Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

KLM, Bureaucracy and Customer Service

It is so easy to complain when you live overseas. We complain about Wasta, we complain about corruption – and all it takes is another trip out of Kuwait to see that it exists everywhere. Bureaucracies exist to encourage arbitrary decisions, bribes, and meanness to the customer.

But every now and then, you find a brave soul who stands up for right, who uses policy like a rapier against the lazy, and I met one of those this morning.

I am connecting in Amsterdam, and I have thousands and thousands of miles I never use. Mostly I have been booking flights on a relatively short term basis, and when your family needs you is not the time to be trying to dicker over free tickets, etc. So as I entered the business lounge, I asked the very nice woman behind the desk if an upgrade was possible for the next leg of the trip.

Her fingers flew across the keyboard as she checked this, she double checked that, and then said “you would have to pay 150 Euros to upgrade + 25,000 miles”. Piece of Cake. For a 10 hour flight? 150 Euros! Here’s my money.

No no, I had to go downstairs and pay. And downstairs, it is six, when ticketing is supposed to open, but they are very very busy ignoring the customers. They have coffee to get, greetings to exchange, water to distribute, computers to boot – no, no, ticketing open at 6:00 does NOT mean they are ready to serve the customer at six, only that they are in the general area at around six.

And they were not happy to have a customer. The counter lady gave me the same information as the lady upstairs – 150 Euros + miles, and then she took my ticket to the ticketing lady behind her, who gave it a glance and said no, it was impossible, my card was KLM and the ticket was on a Northwest flight. I said “You are partners! This card is supposed to work on all the partner airlines” and she said “no, the regulations say that your class of ticket cannot be upgraded on Northwest.”

I don’t usually let things get under my skin, but the sheer blatancy of her desire to get rid of me annoyed me. I said that this was not right, and not fair, and she shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

Smiled! Whew! I could almost feel the fire coming out of my ears and eyes!

Back upstairs in the lounge, I checked in with the same lady who had helped me before and told her what the ticketing bureaucrat had said. I was calm, but also very angry. So was she. “That’s just WRONG” she said, and got on the phone. 45 minutes later, she was still at it. She would verify all her information, call ticketing, and the ticketing lady would still say “No!”

Finally, I signed up for a shower, and washed away all the frustration while the dear lady in the business lounge continued to get people involved. By the time I came back out, fresh and sweet and clean, she gleamed in triumph! “You have your ticket!” she said, her voice triumphant!

So downstairs I headed once more to pay. The ticketing lady was totally snippy to me, taking her time, shaking her head in disgust, until I asked her name and wrote it down. Suddenly, she was all sweetness and light, and like magic, my new improved boarding pass appeared.

Al hamd’allah.

But here is what bugs me. I’ve worked many many jobs that required keeping customers happy. I am really good at it. I take pride in it. In the long run, I believe, good will pays the biggest dividends. And when I can make something good happen for someone, it’s like something good happens for me, too . . .

So what possible reason would people in roles where they interface with the public have for being rude? unhelpful? snippy? to take visible joy in saying no?

I can imagine that being an airline counter service agent at this time of the year, with all the delays and confusions, and abuse they have to take could be dis-spiriting. I can sympathize that they have to deal with people who all want special treatment. I’m just another person asking for an upgrade. But at the same time, doesn’t it make them feel worse to be rude and unhelpful?

Do you deal with the public? Are you ever rude? What pushes your buttons, what can make you rude to a customer? And as a customer, how do you handle a rude employee?

December 27, 2006 Posted by | Christmas, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Social Issues, Travel | 7 Comments