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For the past three years, I have spent one week with my church working in a winter camp in Poland.  During the week, I teach an English class and conduct a Photography workshop.  I have had the honor of being the camp photographer both times and this year I was the team leader for our mission team.

While this article could be about the incredible experiences the staff at the camp create for the Polish kids, it will be about another experience.  You see, this year I took on another role I have not taken on during a mission trip before, the role of parental guardian.

Typically, when my wife Michelle or I go on a trip like this, we pack our bags, kiss each other goodbye, and set out on our adventure.  We leave the other spouse at home to watch the children and handle the daily parental duties.

On this trip, we set a goal in mid-summer to go as a family.  We want to demonstrate to our children what it means to live Christ-like and show love to people we don’t know and who are very far away.

As we started getting closer to booking the travel for the airline, Michelle received some great news that would change our plans slightly.  She was drafted on to a house team in her roller derby league, Fountain City Roller Derby.

What changed is her first bout was on the day after we left for Poland.  And to add more icing to the cake, another member of our team is also in the league and her team was matched to take on Michelle’s team.  We couldn’t just let this bout happen without Roller Penny (Michelle) and Candi Crusher!

With the help of our lead pastor at Foundry Chuch, we found a way to get part of our team over to kick off the camp and bring the others after the bout, two days later.

So it would be me and the kids venturing on our first International trip together and Mom would catch up in a few days.  What could go wrong?

A Reason for Customer Experience

Before I continue the story, I want to focus in on why I feel Customer Experience, CX, should be at the core of our marketing efforts and our businesses.  We live in an amazing time for several reasons, but the one I love the most is, we have options.  We can choose to go somewhere else, read something else, watch something else, and spend our money based on what provides the best experience for us.

It is not that we want to enable our customers to be more self-centered. Instead, we want to go back to the patterns of loving our customers.   I don’t use that term lightly.  I honestly believe incredible customer experiences are based on, not just a like or affection for, but love for our customers.  Where we do things for them that do not always benefit the company short-term, but build a lasting relationship while our reason for commerce still exists.

As I present the rest of my journey to Poland and the experiences I had with two similar brands, I want you to see it through the lenses of love for the customer.  With this focus, don’t ask the question of why would a company do this, but ask yourself should a company do these things?  No matter what the end cost is associated with the actions and communication, what was best for me, the customer?

Back to the story.

It All Started on a Flight to Amsterdam

Here we are, getting ready to board our flight from Detroit to Amsterdam.  My children were so excited to get on a 9-hour flight, with real meals, television, free soda, and to be in the air, way above the ocean.

Addison was the most excited.  Early in her life, we traveled a lot with my parents to Disney World and Disneyland.  Each year, they would purchase the flights and my kids would enjoy the feeling of getting on a plane and looking out the windows from 35,000 ft. above the earth.

As the kids grew up, those trips ended and we started to travel, just the 4 of us on our little adventures.  If you know me at all, you probably know that I like to drive.  For me, I love being in the car and having a piece of home with us when we go on a trip.  Also, you probably know that I am really cheap when it comes to short-term travel expenses.  I buy cheapest flights, book the most inexpensive hotel, forgo the car rental, and pack meals to cut down on expensive hotel food.

Because of this, my kiddos have not flown in a plane for over 3 years.  I know, I am a horrible parent.

Once we find our seats, we start unpacking our gear.  Tablets, headphones, books we will never read but it feels really good to pretend we will, and our snacks.  We smash these items into the world’s smallest pocket that now looks like a pregnant kangaroo.  Everything else goes under our seats and we are off.

Since I have genius children who have held a device in their hand as long as they were able to grip, they know exactly how to entertain themselves for the trip.  We each watch our own movies, play our own games, and just enjoy the flight.  We took breaks from our media and did some homework assignments and had our meals.  They were able to take a few naps and I was able to watch 4 movies in one sitting.   Hey Marriott, want to keep people from going with Airbnb?  Consider what the airlines do for movies, meals, and snacks… 

While still in independent mode, we each pack our own bags and do the awkward “stand up but crouched with your neck cranked at a 90-degree” thing people do as we wait to get off the plane.  Ten minutes goes by before our row gets to leave.  When it is our turn, we pull our 100lbs+ of carry-ons from the overheads and meet up with the team at the gate.

