Customer Service is alive and well and she lives in Arizona. Customer Service’s name is Ellen and she works for American Express Platinum Travel Services.
As you may imagine, as president of four international service companies, I travel a lot and my most basic requirement is that I have backup on those occasions when I might run into a problem while far from home.
My path crossed with Ellen’s four years ago. I had called Amex to make a business air and hotel reservation. While the agent was nice enough and was very helpful the first time I used her, she simply was unresponsive to my calls and emails the next two times I called. After leaving four or five messages, on the next go around, I simply pushed “0” for “an agent who is available to assist you.”
That agent was Ellen.
I explained to this new representative that I enjoyed working with the other lady, but that she failed to return my calls. Ellen apologized for her colleague, but made no excuses. Instead, she said, “Let’s get your problem handled immediately and to your satisfaction. Then, if you’d like to speak with someone in senior management, I will arrange for that. And by the way, this call is on a recorded line for training purposes.”
Ellen then quickly and easily handled a difficult set of travel requests. She didn’t even blink when we spoke of Serbia. Instead, she offered hotel selections that might offer the greatest safety and comfort. By the end of the call, she offered me her extension number and promised me that I would never have another complaint if I used it. She would give me her word. Then Ellen asked if I wanted to speak to that supervisor. I chose to pass. I took her at her word because of her immediate consideration and friendly attention to detail.
In the next few months, I booked over and over again with Ellen, until one day I asked her if she could recommend someone to help me with a cruise. She responded that cruises were her specialty. How convenient, but was it true?
Within minutes, I knew for certain that Ellen was telling the truth. More important, I knew that I was now dealing with a member of Team MBMI. Ellen knew every nook and cranny of every ship on every line. She asked the right qualifying questions, explained my Amex benefits, took into consideration my budget, and booked my cruise. I begged her to try to negotiate a cabin upgrade. The line I had chosen doesn’t negotiate. You pay for what you get. Unless, apparently, you book with Ellen.
I was about to leave for Europe when Ellen called with the good news. The cruise line caved. For a small incremental fee, I could enjoy the second-best cabin on the ship. i grabbed it. What fun!
Then I got greedy. The following year, I wanted the Penthouse Suite, but for the same Price I had paid the previous year. Who doesn’t? Ellen told me it was impossible, but that she would continue to try right up to the sail date.
The night before my cruise, I was delayed in a Heathrow snowstorm, on a BA flight already on the runway, headed for Miami and my ship. My phone rang. I answered to hear, “Mr. Pasha, this is XXXX Cruise Lines calling. Your agent, Ellen, tells us that you would like to experience our Penthouse Suite. It has become available and we would like to know if it would be alright for us to upgrade you to that room for free?”
Ellen, I love you.
Better than that, she made it happen the next year, too. Don’t ask me how.
During our time together, she has greased the State Department wheels over a heisted passport in London. She made sure I had cash when I was pickpocketed in NYC. She has kept me safe in countries where Americans often travel with armed security. And she has never, ever once made a mistake.
Ellen is my partner at Amex for as long as she works there. I’ve offered to send her tokens of my appreciation, but she just laughs and says my business is enough. She has handled travel for my friends and colleagues. She has heard about the ups and downs of my entrepreneurial efforts, and she knows which ship is my son’s favorite and why. She even knows his baseball coach’s name.
I believe that I am not alone. I believe that it would be impossible for Ellen not to offer the high degree of customer service that I enjoy, to everyone. It’s in her DNA. Some people love working with other people. I believe that’s Ellen. It’s what I told the Chairman of American Express two years ago when I had a chance to speak with him on another matter. He was appreciative and I could tell that he wanted to employ an entire company of Ellens.
Who is YOUR firm’s Ellen? Who do you rely on to take care of your customers, no matter what? Who do your customers tell friends about when they think about excellence?
The ‘recorded line’ warning has become an inside joke between us because I know that Ellen knows that she is the one the newbies are told to imitate.
Flawless attention to detail, courtesy and follow through – That’s Ellen – chose poooooorly, while I am an Amex Travel customer for life.