January 31, 2008

Losing Business with Business Automation

Automated customer service emails have their place. But when they are not in line with customer expectation you can end up doing more harm than good.
On Friday Jan, 17 I took a flight on US Airways from San Antonio to Phoenix. I experienced the worst service in my history of flying, which is saying something since I spent the equivalent of one full work month on a plane in 2007 (about 160 hours for those told there would be no math) . Never before had I written an airline as the bar is set pretty low with regard to guest experience and I am generally understanding of the airline plight. Airline employees deal with unhappy and rude customers all the time, and 98% of the time the problem is out of their control like flight delays or being out of Coke cans mid flight.

But attitude and how a job is performed is completely in the control of any employee. The kicker for me was getting off the plane to wait for my carry on bag to be delivered (small plane) and watch our bags get "launched" by an employee three feet up over a railing and fall about three feet to a landing. Thankfully I didn't have anything fragile in mine, but I saw one laptop bag go airborne (as it's owner cringed) and one garment bag get a hammer style throw.

Since my iPhone does not have video capability (one of its major limitations) I tried to get my camera out to take video but was too slow (I think it would have made an interesting YouTube upload). I sent a note to US Airways, but not an "angry customer" note. I told them the story of my experience and ended it saying I did not want anything in return but hoped customer service would be a higher priority.

The following day I got an automated response from US Airways apologizing for my "travel difficulties" and a $75 non-transferable travel voucher. I suppose I could have just accepted this as the reality of things, but I felt a bit insulted. US Airways could have quickly validated if I had a frequent flier number (which I do) and found my Star Alliance status. My guess is they could have also discovered I spent over $2200 in airfare since January 1, 2008 (30 times the voucher amount).

I sent a response email to customer service saying I did not want the voucher I just wanted better service the next time I flew. They sent another email apologizing for offending me with the voucher and that my concerns had been delivered to the appropriate management. I ended feeling again like my experience stunk.

US Airways could have righted my experience one of two ways. Picking up the phone after the second email would have been ideal. It would have made me feel appreciated and ensured they understood I was not angry but disappointed. Obviously they cannot do this with everyone, but the reason for loyalty programs is so you know who a customer is and what losing them may mean. Second, though I did not want anything, a full fare voucher would have told me they really wanted me to fly with them.

The point of business automation should be to improve the guest experience, not the other way around.


|| davidjay || said...

U.S. Airlines suck ... Branson knows it and hopefully he'll keep Virgin America spreading

Kevin Sturm said...

I've never had the pleasure to fly Virgin, but I hear it's great.

I actually really like United though. They are generally on time and I have good experiences with their staff.

Andy said...

im still flying virgin*