Observations on Customer Experience in the USA

Over the festive period, I travelled a fair bit, and as always, I closely observed the service and experience delivered.  This year, my travels took me to Florida, to escape the chilly British winter.  The approach to customers in America is very different to that in the UK, with a relatively formulaic approach often used in America.

Hi, how are you today?  How are you doing?  Have a great day!

Such platitudes are actually rhetorical, so for a British person, don’t be surprised if they tell you how they feel and strike up a conversation in response to your question!

US restaurants are another interesting case.  From arrival to departure, you’ll invariably (briefly) encounter 6 or 7 different people.  From the hostess who shows you to the table, to the server (waiter) who hands out the menus, to the person filling your water glass, to the different server who takes your order, to the sommelier who helps you chose wine to the server who actually brings out your food  – it can feel a little overwhelming, especially after each person has asked you, “How are you doing today?“!  The opportunity to build a rapport is incredibly fleeting, and whilst everyone is smiling and polite, it can feel a bit conveyor-belt-esque in the delivery.

Whilst on holiday, we flew a number of times with one of the major American airways.  This was a rich feeding ground for observing the best (and worst) of how they deliver (and how inconsistent it can feel.)  Whilst some of the staff onboard made a real effort, delivering small gesture to show they valued their customers, others showed less interest.  I’m paraphrasing, but on one flight, where (due to the airline) we were delayed, and had a tight connection, and had been bumped from the front row and all sat separately, on board the plane, we asked:

Us: “Hey, can you do an announcement after the flight so we can rush off due to the short connection? We’ve been moved from the front row and our inbound was late, so we could do with a little extra help!

Cabin crew: “I could, but there’s not really much point….

Us: “Well it’s you that moved us, so would be nice if you could help a little!

Cabin crew: “It wasn’t me who moved you.

Us: “I meant you, as in the airline; this isn’t great service

Cabin crew: “No, you said it was ME that moved you. If you say anything else, you won’t be flying anywhere...”

We were clearly worried about making a connection, and despite doing everything we could to reduce the risk of missing a flight, the crew didn’t seem too keen to help.  Perhaps it had been a very early start for the crew member, or perhaps the crew member had just dealt with a number of other concerned customers.  Either way, I get just how hard it is to keep up a positive and genuine smile all day every day.  But I’m not actually convinced this is a case of grumpy cabin crew, I think (based on broader experiences in the US & Europe) this may be more to do with customer over-familiarity.

What do I mean by this? With the relaxation of communication media (from letters and calls to chat and emails), and a positive move toward less formality and stuffiness, perhaps we have started treating customer as you would a mate or buddy?  This is fine when things are going well, but when things get tense, over-familiarity is not positive.  This topic seems worthy of a post in it’s own right, so let’s pick up on customer over-familiarity in next week’s post.

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