A bad experience with USAirways, now part of American Airlines, created the perfect foundation for a blog post about what NOT to do when it comes to working with an unhappy customer. You'll notice by the way, I've capitalized Customer Service, even though grammatically it should be lower case....that's because it's so critical. Sadly USAirways/American only has a "customer service" department.
Here's the scenario - due to maintenance problems our departing flight was late arriving in Nashville. Then, again because of maintenance problems, it was even later, leaving for our connecting flight in Charlotte. In order to get home we were forced to take another flight. Because we were going to miss our original flight and would have had to spend the night in Charlotte, the airline recommended we fly to Tampa (just an hour away) and take ground transportation home, which we whole-heartedly agreed with. While they picked up the cost for the ground travel to get us home, I still had a few issues.
I contacted them the next day to request two things. First, we chose to originally fly out of Sarasota because it's only 10 minutes from our home. While it's more expensive, it's so much more enjoyable to land and know we can be home in a few minutes. So, I wanted to be reimbursed for the differential in cost on the flight and also the $34 for the upgraded seats on the flight to Charlotte that, because of maintenance problems, we never made.
Well, here's where they failed...
1. You can't talk to a live body! Customer Service for USAirways/American is all based on email. In fact, trying to actually talk to somebody became impossible. I did make contact with their frequent flyer group, but only customer relations could handle our request.
2. When they did respond to my email they sent me an empty apology and offered to put 5000 points in each of our accounts. I went ballistic! I didn't want more points in an airline I'm going to do my best to never fly again.
3. I had to write back a second time, again because they're not accessible. When I didn't hear back I wrote one more time.
4. Over a week later I got a phone call from a rep by the name of "Kelly". She kept apologizing, but every time I made my request it was like talking to a character out of the "Stepford Wives". She told me the airline had fulfilled their responsibility when they got me home to my final destination, even though it was the wrong city! She made it sound like we chose to go to Tampa. Well, we did, but only because staying on our original routing would have meant staying overnight in Charlotte! She also agreed to follow-up on my $34 refund, which I'm still waiting to hear about. Last on the list she converted the 5000 points to $50 vouchers, but again, I have to fly USAirways or American to use them.
Here's the lesson for your own business:
- Be accessible. Don't hide behind email. Pick up the phone to call an upset client and make sure they know how to contact you.
- Empathize...put yourself in their shoes and let them know you understand.
- Come up with solutions that have value to your customers, not things that are simply an easy way out.
- Answer complaints quickly. Think of each complaint as if you were Smokey the Bear and snuffing out a match you found burning in the forest. If you solve problems early, they'll never develop. Just like Smokey, remember, "Only you can prevent forest fires!"
- Take responsibility and give your front line staff the authority to solve problems.
Last on the list, remember the potential one angry client has to have an impact on your business. Look, I won't change USAirway's policies, but if I can at least get a few of you to think twice before you fly USAir or American, I get the satisfaction of knowing I had a little impact.
I've used this line before and while I'd love to take credit for it, my good buddy Scott Bourne came up with it first. If there's ever a contest to help USAirways/American find a new slogan, my suggestion will be...