Friday, August 10, 2012

Stranded In Mexico:A Stark Contrast In Customer Service

I have never experienced a contrast in customer service quite the way I did a few weeks ago. Until the early afternoon of a summer Thursday, I was enjoying amazing service at a Mexican beach resort, Riviera Mayakoba Rosewood, where the entire staff seems to be trained not only to service a need but to create a need that warrants servicing. They were all smiles and so eager to please, looking to tend to even the slightest urge, need, or question. But by the late afternoon and early evening I was experiencing the ultimate failure in customer service: the inability to deliver as promised, coupled with a lack of communication, topped off with outright dishonesty.

It didn’t happen at the ocean-surrounded, sun-soaked resort that had served as an insulated oasis for five days. No, the service lapse occurred at the international airport in Cancun, just 45 minutes north of paradise.

My 5:25 pm flight on Aeromexico to JFK in NYC was delayed. At first, I thought it was based on a bad rainstorm in the US, which delayed flights at my intended airport by 90 minutes. But I quickly learned it was a mechanical issue on the plane and not anything in the sky that had caused me to live in the airport.

I had gotten there by 3, as the airlines demand you get there two and a half hours early. The main reason? It is not security, which zipped along. It is understaffing at the check-in counter. The artificial delay of getting a boarding pass and checking luggage is a bit disconcerning given the resorts were only operating at 40%  capacity (it is their off-season). I could only imagine how the airport  would operate when twice as many people were traveling.

After check-in we went through security. My wife and I, celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary with this trip, were told that our tennis rackets couldn’t board the plane with us. I thought maybe something got lost in the Spanish-English translation, but they affirmed it was a security risk. How odd. Mexico is overrun by drug-related gun violence but they fear my $29 Modell’s racquet can bring a plane down. Funny how the US, which suffered 9/11, had no qualms with me bringing it from the US to Mexico. Now we had to scramble to get the racquets checked. Security was of no help. We had to go back out and repeat the luggage process. Luckily, there was no line, as no flights were checking in at that time.

But the counter person kept making excuses as to why they could not take the racquets. “Oh, the cargo shipped to the plane already.” Lie. ”Oh, they need to be in a box.”  They were in a bag. Finally, we just begged him to take them. He put a ‘fragile’ sticker on them and he said they had a “special way” to get them on the plane. I was not sure if I’d see them again but was focused on making the flight that was leaving in 24 minutes.

We ran through security and down the corridor to find that our plane had not yet begun the boarding process. They said the plane was on the runway but not yet at the gate to deboard. I figured we would be delayed by 30 minutes but make it up in the air.

Eventually, 30 minutes would pass and an announcement that we would board shortly was made. This process would be repeated a number of times at several intervals. By 6:30 pm I asked the attendant for a status update. He said: “We should board in a few minutes.” An hour later they announced the flight was cancelled because the plane needed a part that didn’t exist at the airport. The part would supposedly arrive at around midnight from Mexico City (20 hours away by car).

They shuttled us, 10 at a time, in vans, to a nearby Courtyard Marriott. They said they would let us know at the hotel, at 10 pm, what time our flight would take off. They said they didn’t have a replacement plane to take us to NYC.

They gave us two food vouchers – one for dinner and one for breakfast, saying: “Here is one for breakfast, but I doubt you’ll need it.” It seemed like we would leave by early morning.

The dinner voucher didn’t even cover a full dinner at the hotel. They gave us the equivalent of $15 per person. Were they sending us to McDonald’s?

An hour and a half passed and at 1 pm. I went to the front desk expecting to learn of the flight time. The concierge said someone from the airport called earlier to say they would let us know by 10 am. This sounded suspicious. The hotel said they are notified at least three hours prior to departure time. So why would a plane need until at least 1pm to take off if its part arrives at least a dozen hours earlier?

