Customer Service and Moments of Truth

Moments of Truth

            Each customer interaction is a “moment of truth”. And the savings bank of previous good works can be depleted with one poor interaction. One disappointment is all it takes. One gatekeeper that could have used judgment applied to a specific situation. One opportunity to understand that the happy customer tells few and the frustrated customer tells many.

If it isn’t clear by now, I was on the receiving end of a terrible customer experience. What is even worse, this is with my preferred brand.  A brand that I have had 2+ decades of great experiences and happiness with. And today – all of that is at risk. It is early enough in the year for me to make a shift and share my $50k to $100k annual spend on alternative options.

My frustration today is with American Airlines ( @AmericanAir). I was beginning my 2nd leg of 3 flights today spanning about 17 total hours and maybe 4,500 + miles. I have logged over 3.5 million miles with AA and its One World affiliates. I have been to each and every continent and I have been an Executive Platinum (One World Emerald) Member for about 10 years. I am a loyal customer with the singular ability to direct my spend. I choose where to spend my money and I may be choosing elsewhere.

If you have ever had the displeasure to fly through Miami International Airport (MIA) you already understand it is a challenge on good days and on bad days it is a nightmare. Customs lines are generally long. The crowds can be maddening. The inbound and outbound rush that is all too frequent in southern Florida all lead to a pressure cooker environment.

One reason for investing in the likes of Global Entry for speedier customs and immigration and AAdmirals Clubs for relaxation, work spaces, and snacks is to make the difference between a good day and frankly a frustrating travel day.

Today – the savings bank of American Airlines’ great work went flushing down the proverbial toilette. And it didn’t need to be that way. I will admit that I wasn’t in the best mood when I entered the club today. The immediately preceding phone calls had frustrated me. I was flying out the E terminal (which I detest) and on the US Airways part of the new American (which I am unfamiliar with).

AA in conjunction with its One World partners (BA and Iberia) now operate a Premium Lounge near the E Gates (this is an old Admiral’s Club location). – Note I arrived in D gates from Nassau, Bahamas and had to transit to the E terminal . There are two Admiral’s clubs in the D Terminals but those are, at best, a 10-15 minute walk to the E gates and I researched the usage of the E Terminal Priority Lounge prior to arriving in MIA. I did this because I needed some Internet time, a bathroom break, and a cup of tea. I was planning on spending my 20-30 minutes between flights being productive and relaxed.

Instead I received bitchy attitude from an AA Club Employee that only cranked me up and ultimately denied my wife’s entry that which should have been offered, even if the “rule book” didn’t think so. This is where that Moment of Truth arrives and in their moment – their truth frankly Sucked. It sucks so much I am concerned I won’t forgive and I guarantee I won’t forget.

As many of you already know, I (along with my colleagues) tour the world speaking and writing about customer experiences, great expectations, and the difference between a mediocre company and a brilliant one. The profit margins of airlines are so thin that disgruntled premier flyers are impactful. Frankly, at the amount I fly (2014 225+ total segments split mostly between Alaska and American and 2013 slighty more) they should treat anyone at my level special.   – As an additional aside, a colleague of mine who has flown more cumulative miles but not at my pace over the past few years was provided a Concierge Key – for gods sake I should have one those.

Today’s Moment of Truth has passed. A Scotch on the Rocks before takeoff has helped a little. Writing this has helped even more. Believing that you may read this and tweet about it so your friends will know to avoid AA Terminal E if possible, especially if they believe they should be invited into the Club, makes me feel even better.

It is funny, my wife who is traveling with me, and a genuinely nice person, even commented that the “lady at the desk had a bitchy attitude” – that is telling. If you want to share this – of course add #AmericanAir to your tweet. Maybe we can have them recognize this challenge.

For the record, here is the language from their website:

The AA, BA, IB Premium lounge is open daily from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. and welcomes oneworld eligible International First Class, Business Class and Emerald and Sapphire customers. Customers traveling on an AA-operated transcontinental full fare First Class (F and Z inventory) or full fare Business Class (J and U inventory) ticket, as well as Admirals Club members departing from Concourse E, may also access the lounge


They would have allowed me in; but not my wife. What did they want me to do, leave her in the hallway? It isn’t like we were a dozen people. It wasn’t like we were going to drink them into bankruptcy. It wasn’t like they didn’t have the room. It was a bureaucratic response to what I truly believed was an earned and paid for accommodation. In fact she suggested at one point that she turned away another person and they quietly said ok. Well I am not that quiet especially when I believe I am within my standing. This is about the customer and not about the bureaucracy. I advised her that their website was vague and unclear. She argued with me. I launched my web browser – I read her the information – and she continued to deny my wife entrance and frankly that was a bad decision.

Her (the desk receptionist at the club) defenses were as follows:


  • We always have operated this way (who cares)
  • This isn’t the Admiral’s Club (like I am freaking stupid)
  • Yes your wife is on a F class ticket but is it a transcontinental flight (well if Miami to Portland via Charlotte isn’t at least a transcontinental flight at least I am crossing the continent and they don’t fly to Portland direct from MIA or I would have been on that flight.
  • Yes you are on an international itinerary but we don’t count Nassau as international (well whoop-de-do) your website conveniently omits that and by the way – the US State Department considers the Bahamas as international
  • Yes you are on an international itinerary, in first class, on full fare, but “this isn’t an arrivals lounge” – like no Shi* Sherlock. I never claimed it was an arrival’s lounge
  • Yes you are an Exec Plat member but these Premium Clubs only allow the “member” in. Really? Better check with the Marco Polo Clubs, the Qantas Club, the BA First Class Lounge – as I can guarantee that I (and a guest) are graciously admitted (not two guests by the way – so that is known).
  • I pointed out that their website was unclear. I pointed out that I was an Admiral’s Club Member. She acknowledged that. She said it doesn’t say “guest” and hence my wife of 20 years was not allowed in. This policy is stupid and their writing is unclear. And who’s responsible for that? Certainly not me as I didn’t write it.


