Monday, October 08, 2012

An interesting brush with corporate "customer service"

I flew back from Cleveland today on American Airlines. The flight was on time, the plane was clean, the staff was lovely.

I landed at JFK around 2.  I then hiked about a mile to baggage claim. No problem, JFK is a big airport, not all gates can be right near baggage.

Then I waited. And waited. The baggage carousels didn't show my flight from Cleveland on their reader boards of which planes' luggage would be arriving. The arrival list didn't show it either.

I waited 45 minutes, then happened to see my bag swirling forlornly on carousel #9. The one that said Austin and Washington and didn't say Cleveland.

No problem though. I grabbed the bag, and pulled the handle. Nothing.
Pulled. Nothing.

Repeat...and failure.

Crap. The rolly bag now rolls but you can only pull it if your arm extends to the height of the bag.

I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame pulling this thing to Baggage Services.
Where I met a very nice young man who promptly told me American Airlines really doesn't give a hoot if I fly with them again.

No they won't replace my damaged bag.
No they won't refund the $25 I paid to have it checked.
No, they won't do anything.

Ok. No problem.

I can see where I'm not wanted. And truthfully, my never flying American Airlines again won't affect them in the slightest. I'm one person of thousands, or tens of thousands who flew American Airlines in 2012.

Except, I have almost total control over where I fly and which airline I use.  I can decline to fly to places that are only served by American. I can pay more if paying more puts me on a different carrier.

I never have to fly American again. And I won't.
It's not the delay.
Or the broken bag.
Or the fact that the delay and the broken bag meant I waited in a long line for a cab ($48.50 with tip) instead of taking the Airtrain and the subway ($7.00 no tip needed)

It's that they just didn't care. Their front line customer service people are taught to say no no no. No we won't help you. No we won't do this. No.

Even the hot mess that is Amtrak has better customer service. When they mess up, they give you a travel voucher. And their customer service people actually say "I'm sorry you were inconvenienced. How can I help you?"

The man I interacted with wasn't rude. He wasn't even out of line. He was doing his job. The problem is the company taught him his job was to say no.

Ok, I'm saying no too. No more American Airlines.

As it turns out, I was lucky I wasn't sitting in the pilot's lap, or still in Cleveland!


Jolene Louise said...

How awful! I'm so sorry you had such a horrible experience. It's so surprising to me when companies like this train their employees to not help.

It's just sad.

Feaky Snucker said...

I agree with rewarding companies that treat us well by going with them, and boycotting ones that undervalue/ treat their customers like dogshit.

It's not about the money, it's about the principle.

It never hurts a company to commiserate, and to let the customer feel like they've been heard. Without customers, they are nothing. More companies need to realize this.

Even if they couldn't have done anything in that situation, the correct thing would have been to sincerely apologize, and to TRY to do something to fix it. Even if it was only a gesture, it might have been the difference between hard feelings but using their services again, and what the situation is now; angry shark with a platform chomps American Airlines.

steeleweed said...

So far I have crossed off my list several airlines, various department stores and dozens of businesses which all want my money as long as they don't have to do what I'm paying them to do. I'm about 90% on the way to hermithood, but at 75 I've got a big head start on you.

At least you got a polite uncaring agent who spoke English instead of 'house phone' routed to a 3rd-world callcenter agent who cares even less.

Welcome to the future

Joyce Tremel said...

I've noticed airlines don't like it when you tweet about their poor customer service. It might be worth a try to get at least a partial refund.

Janet Reid said...

Yea, their Twitter guy was pretty prompt in saying they'd "help" but honestly..I asked for help at the airport. I didn't get it.
That's the problem. Their customer service guys are trained to say no.

Spike Cordiner said...

So... Less 'customer service' and more 'customer repulsion', then.

Michael Seese said...

Good for you. Speaking with your feet, as they say, often is the most effective strategy. My similar story involves Continental, back when they were just Continental. To simplify the story, they double-charged for my checked bag.

