The PATS VAINĪGS (“It's your own fault!”) Model of Customer Service

Posted by jlubans on August 11, 2022

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I returned to Latvia a few months ago.
One of the observable changes on Riga’s sidewalks from 2019 is the increase in E-scooters.
Pre-Covid (PC) Riga sidewalks made for pedestrians were already congested with bikes. Now, sidewalks are shared with bikes, e-scooters, skate boards, and even Vespas.
As every large city has discovered, pedestrians and wheeled contraptions do not mix well. Numerous collisions occur from excessive speeds, two riders wobbling along on a one person scooter, drunk driving, and food delivery scooters hurrying to pick up or drop off, all the while swerving in and out around pedestrians.
After you are brushed back or run over, would you not expect the e-scooter driver to apologize?
Not in Latvia.
Instead of an apology the riders’ go-to phrase is in the title, “It’s your own fault! You got in my way!”
While I experienced this in Latvia, blame-shifting is not somehow unique to nations still hung over from decades of totalitarian rule. Back then, passing the buck was one way to survive.
But, such behavior is not limited to scooter/pedestrian interactions. I'm thinking I could develop a customer service training session with the “PATS VAINĪGS” theme.
After my summer travels I (and thousands of other stranded fliers) received letters from the CEOs of Delta, KLM and AirBaltic. Each CEO profusely apologized and expressed deep regret for the current international travel mess.
All three admit their business was not ready for the unexpected surge in holiday and summer travel.
Inexplicably, not one of the three refers to why - with generous governmental support – most, if not all, airlines chose to reduce payrolls.
They opted to reduce staffing during covid (DC) not just through normal attrition but through lay-offs, furloughs and by encouraging retirement and early retirements.
Instead of retaining staff - repurposing them, retraining and recruiting for the future - each of the CEOs took draconian steps to cut staff.
When travel demand returned sooner than expected, they raised prices and canceled flights, but they’d already sold too many tickets.
So, while my CEO letters do not explicitly claim it’s the travelers fault, they do claim that the sooner-than-expected-demand exacerbated staffing shortage.
No one fesses up:
“I made a big mistake. I, along with every other CEO in the airline industry, reduced staffing far too drastically.
As a leader, I should have been skeptical of industry projections and not signed on with the “gradual return” theory.
My decision to protect the bottom line caused this mess.”
Instead of an honest admission, it’s the traveler’s fault for wanting to travel sooner than airlines guessed.
Get it?
Nor is there any mention, in these contrite letters, of monetary compensation. Ever-mindful of the bottom line they are not about to take a loss.
It’s much cheaper to offer words of apology for this summer’s missing baggage, missed connections, scrambled reservations, and all the other high anxiety situations found at most airports.
But, they add, we want you to know we are working as hard as we can to remedy matters!
Here's a personal example of the “It’s your fault” style of customer service.
I was at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam on July 20th. My flight from Riga was on time for my connecting flight to the USA, but I did not yet have a boarding pass.
I went directly to KLMs Gate C7, the gate for my USA plane.
The blue uniformed staff at C7 told me to return in an hour and a half; they were leaving and made no effort to find out what I wanted.
Ninety minutes later I returned to C7; then I got a jolt. They said I had no reservation and that I had missed an earlier plane!
Worse, the KLM staff were adamant there was nothing they could/would do."It's your problem, deal with it!" (PATS VAINĪGS all over again!)
When I persisted, they directed me to a Transfer station (presumably a variety of a customer service counter), back in the concourse.
Arriving there I explained my situation to one of the KLM staff, a tall woman who seemed to be the lead person among a group of 4 or 5 blue-uniformed minions.
After hearing my brief explanation she asked me, “What is your question?” as if she were working a mall’s information desk.
Perhaps it was the sweltering temperatures inside the terminal that made her passive/aggressive?
She could/would do nothing and the only people to help were those back at, you guessed it, gate C7!
So, I trudged back.
This time C7 was more accommodating and said I could wait to see if a seat came open on the next flight to the USA.
I sat down.
As sometimes happens, it all worked out.
Out of the blue, a young man in a red jacket (and wings) appeared and told me there was a 1PM plane to Portland with a seat for me.
Did I want it?.
PS. Travel hassles to continue, as reported August 13-14, 2022 in the WSJ, "Travel Woes in Europe Won’t End This Summer" and shows that July was the peak month for disruptions. One Airline CEO says that "some of these disruptions will continue to surface for many years." The story makes no mention of the airlines colossal miscalculation about traveller demand and their subsequent reduction-in-force.

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And, don’t forget Lubans' book on democratic workplaces, Leading from the Middle

© Copyright text by John Lubans 2022
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