Another person, Rob, from the booted plane, was at the front desk, looking as bewildered as I was. He said he was going back to the airport to see if he could make alternate arrangements. I asked if I could join him. We didn’t want to be stranded by a Mexican airport hotel for an undetermined amount of time. I have two young kids at home to get back to - -and a life to live. Aeromexico didn’t seem to care.

When we got to the near-empty airport at close to 10:30 in the evening, we quickly learned the truth. Our plane’s engine was busted and the plane was grounded for a minimum of three days. We asked when the next flight to NY was leaving. They said 5:25 the next night – but it was filled up. We asked if they can get us on another flight or another airline, going through all kinds of possibilities and permutations, including flying to Newark or transferring from Atlanta, Houston or Miami. Each potential path to escape was thwarted. Things were sold out.

We spoke to a supervisor who insisted everything would be taken care of and said she was working on how to get us all home. Bullshit.

We then decided to go backwards. We asked about flying two hours west to go to Mexico City, to see if we can catch a direct flight to NYC form there. They said there was one at 1:50 am, landing in Mexico City at 4:10am. We’d change planes and leave at 7 am, arriving at JFK at 1pm (there is a one-hour time difference). It seemed like a long, circuitous way to get home but any path to home sounded better than delays and uncertainty.

We were surprisingly awake and alert at 2 am when we were still writing to board our flight. For some unknown reason, that was delayed as well. We were beginning to wonder if we would ever make it out. By around 2:30 am we began to board the plane. We’d be on our way, finally. Or so I thought.

At around 3am the full plane of tired passengers was told to get off the plane. Not again, I thought.

By 3:30 am they had us board a different plane in the nearby gate. Until the plane got off the ground a few minutes past 4 am, I seriously wondered if I would make it back home.

Our plane landed two hours late, at 6:10 am. We had to run across the airport to catch the connecting flight, but we made it. Surprisingly, so did my luggage. I thought for sure that it would be lost.

We arrived in one piece, in NYC, albeit, 16 hours late, and I was relieved. But the airline never said it was sorry at any point in the process, nor did they offer a “make good.” I guess I will have to call customer service for that.

Aeromexico made all of the customer service mistakes possible:

1.      Failure to deliver said services on time.
2.      Failure to apologize and show empathy.
3.      Failure to accommodate alternate plans.
4.      Failure to compensate for their errors.
5.      Failure to communicate what is happening.
6.      Failure to tell the truth, either by withholding information or lying.

But my hotel was the opposite. Its staff:

1.      Tended to all of my needs before I even had to ask.
2.      Suggested they help fulfill a need I wasn’t even aware of.
3.      Was always smiling, acting courteously, and sounding concerned for my well-being.
4.      Acted with deference and made me feel special.
5.      Anticipated my needs and made preparations to accommodate me.

As a marketer, I totally understand that one’s level of customer service can be the difference between satisfaction or dissatisfaction – not to mention future sales or no sales at all. Even when marketing a book, always thinks like a customer and look to help them before they even know what they need or want.

Interview with Sally Ekus, Literary Agent Associate
1.      Sally, what do you love about being in the book industry?  I love that both the culinary and publishing worlds are always shifting. Digital publishing is keeping the book industry on its toes. My days are full of challenges and celebrations--who doesn’t love that?! I also love the matchmaking involved in finding just the right editor and publisher for our clients. Surviving and thriving in the book industry requires collaboration. Being a part of finding the right home for a  cookbook project is extremely rewarding.

2.      Where do you see book publishing heading? There is no question that what it means to publish a” book” is evolving. Book publishing is going in a number of directions. It’s really about providing the core information in a variety of formats driven by consumer demands. That means a hard, “real” book as well as various forms of digital content. Critical however, is to remember that the editorial process remains vital to the quality and success of a book. Over time, as new forms of publishing continue to evolve and become prominent in the market, the quality content will rise to the top. Will there still be “hold in your hands” Books in 20 years?  I sure hope so! And I believe many people, maybe even some of those people who prefer to read recipes on their phones and ipads, will continue to defer to carrying a hard copy cookbook into their kitchen. Food can look great on e-readers but nothing beats opening a book, laying it on the counter,  and letting the worn spine queue up your favorite recipes for you.

