Thursday, August 25, 2011

JetBlue can teach Verizon a thing or two about compassion

Why is it so hard for some companies to show a little human decency when a customer has a problem?

By David Lazarus Los Angeles Times

It's a symbiotic relationship. We need businesses to provide the stuff we want. But they need us just as much to buy their stuff.

So why is it so hard to show a little human decency when a customer has a problem?

I think about that every time I encounter a tale of woe from a reader. And a recent chat with Shelley Keith of Sherman Oaks only reinforced my belief that some companies get it, and some seem to go out of their way to appear insensitive, cynical and just plain mean.

This story offers an example of both.

Keith's mother, Lilyan Goldberg, had terminal cancer. I say "had" because she died last month, on her 91st birthday.

Before Goldberg's passing, her caregiver needed to call a relative in Britain. Keith's sister, Phyllis Goldberg, was overseeing their mother's affairs and had power of attorney for business matters. She gave permission for the call.

But it wouldn't go through. Phyllis Goldberg called Verizon to ask what the problem was. She was told that the international call appeared unusual for the account so a block was imposed. Verizon said the block could be lifted with the written authorization of the account holder.

As Keith, 63, related this to me, I could hear the anger in her voice rising. Even now, a month after her mother's death, the wound is still raw.

Goldberg explained that their mother, the account holder, was incapacitated and that she had power of attorney. The Verizon service rep insisted that only the account holder could lift the block. They went round and round on this.

"Finally my sister hung up," Keith recalled. "And she's not the kind of person who has difficulty communicating with people. She has a PhD. She's a writer. But she couldn't get anywhere with Verizon."

On July 21, Keith flew to New Jersey to see her mother. On the day Keith was scheduled to return home on JetBlue, her mother died. Keith called the airline to see if she could reschedule.

"JetBlue was incredible," she said. "I told them my mother had died, and the service representative immediately said she was sorry. I said that she'd died on her birthday, and the representative said, 'On behalf of everyone at JetBlue, please accept our condolences.'"

After confirming with the funeral home that her mother had indeed passed away, the airline told Keith that she could reschedule her flight to Los Angeles for any time. And it wouldn't charge her the customary $100 change fee.

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