Dateline: Amsterdam, Holland. I have six hours to reflect upon my month-long trip to India, Nepal, and Tibet. I have this time because KLM/Northwest Airlines isn't customer driven. I teach organizational psychology at the college level and know that in today's marketplace good customer satisfaction is as important as the product or service provided by a corporation. Long-term survival is impossible when a company forgets that the customer comes first. After my experience with KLM/Northwest Airlines, this Dutch-American venture needs a crash course in customer service.
Six months before traveling to Asia, I booked round-trip tickets with KLM/Northwest to get my wife and me from Chicago to Delhi and back again. On August 20, 2001, we were to leave Delhi just after midnight for our return flight to Chicago that would get us in around 2:00pm later that day. After waiting in the Delhi's international airport for several hours, KLM/Northwest announced that our flight would be delayed. Delayed? I could have tolerated a delay of an hour or two, but the flight was delayed for exactly twenty-four hours. Now, that is a real delay.
However, not to worry: they would put us up at the Hyatt Regency, Delhi and give us free six-minute phone cards to call those inconvenienced by our twenty-four-hour delay in arriving home. Wow, that went a long way in making up for the delay. In the future, I have a suggestion for KLM/Northwest; don't use the Hyatt Regency as you hotel of choice with such delays. The Hyatt stuffed us into an old city bus that must have been around to witness the end of British colonial rule over a half-century before. There we were driving through the streets of Delhi like human sardines without air-conditioning at midnight with the outside air temperature in the low nineties.
The next day, as I checked in at the airport for the second time in twenty-four hours, I asked about the connecting flights from Amsterdam to Chicago. I was told that the booking was identical to the original one, except twenty-four hours later. With an audible sigh of relief, we proceeded to clear customs and security. The Indians are hyper about terrorism. While sitting waiting for boarding, I looked at the tickets. To my disbelief, the connecting flights were different and would get us back to Chicago about ten hours later than originally scheduled. In other words, all of KLM/Northwest's delays added approximately thirty-four hours to our trip.
Furious would describe my feelings. I proceeded to a white custody phone to explain my problem. The voice at the other end assured me that if I came to the ticket-counter, they would look into it. I explained that I was already in the secured area and couldn't get back to the counter. The ticket agent suggested that I tell the flight crew after I got on board. I did as I was directed and was told they couldn't do anything about it. By now, I was ballistic. For the first time in my life, I understood the feeling of going "postal" and wondered how someone less laid back than me could have ever coped with KLM/Northwest's customer service.
After an eight-hour red-eye flight to Amsterdam, I was like a person just waiting for some KLM/Northwest employee to give me some additional song and dance. I proceeded to the ticket counter. "Who is the supervisor on duty?" I asked with calmness and determination. I thought that it was best to tell my tale only once fearing that I might become incoherent if I had to retell my sad saga repeatedly. The novice KLM personnel said, "Supervisor?" I relented and sternly explained my problem to her. "Oh, well, there isn't anything I can do" was her response. I replied, "I knew that, but I want someone who can." My novice assistant wasn't helpful, but she was smart enough to send me to another counter figuring that she was too young to die.
There I met, Ms. Darksen, a pleasantly disarming KLM/Northwest employee who listened and was the only one with whom I had contact that understood and did what she could. After ten minutes, Ms. Darksen had rebooked us on a direct flight to Chicago from Amsterdam that, while leaving after a six-hour layover, got us into Chicago only three or four hours later than we should have arrived-albeit an entire day later.
Well, my suggestion to KLM/Northwest is to immediately give Ms. Darksen a bonus. In addition, KLM/Northwest ought straight away begin cloning Ms. Darksen. They will need many more employees like her if they plan to remain competitive as an international airline. However, this article in addition to being posted on my web site's travel section and run in my newspaper will be sent to KLM/Northwest. I will let you my readers know if anyone else listens and acts other than Ms. Darksen.