3.      What types of writers and genres do you like to represent? The Lisa Ekus Group represents culinary non-fiction. We will review any category within the culinary field and love finding new and emerging first time authors. This includes culinary narrative, some women’s health, and nutritional as well.

4.      What types of books are hot these days? Well the tiny food on a stick craze seems to be winding down. I tried to find a writer for 101 Amuse Bouche Pops but eventually decided the trend wouldn’t last J. Really though I think the hot books are split between two camps, the quick and easy home cooking titles and the voyeuristic coffee table books. Also vegetable desserts are in right now. Single subject and niche focused books continue to fill in the shelves. Kale is the new black.

5.      What are the rewards an challenges of being a literary agent today? Selling books to publishers is extremely rewarding. Negotiating a fair deal and contract completely gets my blood pumping. It takes patience to watch a book go from proposal to the book shelf and when a book is finally published, I love watching the media and reader/cook react. Our agency represents a range of titles and when whether the book is about ways to indulge or strategies to improve your health, each book adds a unique voice and collection of recipes to the cookbook shelf. Challenges? Ask my therapist, she is on-call and on retainer. 

6.      What advice do you have for a struggling writer? If you are struggling it means you are a writer. No matter how you define success, whether it be the completion of your first book proposal, the publication of your third book, or a big fat check for your best seller,  I have learned that every writer goes through challenges. Sometimes they can’t find the words, sometimes they find too many words. Sometimes you get rejected (over and over and over again!), or sometimes you have too many choices to make. No matter what hurdles are in front of you, I would encourage you to maintain balance inside and keep your perspective. Listen to the feedback and constructive criticism, but do not compromise your voice and focus. If you want to be published there are countless ways to achieve your goal. Agents are often an integral part of that process. I love my job because I get to help guide writers through the myriad of publishing steps. Remember, you only need one publisher to say yes!

7.      What would you tell a writer who is contemplating self-publishing? There are a number of publishing options available to writers these days. Call me, we’ll talk.

For more information, please see:

Interview With Debut Thriller Author Paul  Gerstenberger

1.      What type of books do you write? Obama: The Republican Conspiracy is my first thriller however I have several underway as well as several screenplays.

2.      What is your latest or upcoming book about? The summers' blockbuster thriller! An investigative reporter unwittingly overhears a conversation between two men in a parking garage late at night in Washington, D.C. His subsequent life-threatening investigation propels him down a dark and twisted path leading to the Alliance, a rogue, extremely powerful and highly secretive organization that has been plotting for four decades to overthrow the Democratic Party. Forty years later they may have succeeded by orchestrating the strange whirlwind rise and eventual election of what everyone believes is the most liberal Democratic President in the history of the Country, Barack Obama, or is he? With the fate of the most powerful nation on Earth hanging in the balance and its two huge political machines set to win or lose everything can one man stay alive long enough to uncover the truth and get it out into the open? Time is running out as he races to save the Nation, its political system and its people from impending doom.

3.      What inspired you to write it? I am an inventor and sometimes my inventions reach law enforcement and intelligence circles and while talking with someone in Washington I came across some interesting information and decided to look into it further and this book is the culmination of that investigation witting in a fiction thriller style even though much of it is true.

4.      What did you do before you became an author? I have been an entrepreneur and inventor most of my life (since I was four). Always work on projects that help the world in some way and have invented everything from toys to medical.  Also have many far reaching projects still underway.

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? It feels great to have something out there that I believe will inform while it excites the reader. I think we as Americans are sometimes kept too much in the dark. I hope this book will inspire people.

6.      Any advice for struggling writers? Write from the heart and it will never be work. Always put yourself in the place of the reader.

7.      Where do you see book publishing heading? I think it will eventually be all recorded and read to the listener such as As a futurist there is really no other way to go.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, Media Connect, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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