OK, in some ways this is not fair.  The occurrence that led me to write this post did not happen at a credit union, and in fact happened in an industry that is notoriously worse than the credit union industry will ever (I hope) allow itself to become.

But there is an important lesson in the experience, so sharing it may be worthwhile.

While booking a flight yesterday I encountered one of those situations where there were no seats available on one of the flights for the trip.  Well, actually there were six unassigned seats shown on the little diagram, but all were in exit rows, and this airline only allows their “preferred passengers” to reserve those seats.

Though my status this year on this particular airline has not reached the “preferred passenger” level, I decided to call the airline to see if there was any way of reserving a seat.  The last thing I wanted to do was show up at a regional airport and find the flight oversold and fully booked.

After navigating the inevitably annoying, unresponsive, and illogical phone system, I finally made my way to a human being.  Actually I don’t even know how I did it…I was muttering to myself about the fact none of the options was relevant to my question when suddenly I was told a representative would be with me shortly.

The representative arrived, and I explained the situation.  She told me that there wasn’t really a problem because 25% of the seats were simply being held for assignment at the gate.  I shared my need to be sure I had a seat on the flight and asked about whether the exit rows were available for purchase as they are on many other airlines these days.

Here first answer was that they were not because they were reserved for their “preferred passengers.” She then assured me that there were seats on the plane and that I would be assigned a seat at the gate when I arrived at the airport.

Once again I asked if there was a way to purchase one of the exit row seats since I used to be a “preferred passenger” and my mileage this year is not far from the required level.  I know, she had already explained it, but sometimes being nice, listening, and asking again can lead to a different result.

And it did.

BUT the different result was an absurd and illogical answer that conflicted with the first answer.  This time, her answer was that they cannot assign exit row seating over the phone because they have to know if you meet the physical requirements for sitting in an exit row.

If you’re following along, you can see the gap in the logic–she could assign the seat to me if I was a “preferred passenger” without seeing me, but she couldn’t assign it to a non-preferred passenger because she could not see whether I had any physical limitations that would preclude me from sitting in an exit row.

Having been a “preferred passenger” on this airline for several years (before they raised the mileage limits beyond the amount I usually fly in a year), I can assure you that having that status doesn’t put any little notes in your record about whether or not you are physically capable of sitting in an exit row.

So I pointed out to her that her explanation did not make sense.

Then the phone line became very quiet, and she repeated her initial explanation about how many seats were reserved, about how many were available to be assigned at the airport, and about how the exit rows were reserved for their “preferred passengers.”

I thanked her for her assistance and hung up…knowing that all I can do is take my chances and arrive at th3 airport early with a back-up plan at the ready just in case.

Then, for the perfect footnote to the story, I went back online and booked my next business trip on a different airline, selected an exit row seat, checked a box saying I met the necessary criteria, paid an extra $20, and booked the flights.  And today I am much more satisfied with the second airline than the first, I know that I have a seat on every flight on the trip, and I will begin using the second airline when ever I can in the future.

ACTION ADVICE: Here are four implications from my little adventure for credit unions and their member service efforts:

1. If you are going to create different levels of service, which is a perfectly logical and smart way to build strong relationships with your members, don’t make those who don’t qualify feel like second class citizens in the way you execute your preferred programs.

2. Make sure the explanations that are provided by your call center folks (and everyone else who talks with members) are logical and make sense.  Your members need to trust you as their financial institution, and when logic fails, trust is close behind.

3. Think about how to handle the members who are in-between two levels of service that you offer, particularly if they used to be in one level and no longer qualify for that level of service because of a policy change that you have made.

4. Pay attention to what your competitors are doing and consider keeping your general policies in line with the industry norms unless there is a clear advantage to you in being different.

It’s Your Turn…Got a great example of an illogical policy that has yielded a less than desirable result in your interactions with another business lately?  Please share it and help everyone learn how credit unions can do it better!