I called the 800 number, and was told to call the corporate office. (Incidentally, not an 800 number.)

The woman I spoke with was VERY polite, and ultimately agreed to refund the incorrect fee.

A few days later, there came in the mail a check. Part of the accompanying letter said (to paraphrase), "In the future, please know our fee structures."

No. I don't expect you to understand infosec. That's why we force you to name your favorite pet or the street you grew up on to log into your bank account. Likewise, I would expect the baggage agents to know the fees, i.e., their job.

When I have some time, I'll tell you about the time my wife saved a man's life on a Southwest flight, and for her troubles, was awarded a pack of playing cards.

Kira Decker said...

You are not the first person I have heard this type of story from. Unfortunately. When the corporate mindset is based on "no" the employees can be polite but in the end if they want to have a job at the end if the day, no is just their job.

This is one of the reasons I go out of my way to notice and compliment someone on their customer service, even if the answer is no.

Eileen said...

Fools. Don't they know not to mess with the shark?

SiSi said...

I actually just made the same decision about American Airlines for the trip I'm taking Wednesday. My last experience with them wasn't great and I've heard other stories similar to yours. So I'm on another airline even though the flight times are less convenient and I'll end up having to pay more for airport-to-my-house transportation since I get in so late.

Jessica said...

Ha! I opted not to fly my usual American Airlines this weekend -- to Cleveland, actually -- and took my first and last flight on United instead.

Our flight left 35 minutes late, which happens, but when a group of us asked about our various connections, we were lectured for booking flights with such a short connection window! None of us had the choice, mind you, we just booked the flight United suggested to get to our destinations. First, we got a lecture from the flight attendant. Then, the pilot came over the PA and told everyone who had connection times under 45 minutes to stop bothering the flight attendants and to plan for a longer connection window next time we flew.

And nobody was bent out of shape that we were a bit late -- but to a person, our jaws dropped when the response was that it was our own faults we might not get where we were going. Oy.

nightsmusic said...

I had a similar experience with an airline who shall not be named, but it was the only time in years I checked my bag after a once horrible experience. I finally found my bag like you, on another carousel, but when I picked it up, the zipper was partially opened. Upon inspection, everything that had been closed was sliced open with a razor and I had one of a pair of $200 shoes. ONE! And what did their customer service department say? No, it wasn't our fault, no, anyone could have done that talk to the airport you left from and arrived at, no, we don't do anything in cases like this because you can't prove it was us. And after a week of circles, they gave me a $90 voucher. AS IF! Not only was I out the shoes, I was at a very fancy fundraiser the night I arrived and was not going in the tennis shoes which is the only other pair I had because I'd been wearing them, thank goodness! But I had to buy a new pair of heels. I love shoes, but please! On MY terms, not an airline's.

The minute I gave them my bag, it was their responsibility to keep it safe, just as AA's was with yours. And like you, I'll never fly them again. Voucher or no.

As a side, I don't, but don't ever hide things in the toes of your shoes when you pack a bag. That's the first place they look.

Chris said...

It's simple math. Multiply your experience by the number of customers on your flight, by the number of flights in that airport daily, by the number of days in a year, the number of airports in the country, and the number of opportunities throughout the flying experience where staff have the opportunity to shape a customer's experience for better or for worse.

And consider that some of those customers (like yourself) have the ability to share their experience with an audience larger than themselves.

American Airlines most likely spends millions on advertising. I wonder what their investment is per customer - and how many customers this one rude employee and their lousy customer service training and policies cost them.

Every ten or fifteen years, it seems, every airline goes bankrupt. Maybe that's just how much time it makes to piss off a critical mass of their customers so they won't fly any more.

#1Nana said...

If you think Delta will be any better, think again. I have a used once bag with a wheel broken off that we watched be thrown from the airplane by the baggage handler. Their baggage claim rep had the same script.

Renee Maynes said...

It would be easier to stomach airline travel if I didn't remember how it used to be when there were big seats, free luggage, carry ons were rare, and drinks and food were free. Back in the day, American Airlines reimbursed me for a sewing machine that got damaged when I checked it. No haggling, no argument, they just cut a check to cover the repairs. Sigh.