Walking Through Passport Control

Now that we are in Amsterdam, we need to make it official and get our passports stamped.  We look forward and smile.

“Brandon?” the guard said.

“Yep,” my son replies.


She smiles back.  Then he just looked at me, stamped the books, slid them back over the counter and we were on our way to the security scan.

My son has an honesty to him that does not have a filter that is amazing, but sometimes can be hazardous to me.  I quickly remind him that the screwdriver that was in my camera bag is no longer there because they took it away in the Kansas City airport.  “We don’t need to tell this gentleman that daddy has a screwdriver in his bag because I don’t.”  Just like a scene in 1984, he goes ahead and mentions it anyway to the guard.

My bag comes off the belt for a search where they find a pair of pliers I use to tighten my tripod mounts.  I guess those are not acceptable on flights and I am left with an Allen wrench to get through the week.  Oh well.

You Had One Job…

As we make our way to the gate marked “KLM – Warsaw, Poland”, we find a charge station where we can all use our new power adapters and realize we are not at home anymore.

Let’s see, UK?  No.  Southern Europe? Maybe… nope.  Eastern Europe?  There it is in all of its 220-to-110-volt converting glory.

My son opens his bag and digs around for his iPad Mini.  My daughter gets hers out and puts it on the charger next to mine and then my son says one of the worst things a father who has assured his wife everything would be OK and he has  got this  could hear…“Dad, I left my iPad on the plane!”

Panic, anger, and fear set in.  It is like my brain was building up a supply of extra chemicals just for this very moment and then flushed them all at the same time through my entire body.  How did he forget his iPad, he freaking carries it everywhere?  Why did I do the crazy stand up thing rather than sit and check the seatback pockets for myself and my kids? What is Michelle going to say when she finds out?

“You had one job…” is how I imagined the conversation would start.  We were talking about a $750 device you know.

“Wait, I will just go back and get it.  Surely I can find someone to help me,” I thought.

I asked the rest of the team if they could watch my kids and my bags and they agreed.  I walked over to our gate, forgetting English is not the native language in the Netherlands, and plead my case with the attendant.

She looked back at me with a puzzled look and said, “Go to T2.”

T2 it is!  I have one hour before our flight leaves, I will be cutting it close, but let’s go.  I wait in a line at an official station, and after about 5 minutes, I find out I am in the wrong line and need to go behind the station where four people are waiting to help people.

This time, I get, “We do not speak the same language”.  To help understand, I do the American version of translation, which is to speak louder and slower.  Yeah, that didn’t help.  When she understands what I am trying to say, she looks up the gate and tries to make three calls.  No one answers.  She says it will be faster for me to go and find the Red Coat at B1 and ask them.

Deep breath and a quick thank you and I am on my way.  50 minutes left.

Hustling Through Passport Control

Making my way to through the airport and following the guides that say Terminal B, I come to a mob of people under a big sign that says Passport Control.  You have got to be kidding me?

There are three lines, one with everyone with a flight that takes off in over 30 minutes, one with flights in less than 30 minutes, and staff.  I walk up to the guy in the under 30-minute line and plead my case, in English.  Out of nowhere, he stops listening to me and starts talking to the other people in line.  He continues to let them into the 30 minute or less line.

I say, “Sir?”  No response.

“Sir?”  Nothing.

“Dude, can you help?”  For some reason, that got his attention again, and he points me down the staff line.  Alright, now we are cooking.

I quickly get up to the Passport Control folks, pretend that I am sane going through the line the opposite way of my gate and with 40 minutes before we board.  I get my second stamp and on to gate B1 in search for the Red Coat.

Once I arrive to B1, I see a young lady, early 20s wearing a red coat and chatting with a young man.  The phone was ringing and she wasn’t answering, how novel.  I give her the flight information, my son’s seat, and tell her he left his iPad on the plane.  “You can’t miss it. It has an enormous sticker on the cover that says, Brandon.”  She grabs her walkie-talkie and calls the gate.  Within a matter of 30 seconds, she says they can’t find it and they searched the cabin.

I say, “Yeah right, it cannot be anywhere else.  I saw him use it less than an hour ago in that seat.  Can I just go to the plane and get some help?”

She replies, “The plane has moved away from the gate.  Sorry, sir.”

Just when I thought my body has released all the emotional juices it has stored up, a new batch was released causing despair.  How was I going to tell Brandon his favorite thing in the whole world was gone?