She looked at me like I was an alien and she talked to me like I was a toddler – that only made my hair stand up and I can bark right back. Oh and remember, I am the customer. One should remember that. She could have said, let me call my supervisor or let me get you a cart to ride back to the general club. She offered nothing but attitude and my attitude can be loud too.


I tweeted about this via my twitter @morriscpa. AA has responded that they are “sorry” for my inconvenience – that and $4 will get me a Starbucks. AA wrote that they will have a customer service specialist reach out to me after my journey (yippee skippee but possibly helpful if future people can avoid this experience). At the moment AA is on probation. Because of this posting – it is not “double secret” probation. I will be the sole arbiter of the value of this relationship.   I will decide where to spend my money. I will decide whose loyalty program deserves my loyalty. I will decide if I forgive.


Unfortunately for them – it isn’t up them. It is always up to me.


Lessons learned and relearned. Your customers decide if the value exchange between their money and your service is worthwhile. Your team members, especially those on the front lines, represent the entire company in each and every interaction. That happy customers remember tell a few and frustrated customers tell the world.


The ball is in AA’s Court – how they respond will determine how I ultimately feel about this and how I evaluate how I move forward with my airline choices


  1. I received an email from a reader, Colin Coleman. Colin is a lawyer and a reader of the VeraSage posts. All of the founders and fellows of VeraSage are extremely opinionated and resourceful. We formed VeraSage to assist professionals in particular, and businesses in general, to be better at what they do. To seek out innovation. To create extraordinary customer experiences. And ultimately to share our observations and views with you, our readers and followers.

    I am not shy nor am I timid. When people and businesses provide exceptional service, I promote them from the top of the highest mountains. And when they fail I vigorously share that as well.

    With Colin’s permission, here is our email exchange: – Dan

    Mr. Morris;

    I agree with your premise regarding customer service, especially regarding the need for companies to instill in key people who interact with customers some common sense guidelines and the authority to make reasonable exceptions and accommodations.

    Unfortunately, your article comes across as smug and arrogant, diluting your message. In fact, it makes me not want to read your articles in the future and to unsubscribe from Verasage. I’m sure this wasn’t your intended result.

    I find that when faced with a “Moment of Truth” with a stubborn gatekeeper, I get far better results with honey than with vinegar.

    A combination of praise, acknowledgment, recognition, thankfulness, friendliness, empathy, kindness, and light humor, together with an offer of suggestions for a path to a mutually acceptable resolution, often leads to a favorable result without drama.

    (I have a story of getting a natty phone wiring problem solved by a large telecom company if you ever wanted to hear it.)

    Perhaps if you did the same, you and your wife would have yielded a different outcome.

    Colin A. Coleman

    I responded as that is important even when challenged. Here is my response:

    Mr. Coleman,

    Thanks for you note. My message does have a sense of smugness and arrogance. It was (and is) to a large degree a rant – and I acknowledge that. As it relates to honey and vinegar – I have long understood that concept and have used it quite well over my life. I have been on the receiving end of many great pleasantries because of my ability to be nice to gatekeepers. And many many times with American Airlines. I have written great praise of them and their care. This experience was quite different. It wasn’t being denied. It was her first words (and I may consider editing the post for this) were “YOU can’t come into the Club”. Well that is untrue. I could come into the Club. She had no knowledge of my wife or her status or her membership status (had she been an independent member of the Admiral’s Club – she would have been directly an unequivocally granted entrance). The initial response from the lady was incorrect and wrong.

    I pay for my Club membership and she ultimately agreed with me that I could enter. She wouldn’t budge about my wife and she did it with an attitude that escalated a situation that didn’t need it. I admitted I wasn’t in my best – although that likely wasn’t the primary matter. The matter is that what I consider to be “my airline” did not treat me well and I have the full privilege to respond to a slight.

    I was not writing in order to be smug and arrogant. The post was and is cathartic and healing. AA knows I am extremely frustrated with them. Not all customers are created equally – that is an economic reality. AA knows that. That is why they have different classes of seats and different service levels. The intangibles matter. As a business owner, I know it. I know I have to cure customer defects quickly, responsibly, and to the positive satisfaction of the customer or they opt elsewhere. When I (or any one of my team fails) I (and my team) need to fix it and fix it quickly. Judgements are far superior to a measurement.

    I hope you don’t turn off VeraSage because of this post. For a different sense of my beliefs and attitudes, read my related post (noted in trackbacks) of a presentation I wrote for the CalCPA’s Honoree Dinner – I praise customer service greatness and I point out customer service stupidity. I want companies to be better. I want people to be better. I want customers to feel special and important. What AA did was to fail at that.

    VeraSage isn’t about being soft and cuddly. It is a dynamic environment where differences of opinion and the emotion of leverage are welcome. I hope that people read our entire set of voices and glean the good and ignore the bad. VeraSage is about creating discussion and ideas.

    I do apologize to you, that I didn’t meet your expectations. I will reflect on this.



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