It’s always frustrating to experience poor service but it can also be useful to be reminded of how frustrating it is.

At first, one would maybe think that startups cannot afford to provide good customer service due to resource contraints but I would say that it is rather the opposite: startups cannot afford poor customer service. When you are a startup, you don’t get that many chances and happy customers provide cash-flow as well as important references. And since so many large, dominant companies are unable to provide good service or think they don’t need to, this actually provides an excellent opportunity to lure customers away from them.

If you want to experience poor service, my safest bet would be to fly SAS. A cancelled flight doesn’t necessarily mean poor service, but it is when things go wrong (and they do go wrong quite often at SAS) you really can make a difference.

I was supposed to fly back from Helsinki to Stockholm to attend the Entrepreneurship Forum event this evening. After several hours of announcements about that more info will come later, rumor starting spreading that the flight had been cancelled. But instead of making an announcement about this and what the consequences would be, SAS kept quiet and instead people were getting really frustrated and started to head for the service desk. After an hour of queuing and individually being told that yes, the flight is cancelled, SAS announced that the flight was cancelled and everyone should head for the service desk.

First lesson, bad news are better that no news at all because at least you can adjust to the situation.

Okay, so how to spend 5 hours at an airport? Well, working would be my choice but working at an airport usually sucks unless you have access to the lounge. Therefore I head for the lounge and ask kindly if I could have access although I am only a Eurobonus Silver member. Well, of course not. Just because I have flown with SAS 25 times the last 10 months and they just ruined my evening without even an excuse didn’t qualify for a table with electricity and wireless access.

Second lesson: It is never too late to make up for things that go wrong. Or you can just continue to piss off your customers.

I find it fascinating that a struggling company such as SAS thinks they can afford to provide poor service. And it’s not like it is news to them. A great story from the 80’s when Jan Carlzon was still CEO. SAS was looking for a new PR-agency. When the agency was presenting their pitch to the mgmt team, they came 20 minutes late. Apparently Jan became furious and wanted to know what the hell was going on. The PR-company replied: ” We just wanted you to feel how your customer’s are feeling” (SAS was notorious for delays). According to the story, the PR-company actually got the deal. I am not sure if this story is true, but it’s still a good story about experiencing the frustration of poor service!