The Blessing in Disguise

Some tears were shed for sure when I told him.  But, I still had my iPad and a splitter so we could use it on the remaining flight to Warsaw.

Michelle and I both think this was a divine occurrence.  Without that iPad, Brandon was forced to engage with other kids and explore the camp.  He made friends, hung out with those goats that make the crazy noises you see on YouTube, and became a master at carpet ball.

Before we took off to Poland, I went online and did two things.  I put the iPad into Lost Mode with the  Find My iPhoneapp and I filled out the Delta lost item form on Delta.com.  Those two actions would set into play two different companies and their response to the need of one of their customers.

The Two Airlines – Delta and KLM

Flying on an International flight can be confusing.  When leaving the US, you find the ticketing counter with your airline’s name on it and follow the standard procedures.  At some point, if you have a layover in another country, there is a good chance that the company name on your plane will change.

When you leave your destination to head back home, you start with the brand that owns the plane and make your way back to the original airline.  Typically, this the primary language of the flight attendants will be the language of the origin company on the intercom, then English will come shortly after.  One more taste of another culture before stepping back into the states.

These relationships have formed over the years of aviation where these companies will allow access to each other’s systems and broker deals to get their customer to their final destination without the hassle of trying to align it themselves or through a travel agent. Makes perfect sense to have this relationship, and the airlines can benefit from a higher level of communication.

The Delta Way of Automation

After filling out the form, I receive an email response from Delta as a receipt of the online form I submitted.  Inside it outlined that they were doing everything possible to find the device and they would communicate with me for the week that they searched.

I have to admit, I felt good when I received this email.  I really thought there was hope and I was able with some confidence to tell Brandon that we will get his iPad back.

Like clockwork, I received the email below three days later stating they were still looking.  As a marketer, I know this was part of a Marketing Automation workflow.  Nothing was personal about this and it was signed  Delta Air Lines Lost Item Recovery Team.  My hopes were not high that Delta would find my son’s device.

On the seventh day, the last of the Delta search, I received another automated email and the last from Delta.  They make assurances they were not giving up but was that the real truth?  What was going on with the Delta team?

The KLM Inspirational Journey

In an obscure email sent to me, Michelle, Brandon, and Addison (the kids have their own iCloud accounts), KLM Airlines had alerted us they had found Brandon’s iPad and were waiting for instructions on how to get it back to us.

Just imagine me with my laptop and jaw dragging on the floor.

They found it?  Wait, how did they get these emails?  Ohhhhh, my Apple account.

The first thing I do is reply with “Great news!  Let me know what information you need from me or how I can contact you.  Jeff Julian (Brandon's father)”

Within minutes, I get this response.

My jaw is again on the floor.

Wait, you know my flight?  You will meet me at the gate?  Are you freaking kidding me?

“Yes! Flight 9279 from Warsaw to Amsterdam then Flight 9672 from Amsterdam to Atlanta.”

Now I don’t know about you, but seriously I teared up.  First, they found it so now I get to tell Brandon the good news.  Second, they looked up the information about my flight and developed a plan, that was entirely unexpected.  Third, they were willing to wait for us at the gate to make sure we didn’t miss our flight,  Customer Experience Level 1000!

The Analysis of the Airlines

What actually drove me to write this article was not just the experience with KLM.  Instead, it was the order of the emails.

I received Delta’s auto response right after I filled out the form, but the next conversation I had was two days later with KLM.  We had the whole thing resolved before I received the second letter from Delta.  The third email was just comical as we were packing up to head home and meet KLM for the iPad.

My big question to Delta was, did you check with KLM Lost & Found, the group you were working with in conjunction with this flight?  All roads lead to no, based on their actions.  First, KLM reaches out to me based on the Apple account, not the submitted Delta request.  Second, even though the issue was resolved, Delta kept emailing me saying they were looking.  So why would you not make the call if your emails said you are searching?

I really don’t put the burden on KLM to communicate with Delta, because they didn’t know Delta had the request in for the search.  They found it, found me, and set up the handoff.

Take a step back for a minute and think about those emails that are firing off in your Marketing Automation system.  Are they making claims about your company that just are not true?  Do you make yourself out to be more than you really are?  Did you spend more time crafting the best copy rather than the best experience?

