In the last week I joined an army of people who recently had bad experiences with airlines. It is fascinating to see how low the bar to “delight” customers through customer service has gone in the airline industry (and many other industries) in North America.
My story started with a trip to the West Coast on American Airlines. Since I had ordered my ticket late and had no seat assignment, I went to the airport extra early to get a good seat. When I checked in they gave me a center seat and said that the gate agent would be able to switch me (customer service tip #1: pass the buck). Next I sat in an airport security line for 45 minutes. They had one security line servicing at least 30 gates. First class passengers had their own, and much shorter security line, which ticked off many passengers as TSA (Transportation Security Agency) employees who manage airport security are not American Airlines employees but government employees paid with our tax money. When I finally got to the gate, the agent did not even faint trying to help me – she rudely told me to take a seat as the flight was full (customer service tip #2: screw the customer).
What happened next is the best part. I boarded and realized that my seat was broken. I promptly informed the flight attendant of my problem – after all, who would want to be on a six hour full flight in a broken seat that cannot be locked in its upward position? The aggressive and non-friendly response from the agent was: “I am not sure that they can fix it, and because YOU now reported this problem they may have to take you off the plane and not fly you to California today!” So she was implying that it was my problem, since I had reported one of their defective seats (customer service tip #3: blame the customer). If only I would have sat up-straight and pretended that nothing was wrong with the damn seat, that would have been a much better solution for HER! I put up a stink and they reluctantly gave me another center seat so that I could make it to California.
Then came the weekend, when I had to fly United Airlines to Vancouver. 3 hours prior to my flight I get a call from one of their automated machines informing me that my flight segment from Chicago to Vancouver was cancelled and that perhaps other arrangements had been made for us. When selecting the option to speak with a representative I got a fast busy tone, so I called the main United 800#. After being in a queue for 35 minutes, during which I discovered that my flight was the last one out of Chicago to Vancouver that day and that there was another alternative flight route through Toronto, I finally got a “somewhat” live person on the phone:
United: may I help you?
Me: your automated service just called me to inform me that my flight segment from Chicago to Vancouver has been cancelled and that other arrangements may have been made
United: they did call you and told you that?
United: well, they tell you stuff before they tell us, I see no such thing in my record…
Me: well, can you at least see that the Chicago to Vancouver was canceled?
United: hold on…oh yes, you are right, the flight was canceled
Me: so what should I do?
United: fly to Chicago and see what they say
Me: but it is the last flight out of Chicago today, it makes no sense for me to go there…
United: hold on…oh, yes, it is the last flight out of Chicago
United: you should go to Chicago and they will help you there…
Me: there is an alternative through Toronto on Air Canada – your partner
United: oh I see…let me check
United: there is no flight out of Chicago to Toronto that will get you to Vancouver…
Me: no, but there is one out of Boston that will get me there
United: oh, I see…let me check…this was the last flight out of Chicago..
Me: yeah…but this is Boston…
United: oh I see…I can “protect’ that flight for you
Me: great! So you are confirming that I know will fly from Boston to Toronto and then on to Vancouver
Me: do I just check in at United or do I go to Air Canada?
United: that I do not know…try both…
Me: thank you very much
This was not an exchange on Saturday Night Live or some other comedy channel…this was real (customer service tip #4: hire real cheap labor and try cutting cost on training and IT!
No wonder JetBlue has such high praises from customers. In a market where the bar is so low, it does not require much to delight customers!