days either way. Again, the wedding isn’t changing, so that’s what matters.

This is all incredibly frustrating… and I’m loving it. Let me clarify. I hate it with a passion. I want to personally go to the hotel and the airline and look directly into the eyes of the people making these policies in order to find out if they ever considered how a customer might feel in these situations. I want to call a million times until I find the one person who is willing to make an exception. And that’s why this is great.

This is exactly the kind of passion that we need to have when we’re helping our own customers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget about how difficult and frustrating situations like this can be unless you live them yourself every so often. This might be frustrating for me, but it can only be good for future customers when I’m better able to empathize with them.

About Brett Snyder

Brett is the Founder and President of Cranky Concierge air travel assistance. He also writes the consumer air travel blog, The Cranky Flier.
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I take your point about 'the weather issues suck' for the traveller and that we should try to see their perspective. But my experience is that there is often much unwilling on the part of the traveller to understand that accommodation owners suffer when they cancel at short notice. Overheads still have to be paid whether the weather is good or not!

Brett Snyder
Brett Snyder

@JR I will be writing more about what I think airlines can do in general on this week, but that really is not the point of this post at all. The point here is that dealing with weather issues sucks for the traveler, and I'm glad I experienced it because it helps to better empathize with our customers when they feel the pain themselves. That's it.


Please forgive my ignorance here, but what is it that you are expecting the airline to do for you that they are not doing? They are giving you every possible choice in advance of the storm approaching and you state that those policies are unhelpful. A hurricane changes paths and speed (as this one did as it approached Cancun) and so the airline is going to want to operate as long as it is safe to do so for 2 reasons - get the people there that don't care there is a hurricane coming (like you) and get the people out that want to leave before it arrives. Hurricane Rina, as you are so familiar with, was originally supposed to hit Cancun on Wednesday night but on Tuesday night the storm slowed down and wasn't going to impact the area until Thursday morning. Cancellations as far in advance as you suggest would have displaced even more people because flights could have and did operate on Wednesday night. The policies in place for these events allow you to change your flight to go before the storm gets there without fee, change your flight to go after the storm is supposed to pass, go on the flight as originally planned if it is safe to operate it, or get a full refund if the flight is cancelled because of the approaching storm and the possibility that once it lands the aircraft may not be able to depart again before conditions worsen or that the plane may not be able to safely land when it approaches in the middle of the storm. It sounds like your issue is with the hotel policy which was not as flexible as the airline policy. Besides steering the hurricane in another direction, which neither the airline, the hotel, or you could do, I'm curious as to the option for your flight that was not presented to you. It seems to me that all 4 options were available and once the exact path of the storm was confirmed by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida, the flights were ultimately cancelled.


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