Monthly Archives: June 2013

@United Airlines: How not to do customer service

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m the first to give credit when customer service works but also believe that when companies fail it needs to be pointed out so that they can improve for the benefit of everyone in the future.

This is especially true when a company is attempting to use technology to better assist customers – or in this example further frustrating customers by not using the technology effectively.

The background
I came to America for the Apple World Wide Developer Conference flying with United Airlines. The plan was to fly Manchester to Washington, Washington to Pheonix, Tuscon to San Francisco, San Francisco to Newark, Newark to Manchester. Lots of flights but I’d made sure that on every leg of the journey there was plenty of time for connections and was genuinely very excited.

What went wrong?
Now we all know that things do sometimes go wrong and sometimes it’s about how companies respond that can make or break the situation.

The first flight was great, we landed in Washington and everything seemed spot on. Unfortunately there was a short delay (2 hours) on the Pheonix flight but that wasn’t going to be a problem as we would still land in time for me to get the last shuttle to Tuscon.

We boarded the plane – unfortunately due to a technical fault we were left sitting on the Tarmac for 3 hours while engineers attempted to fix the issue. It became apparent that the fault could not be fixed so we were asked to get off the plane and head to an alternative gate a 30 minute walk away. We then boarded the new plane and were kept waiting a further hour while bags were transferred before finally taking off – landing in Pheonix around 7 hours late meaning I had to sleep in the airport for 4 hours as I had missed the last shuttle. My 24 hour journey became 35 hours

The flight from Tuscon to San Francisco was without incident.

Returning home was an entirely different story. First I arrived at San Francisco to be told that my baggage was over weight. Now this seemed odd to me as it was the same weight as when I arrived in the US – I hadn’t added anything to the suitcase.

The flight was initially delayed by an hour due to storms in Newark, they boarded us onto the plane and then made us wait on the Tarmac until takeoff. They openly admitted that we were going to travel in a smaller plane than originally planned but the jet they put us onto was not a suitable size for a 6 hour flight in my opinion.

On the way into Newark we were put into a holding pattern for 45 minutes before landing some 90 minutes late. The connecting flight to Manchester had also been delayed (i guess fortunately) by around 2 hours resulting in an extended travel time back to the uk.

Flights get delayed all the time?

This is true, and is not what has promoted this article; throughout my whole experience with United I have found them unreceptive, and unwilling to offer customer assistance and support.

What I expected vs what I got

I thought it worth while to publish some constructive feedback for United that may assist them in making sure that customers like me are happy in the future even if there is a delay.

1. Poor signage – on several occasions during the trip the airline failed to update the signs accurately often stating incorrect destinations on gates, or just not advising passengers what was going on. This just leads to frustration and confusion …. Get the simple things right.

2. Airline staff not present – when there is a delay we like to talk to someone in the know about what’s going on. My experience with united is that checking desks are typically unmanned with little or no information being posted. This leaves passengers frustrated and over time leads to angry customers – I witnessed one example of such frustration being taken out on a member of staff which could easily have been avoided.

3. Delayed in Washington for 6 hours meant that all of the passengers needed food. No one wanted to eat at 1am when we eventually took off so it would have been a nice gesture to offer passengers a meal voucher as compensation – nothing materialised.

4. United did offer a compensation of a reduced internal US flight to passengers on the Washington flight. Clearly no consideration here for international passengers. It would ave been better to ask passengers how they could help. I’d have been delighted if there had a shower available to use.

5. Don’t load passengers onto a plane until it’s ready t take off. Sitting on the tarmac is not a fun experience especially if its several hours before a long haul flight. If you are going to do this at least offer passengers a cup of coffee – it’s only polite!

6. This is where technology hits. United have a Twitter account @united that claims to offer customer service to passengers. I tweeted @united several times during my trip and found that they tended to ignore me. Now I admit I maybe sent a few to many tweets, but the irony is that the more they ignored me the more I tweeted. If you are going to use social media as a means of customer service then you need to engage your passengers; asking what they can do to help and then ignoring the response only infuriates people. I would have settled for an apology, maybe a free cup of coffee?

They asked me what they could do so I tweeted back “give me an upgrade, or a refund” at least answer and say that isn’t possible and offer an alternative – as it stands I have the impression they were only paying me lip service and never actually intended to do anything which begs the question why are they using twitter at all?

7. If a bag is heavy on the way out charge for it then ….. If you carry the bag out of the country you surely have a duty to bring it back?

8. Always make sure there is a meal on a long haul flight. There wasn’t one from San Francisco to Newark – 7 hours including the delay is to long to go without food.

Now I’m not saying that doing all of the above would have made me happy about the delay; but I would have walked away thinking that @united had done all they could to make the situation better and that they cared about me as a customer.

As it stands I’ve left thinking that @United Airlines actually couldn’t give a stuff about me or how their failures have impacted my trip. I’ll certainly avoid flying with @united in the future and I wold strongly encourage others to do the same.

Maybe the true test of United’s customer service is how they respond to this article. Will they take on board the suggestions? Issue an apology? Admit they got it wrong? Do @United actually care?

Have you had any good or bad airline experiences? Maybe you to have flown United – what was your experience? Comment on the blog or tweet @United to let them know!

Categories: Customer Service, Social, Travel | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

WWDC: A view of the world

So WWDC is drawing to a close. I thought it worth drawing together my thoughts on what has been an incredible week for technology, innovation and for Apple.