Stephsco said...

Probably everybody has an airline horror story, but you're right that it can make or break whether you use the airline again based on how they treat you. I had trouble on a flight to England--my first ever trip across the pond, so I was nervous to begin with. One caring customer service rep really made a difference, even if I did miss my connecting flight.

BP said...

Don't know if this has anything to do with life, (or bad customer service/bad wait times/bad baggage help) but a lot of airline employees have been going on strike recently, via an interesting Wall Street Journal article. hmmmm

Stephanie Campbell said...

I feel for you. If you aren't tired enough after a flight...I had a similar experience with them.

Buffra said...

I'm reminded of the "United breaks guitars" song by Dave Carroll of Sons of Maxwell. Which is fun and did get him eventual compensation, I think. Maybe you should song about it.

I get really annoyed by bad customer service. I'm sorry that your trip ended with such frustration.

Flute71 said...

That really stinks. At least your seats stayed bolted in place during the flight, though. ..I hear that has been a problem with American Airlines of late :-)

Jon said...

This summer my partner and I flew China Southern airlines. Due to an unfortunate weather delay, we missed our international flight out of Beijing. An Air Canada customer service rep went out of her way to assure us we got on standby for the next day's flight (we were the only ones on standby who got out that day). Also, China Southern put us up in a hotel for the night. Granted, the weather is not their fault, and the 100% Perfect Beijing Hotel does not mean what you and I think it means, but it was relatively clean, had air conditioning (which is extremely important in Beijing in June, trust me), and a working TV. Sorry AA didn't step up to the plate.

Brigid Kemmerer said...

As a person who works in customer service, it makes me NUTS to hear about people who are trained to say no. I was trained to find the path to yes, so it's infuriating to see so many people doing the opposite -- and then calling themselves "service" people! But I'm glad you recognize that this kind of attitude comes from the top. Such a shame.

Jane | @janelebak said...

I'm sorry about your bag. :-(

Bob Sutton (of The No Asshole Solution) had a post recently about United Airlines losing a family's ten year old daughter. She was flying as an unaccompanied minor, and they lost her...and the family got pretty much the same response you did.

His post is here:

He follows up with another very insightful post about the corporate culture of apathy, when a corporation has gotten to the point where the employees mutually loathe one another and loathe the customers. (that's here: )

I've never had problems with either Southwest or Amtrak, if that helps.

Wry Wryter said...

I've been trained to sew my lips to the customer's ass and give them anything they want.

You know Janet, for someone who says no to writers all day long I would have thought...ah, what's that sound? I think it's the theme music to Jaws. I'm going to shut up now.

Anonymous said...

What amazes me about this kind of attitude is that, yes, most of us are just one person. But we have the internet, and just one person can get to quite a few people, who can get to quite a few others, and a p.r. nightmare is born.

Then there are the Scalzi's of the world: not everyone would know him by sight, his name might not even ring a bell, but his blog can drop the internets on your head.

The point being that telling one customer "no" is rarely just telling ONE customer no these days, and tell the wrong customer no? You're looking at a real mess. It will eventually impact your business.

Bill Scott said...

I prefer Virgin Airlines. I just blogged about my experience on British Airways. I had a slightly better experience than you.

Martin Willoughby said...

Sounds like one of those days you want to firebomb the CEO's office.

Tom Franklin said...

The thing I don't get is that in this time of instant social media, your single incident won't stay limited to your small group of RL friends. Your story is going to get told to anywhere between tens to thousands of people, depending on who you are.

That American does not care about its reputation means they believe they are too big to be harmed by not just one person spreading their individual story on a given day, but many of their customers spreading their stories on all of the days American operates flights.

I don't know the statistics of the number of people who complain to American about shoddy service, but given the number of flights they do every day, that number has to be large enough to be noticed. That they appear to have a set policy of not responding in a helpful, meaningful way to such complaints means that their concern is only with profits, not with maintaining good customer relations.

