When you hear someone tell a bad customer service story, you can often learn a lot about the person talking. In a lot of these cases indignation, entitlement and self-centredness abound. In fact, I find myself having a lot of sympathy for the people serving customers in these stories. So often front-line staff are saddled with processes that seem completely absurd but made perfect sense when the decision was made at a different level when driven by grander organisational objectives. I hope the following story doesn’t come across as a whinge, because I don’t intended it to be that way. Looking back on it now I actually find the whole story pretty hilarious.
A work colleague and I flew up to Sydney to watch the Socceroos final World Cup qualifying match against Iraq. We had bought general admission tickets months in advance, but in the week leading up to the match as the game approached a sell-out the stadium had switched to fully ticketed. According to a call we received the day before the game, this meant we would now have to pick up new tickets for freshly reserved seats. No big deal.
After waiting in a queue outside our gate for an improbably long time, we made our way through the turnstiles and began to look for our seats. After poking around for a few minutes, one of the stadium staff members saw our blank faces and came over to help us. It then became pretty clear why we couldn’t find them: we weren’t expecting to be seated in the wheelchair row.
For those not familiar with wheelchair rows, they are set up in pairs - one space for a wheelchair-bound person and one seat for the guardian that often accompanies them. My friend’s new ticket got him a seat next to a particularly cantankerous woman with emphysema. My seat, number 46, was the space for the wheelchair. If you hadn’t already guessed, I didn’t have one. My seat was a concrete space with a wheelchair logo painted on it and a soggy cardboard box.
The game had already started. While I was completely baffled by the whole situation, I just wanted to watch the match. I sat with my legs crossed on a damp piece of cardboard for the first thirty minutes of the match. Eventually I decided to go back over to the member of stadium staff to see if he could do anything for me.
I’d say I was firm but polite with him. Basically I explained my situation and asked if there was anything that he could do to help me. He said that he was aware what had happened but there wasn’t really much he could do. He hadn’t been able to get in contact with his manager and therefore hadn’t been able to arrange a move for us. I asked him to justget me a plastic chair from somewhere instead. I actually thought I was being accommodating. He said he couldn’t because it was a potential projectile.
Those soccer fans, you know.
I felt for him a little bit there in spite of all the ridiculousness. I think I offered to promise not to throw it like a seven year old might promise not to tell anyone a secret. Sadly, he still wouldn’t. If he had got me the chair and I had ended up throwing it at someone, he would be facing a serious kick in the arse, if not dismissal. So I went back to my seat and decided to go to the complainer’s best friend: Twitter.
The thing with complaining at organisations on Twitter is that the social media teams who deal with these complaints have way more decision-making power and flexibility than the front-line staff in banks, insurance companies or sports stadiums do. They can take action outside normal processes and they can do it way faster. They must be both completely paranoid at the potential negative public relations impact that tweets can have and enticed by the idea of a direct line to their customers. Whatever the reason, I tweeted and had a response in about five minutes.
In the meantime, the stadium staff member I had spoken to earlier approached me with a pair of seats up in the top stand that we could relocate to. I refused, mostly on account of the fact that my friend had a really sore foot and I didn’t want to drag him up flights of stairs to a significantly worse seat than both the original ones we bought and the ones we were reallocated. I told it to the poor bloke straight up, it was a crap solution. Part of me knew I could do this because I knew the Twitter folk were coming shortly, so I told him not to worry. I’d gone over his head anyway, and even if the social media team wasn’t coming to my rescue, I’d have rather stayed on the concrete.
Just on half time, two young women with iPhones came past asking who it was that was tweeting about their seat. I put my hand up and explained the situation. They looked at the space, saw my injured friend and decided they’d go figure out what they could do.
And just in time for the second half, one of the girls spun around the corner with a white plastic Coca-Cola chair. That chair, my friends, was proof that social media teams don’t play by the same rules as everyone else. She politely requested that I restrain myself from throwing the chair if the game didn’t go our way and that we also wait a few minutes after the match so she could come and collect it safely. I happily agreed to both of those terms.
Thankfully for us the only drama taking place in the second half was on the field. It was a tense battle with young Iraqi side defending gallantly and counter-attacking with intent. It stayed nil-nil for what felt like an eternity with a few goals having been disallowed. The crowd really begun to feel the clocking winding down on our chances of immediate qualification to the World Cup. Osieck preceded to roll the dice, removing Cahill for Josh Kennedy.
It paid off. Mark Bresciano delivered a glorious cross from just outside the penalty area onto the forehead of Kennedy, who did exactly what was required.
The goal was scored at our end, right in front of our very eyes. The celebration went on for what felt like five minutes. I stopped high fiving and fist pumping for a minute to turn around and look at the scene, to try and take it all in. Almost all of the 80,523 people in attendance were going ballistic. The noise, colour and energy was amazing. It felt significant. It felt joyous. It felt like relief as well.
Once the match ended, we stayed behind to watch the players walk around the ground and celebrate like they’d won the 2014 World Cup instead of just qualifying for it. I suppose it did make for good TV highlights. We were supposed to wait for our friend from the social media team to come and pick up my plastic chair as well, but we stayed maybe fifteen or twenty minutes after the last whistle and she didn’t arrive. Maybe she came thirty seconds after we left, maybe no-one came and picked it up at all, I don’t know.
About a week or so after the game, I got a message from my colleague who had spent some time on the phone to stadium management talking about our experience with the reallocation and eventually managed to get us our money back. I got the fourty bucks back for my troubles. Good deal, I reckon. I saw the match for free and got a funny story out of it.