Whether operating an airline or reselling IT, keep your clients happy.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had to stand in the aisle while boarding a plane as people in front of me try and do the impossible in some misconstrued belief of the size of their bar-fridge-sized ‘carry-on’ luggage. Do they really think it will magically squeeze, TARDIS-like, into the overhead locker?

You can sense the frustration in the few people who, like me, can legitimately call their bags carry-on – rather than “heave-on”. It made me wonder about the poor impression this leaves with customers, considering the companies spend millions of dollars on advertising to improve their public image.

So one day I asked. We’ve all seen the steel cage near the check-in counter that shows the maximum – some must think it is a minimum – size of a carry-on bag. It isn’t that large. No carry-on measuring more than 48 x 34 x 23cm or weighing more than 7kg is allowed. It says so in plain English with a nice test cage to be sure there is no doubt.

While checking in early one morning, clutching my small notebook bag, I quizzed the lovely smiling woman in her fashion designer uniform. Why do they treated the carry-on baggage rules with the same lack of conviction as NRL referees treat the rule associated with halfbacks feeding footballs into the middle of the scrum tunnel?

She told me it was all about customer service. She must have noticed the confused look on my face, so continued further. The staff found it delivered a more pleasant customer experience if they didn’t interrogate customers about such unimportant items as the size of their carry-on. They had often sensed frustration with customers trying to take luggage on that was too large, so they started letting a few larger items slip by. Now it seems standard practice.

I didn’t push the point, but let me pause for a moment to contemplate good customer service. Good customer service does not equate to saying yes to every request. Total weight, and the distribution of weight, are critical issues for the safe operation of an aircraft. Most reasonable people are understanding when it comes to the rules of flying, especially around safety. They may not agree with every rule (the use of computers and mobiles on the plane springs to mind), but people are generally happy taking the cautious approach.

If a plane were to fall from the sky, it would definitely fall into my category of poor customer service.

With this in mind, it is relevant to go back to my basic definition of good customer service: say what you are going to do, then do it. Excellent customer service is when you do a little more than you originally said you would. A check-in staff member who says no to your request to carry on your wardrobe-sized case can deliver good customer service if they deliver it with a smile and a brief explanation about the safety of the aircraft and of the concern for surrounding passengers.

Don’t underestimate the impact that letting things slip with one customer can have on the rest of your clients. There are times when, to appease one noisy customer, you can possibly disenfranchise many other good customers who just don’t like to make a fuss.

Tell me if you would prefer airlines enforced their carry-on baggage rules at md@smallbusinessrules.com

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