Saturday, March 6, 2010

Toyota . . . A global market leader, tying itself in knots

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
I almost hate to return to the subject of Toyota, but occasionally I read something that just plain makes my head hurt. This is one of those times.

An article in the New York Times (“Millions of Toyotas Recalled, None in Japan”) discusses the plight of Japanese Toyota customers who allegedly have experienced unexpected acceleration problems. The article cites veterans of Japan’s consumer rights movement, who say that these customers are the victims “. . . of a Japanese establishment that values Japanese business over Japanese consumers, and (of) the lack of consumer protections here.”

In response to these allegations, the article notes that while Toyota has recalled eight million cars outside Japan because of unexpected acceleration and other problems, it has insisted that there are no systemic problems with its cars sold in Japan.

What causes my head to hurt?

It’s a simple question that keeps running through my mind. Is Toyota telling customers in its North American and European markets that it produces problematic vehicles for distribution in the rest of the world, or is it telling its domestic market that it takes better care of consumers in North America and Europe than it does at home?

In a global marketplace and an era of instant communication and social networking, absolutely nothing will destroy the public’s trust in – and the credibility of – a brand faster than potentially contradictory messaging.

Perhaps what I understood I thought Toyota said is not what it really meant.

But my head still hurts.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Excellent Customer Service -- from T.S.A.

Over the past few years, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling – both in the U.S. and internationally. Particularly since 9/11, the long lines at airport security checkpoints have become more and more aggravating – adding to a growing list of customer service issues associated with air travel.

While I’ve sometimes chafed at the security procedures at airports, I have almost always been impressed with the thorough, professional and usually cheerful attitude of the men and women who have to do this most difficult job.

Today, I have a new reason to be impressed.

This past week – arriving home exhausted after a 4 ½ day business trip to India and back – I discovered that my laptop computer was missing. In a panic, I tried to remember where I had last seen it At first, I could only remember using it during a four-hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany. Since that had been 14 hours earlier in a very long day, I resigned myself to my loss.

Then I remembered that I still had it in my possession when I went through Security Checkpoint “C” at the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport in North Carolina.

We’ve all heard those announcements over the airport loudspeaker system ; “Will the passenger who left a laptop at security, please return to the checkpoint immediately to reclaim your property”. If you’re like me, after hearing one of those announcements you’re probably said to yourself, “How could someone be so careless?” Well, now I know.

In a panic, I called the “Lost and Found” for security at the Charlotte airport, which is run by the Transportation Security Administration. It was my good luck that Shane was the “duty officer” on the other end of the phone when I called.

I crossed my fingers and explained my plight. Shane informed me that two laptops had been turned in that day; however, both of them were claimed by their owners. Hoping against hope, I told him that I had just come through the security checkpoint about 3 hours earlier. He told me to wait, put me on hold and called Checkpoint C. After a couple of minutes, he came back on the line with good news. A laptop matching the description I had given was still down at the checkpoint; one of the officers was going to bring it up to the Lost and Found office. Shane asked me to call him back in 20 minutes and he’d let me know.

About ten minutes later, Shane called me to tell me that he had my laptop. He asked me whether I was returning through the Charlotte airport. When I said I was not, he explained how it could be shipped by FedEx, walked me through what I needed to do to create a FedEx account and told me to call him back once I had my FedEx account number. When I did so, he explained that the package probably wouldn’t go out until Monday, but that he had put it in the FedEx box for shipment, and he emailed me the FedEx tracking number.

So, a happy ending – at least for me.

I did a little checking. In 2006, there were over 85 U.S. airports that each handled more than one million passenger boardings; Charlotte was then ranked at number 17. If Charlotte had three lost laptops in one day, that probably represents a daily loss of 100 or more expensive pieces of computer hardware. This doesn’t count other items of value that get left behind as harried passengers race through security.

Excellent customer service should be rewarded; so, hats off to the men and women at Security Checkpoint C in the Charlotte/Douglas International Airport who found – and hung onto – those three laptops this past Friday. Hats off to Shane, who handled my call with empathy and professionalism. And hats off to T.S.A. for putting systems in place to help reunite hundreds of us every day with our lost possessions.

A final note – if you lost something while going through a TSA checkpoint, there are instructions and a list of phone numbers to call on the TSA website.