1. iOS 7

This week Apple announced the all new iOS7. Having now been at the keynote where it was unveiled and having discussed it with several people I think it would be fair to say that the general reaction is very positive. The new UI is slick, it offers developers new opportunities to do some cool new things with their apps, and (although others criticise this) it learns from the best of what others have done. In my view, if a feature, or design element works well on another platform there is no reason why Apple re-invent it and incorporate it into iOS. I do agree with the statement made by Tim Cook that this is “The Biggest Change to iPhone since the iPhone” and I applaud Apple for that because it will clearly change the way we think about and use the iPhone – it does however, kind of leave you wondering, what next?


2. OSX Mavericks

It has some cool new features, i’d argue its nothing to really write home about though. Tags are going to helpful, and I also like the ability to be able to use tabs within finder – the most helpful thing from my own perspective is the multi display improvements but i’m very conscious that this will only really be of great benefit to power users. For me that’s where the functional excitement ends – if the battery life improvements really do come to fruition then of course that will be useful but i’m still not convinced that its worth all the hype.


3. The stats

My experience this week has reinforced how far Apple are ahead of the competition especially in terms of the App Development market. The key statistic that has stuck in my mind this week is that Apple have now paid out $10 billion to developers which is more than all of the other platforms combined. From the standpoint of a developer it is much more attractive to build apps for iOS as opposed to other platforms and that suggests that the App ecosystem offered by Apple is much more sustainable in the long term. I doubt a developer conference for one of the other platforms would sell out in 71 seconds – what do you think?


4. Do Apple need Jobs?

I continue to be a little worried for Apple in that I still don’t see anything “new” and if i’m honest I haven’t seen anything new since 2010 when Apple released the iPad. Apple have enjoyed an excellent run over the last 7 years first wowing the world with the iPhone and then repeating the performance with the launch of iPad – the time is now ripe though for something brand new, something exciting, functional and different. If that doesn’t happen next year than in my view Apple are going to start loosing some of their momentum. Within Jobs leading the way in terms of idea generation I fear that Apple could loose their way.


All of that said I have had the most amazing week here at WWDC, it is an absolute must attend for any developer who is serious about developing for iPhone, iPad or Mac – if you want to discuss my view on how iOS7 is going to change the world tweet me @stevewestgarth


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Data Access in America

You may remember that last year I blogged about the costs associated with Data Access in Europe. Coming to America I knew that using my mobile wouldn’t be cheap; or at least that was my assumption before I travelled. I have, however, come up with some innovative solutions that have surprised me as to how cost effective communicating transatlantic can be.

1. O2 TuGo

My mobile phone contract in the UK is with O2, thanks to the new TuGo app I can make and receive calls and send text messages from anywhere in the world via wifi. They charge me as if I were using my handset in the UK so any call time or texts comes out of my contract minutes. If you haven’t found the app yet or want more information take a look at this website.

2. An American Sim Card

Fortunately I had remembered to ensure that both my iPad and Mobile phone were unlocked so I have been able to purchase American Sim Cards for the devices. This obviously makes data access significantly cheaper; unlimited data on my mobile phone costs around $3 per day.

What surprised me more though was that for an extra $10 I am able to make unlimited calls to UK landlines.

Both of the above solutions has made me realise how far behind we are in the UK in terms of data and calling plans on our mobile devices. I called O2 before travel and was told that using my phone abroad would cost more that £1 per minute to make calls and around £0.90 per minute to receive calls. It seems to me that there is something amiss here Рwhy is it cost effective for American carriers to offer reasonable calling plans but not for UK carriers.

What is your experience of calling and using data from abroad?

Categories: Customer Service, Mobile Phones, Technology, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A View Worth Admiring


I just couldn’t resist sharing this. This is my favourite photo of WWDC so far. You will also love this panorama¬†

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Meeting People through the use of Technology

When I arrived in San Francisco on Sunday I didn’t really know anyone and had no plans for the day. I had been using a great app called Glassboard to share ideas and experiences with other attendees so posted a message asking if anyone else was at a loose end.

Within a few moments a message popped up from another developer also free and very quickly we ended up heading out for some lunch.

A similar thing happened on Monday, someone posted on Glassboard looking for people to have dinner with, within 30 minutes 12 people had congregated in the foyer of Moscane West and we all headed out for an Indian.

In both of these cases technology has enabled me to become more social, had I not had access to Glassboard I might well have ended up eating dinner alone and wouldn’t have made new and exciting connections.

It seems to me that social media is often viewed in he wrong way. People often consider that technology is causing people to become less social and live their lives online but the more I use social centric technology the more I realise that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Has technology helped you to be more social recently?

Categories: Apps, Social, Technology | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Why do we bother to queue?

This week is Apples word wide developer conference in San Francisco. I’m here for the week, it’s 3am and I’ve just joined the queue for the keynote speech (7 hours to wait).

It’s got me thinking about why people queue in this technology savvy era. The videos from this conference will be available online, it’s rumoured that they will be released during the conference itself to all registered apple developers. Given that information why didn’t I just stay at home and watch the conference online?

For me, I think I’m here for the atmosphere and the buzz. We as humans as social animals and we like to share the experience with others.

This raises some interesting questions as to how fulfilling social media really is ….. Can online communication ever be as effective and fulfilling as actually being together with other like minded individuals?

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