The problem is, though, that maintaining good customer relations is key to maintaining good profits. Imagine the impact of this story if the person behind the American Airlines customer service desk had been helpful. Suddenly you're spreading a positive message instead of a negative one. Your social network would then have a reason to consider giving American their business when flying.

Instead, American believes themselves too big to need to pay attention to individuals. And that's the way businesses, large and small, fail.

Elissa M said...

I have had so many bad experiences on airlines and in airports that I will fly again only if there is absolutely no other way to get to my destination. So far, I have always found a way. (Did you know you can even go overseas by actually traveling on the ocean? What a concept!)

American Airlines is in bankruptcy and will pretty soon go the way of Pan-Am and others. The problem with this huge corporation (and many more like it) is the people at the top who set the policy have absolutely no vested interest. They don't care if they destroy the company because they are going to get their bonuses no matter what. Then they will move on to another seven figure job in another company. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Though the customers get stuck every which way, the people who really suffer most are the rank and file employees. Not only is it sheer misery to work in such an environment, but they wind up unemployed in the end no matter what they do.

Anonymous said...

I'm a frequent flyer, so I do get some better treatment based on the airline being nicer to frequent flyers. But I will say I've gotten amazing customer service from Delta.

They paid a large check without complaint when part of my trapeze rig got bent in a baggage machine two years ago. And earlier this summer, my partner and I ended up with complimentary hotel and food while waiting for a bag to come in, plus some flight coupons, and more flight coupons when the bag still didn't arrive! When the bag hadn't shown up at our final destination after a long drive, we were told to go out and buy what we needed for the show and we'd be reimbursed, and sure enough, Delta bought us $300 worth of makeup, costume pieces, and carabiners.

I always write a paper letter naming everyone who helped when I get good service--and paper letters of complaint, with names, when the service is crappy. Fortunately, with Delta I've written a lot more of the former!

Geekamicus said...

I stopped flying them years ago when it was announced on our plane that certain of us were not going to make our connections and needed to get off the plane to rebook or the airline wouldn't be responsible for our missing our flights. About 100 of us got off the plane. Then when we got to the front of the rebooking line, the clerk there yelled at us for getting off the plane and said they were no longer responsible for our missing our flights because we abandoned the aircraft. Left hand, meet right hand.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I generally don't like maligning companies for minor infractions, but American has been on my no-fly list ever since technical failures stranded me overnight in a strange city. There were no available flights for over 24 hours, I was not offered any sort of voucher for food or lodging, they wanted to charge me more for the next flight, and nobody even apologized for my inconvenience. In fact, the staff were quite rude. I reached the same conclusion as you: if they want to say nothing but no to me, I'll say no right back to them.

Anna said...

I think we have to start saying "no more." I had terrible trouble with a GE oven several years ago and when the problem couldn't be fixed (even though they admitted something was wrong) and charged me for the visit, I said "no more." When I replaced four of my GE appliances, GE wasn't even in the running. Customer Service matters. We may only be one person each, but I think it does matter.

I'm sorry they ruined your return home. They really should care.

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

The worst flight expirience I ever had was a couple of years ago when I went to Canada with my nine month old daughter. I was told I only needed a birth certificate, not a passport. Turns out that's not true. I got into Canada just fine, but when I went to go home they told me that my daughter couldn't fly home without a passport.
I was in Canada with a nine month old, two older kids at home, and the woman behind the desk told me I was SOL. Thank God another girl came out and helped me. The airline ended up getting in trouble with customs, but they eventually got me home.

mystwood said...

This is why I fly Southwest Airlines whenever I can. I've never had a problem with the airline or its customer service, and their staff is always friendly. I noticed the flight attendants even seem happy to be there!

I contrast this with the last time I flew American Airlines (spring 2012). My flight was delayed one hour because they neglected to schedule a co-pilot and second flight attendant. The return flight had issues too. That was enough for me to decide against flying AA ever again.