Would Brandon Julian Please Make Yourself Known?

This is the part of the story that brings up all the good feelings I have in me.  I get goosebumps, butterflies, and a little moisture in my eyes.

When we arrived at the airport in Amsterdam, we started a one+ mile shuffle from one side to the other, crossing through all different forms of security and Passport Control.  No stamps this time, but I still have one extra.

As we start to hustle up to our gate, Brandon takes the lead.  He is so excited to get his iPad back and has been a trooper those eight days that he didn’t have it.  Over the intercom, we hear, “Would Brandon Julian please make yourself known?”

We walk up and a gentleman is standing in front of the counter with a KLM Lost & Found jacket on holding a plastic bag with Brandon’s iPad in it.

“Are you Brandon Julian?” he asked.

“Yes!” Brandon exclaimed.

“Can I see your passport?”  I quickly start digging and show him Brandon’s photo page.

“This looks like you, could you type in your passcode?”  He then hands Brandon the iPad and he unlocks the device.

“78% charge,” Brandon says proudly as he contemplates playing his games.

“Thank you very much!” I say.  For the first time, probably in my entire life, I want to actually hug a stranger.

“Make sure you keep a hold of this on your next flight,” he says to Brandon.  Then he hands me a card and says if I am satisfied with this experience, here is their social media information for the team  and they would love it if I would share my feedback.

“Oh, I will definitely share this one, you guys are amazing!”

What We Can Do as Marketers to Provide Amazing Customer Experiences?

As I wrap this up, I want to share some tips on how to audit your customer experience to help you in your next (or first) customer experience planning meeting.

  • Turn Off Auto-Reply  – Just because it can be automated, doesn’t mean it should.
  • Do Not Lie  – If you aren’t really looking, don’t suggest you are.  If you want an amazing experience for your customer, you have to go above the norm to deliver that.  Just saying you are working hard in your communication does not actually mean you are.  Be authentic.
  • Determine What Your Customers Consider Valuable  – What does your customer expect?  What will make them irritated?  What will make them happy?  What will make them loyal?  Then plan your strategy to deliver your experiences.
  • Ask for Feedback  – Call your customer, bring them cookies, or do something that has a personal connection and ask them for feedback.   DO NOT EMAIL A SURVEY.   I don’t care how many gift cards, free eBooks, or whatever chachkies you can come up with.  Email and forms are work. You don’t want your customer to work.  Instead, you do the work and let them do the talking.
  • Retrospective Meeting  - Hold retrospective meetings with your team often to see what works and what doesn’t.  Use the strategy you planned, the team’s execution audit, and the customer feedback you received to find out if your plans worked and what changes you should make.
  • Leave a Trail  – If you are working on something for a customer, let them know what is going on.  Steps have you taken, where you plan to go, and what to expect next.  This means turn off your automation and start using a different workflow that will help you communicate real experiences with your customers.
  • Know How Your Customer Interacts with The Whole Company –  Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, Accounts Receivable, Production, and anywhere else your customer comes in contact with your brand or the folk who represent your brand.
  • One Step at A Time –  If you can drive a better customer experience this week, what would that be?  Start there and build on that.  Customer Experience is like Content Marketing, you have to be prepared for the long haul and you need to be consistent.  Don’t just change everything and see what sticks, be intentional.

My Sincere Thank You to KLM and the Sherlock Lost and Found Team

I want to thank the KLM airline and the Sherlock Lost and Found team  for making this experience amazing.  You have my loyalty, my respect, and my gratitude for doing such a fantastic job.

On the flight home, I was far more forgiving for issues that came up.  Issues like:

  • Over two hours without water or a beverage cart.
  • The fact that you would deliver food to the row in front of me and move your way up even though I was 4 rows from the back and it would take 20 minutes extra for me to get my food compared to the two people sitting in my three-person row.
  • Only one bathroom in the rear of the plane due to older equipment compared to the lux plane we took on the way out.
  • The weird two-prong mono headphone jack, rather than the easy to upgrade stereo jack we are accustomed to with our devices.

Some of these issues are superficial, but they drive customer experience.  But for me, I even came to bat for you when the other passengers near me were expressing their dissatisfaction with the flight.

Your company is a diamond in the rough for airlines these days.  I wish you all the success in the world and I hope you keep up the amazing work.  Thank you!

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