Customer Service

@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!

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

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 – why 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

Data access in Europe

This week I’ve taken a holiday to Sorrento in southern Italy. Naturally I couldn’t come away without bringing some technology with me – I have my iPhone, iPad and (in the hotel room) my laptop has come along for the ride.

Something which I’m finding slightly frustrating is that the SIM card in my iPad doesn’t work while I’m abroad, yet despite being on the same network the SIM card in my mobile phone works just fine. I knew this before I travelled having checked with O2 but sitting here in the picturesque Amalfi I’m wondering why.

Having said that my iPhone works fine, it does but my provider places certain restrictions on usage. O2 send me frequent text messages to remind me that I can use up to 25 mb per day for £1.99. I enquired about the cost of going over this allowance and was told that if I did regularly I would be charged £0.65 per mb.

In a normal month I use an average of 1.5 gb worth of data which is around 50mb per day, it therefore occurs to me that a 50% reduction in data usage when I’m using my mobile phone more (particularly navigation, and the Internet to research places I’m visiting) means that I’m not getting what I want out of my provider. Coupled with the fact that my iPad sim doesn’t work abroad I’m actually feeling very disconnected.

I suppose you could argue that I’m on holiday and therefore should be relaxing and revelling in this apparent connectivity restriction; on many levels I agree with you, but it still leaves me asking the question why is it such a problem to use as much data as I want to in 2012? Surely this problem is just going to get worse in years to come as more and more people connect multiple devices to the Internet. Is it because operator costs increase by providing access abroad? Or is there some other reason?

According to Ofcom there is some other reason. A 2012 ruling has regulated charges that mobile operators can impose for providing these services and the maximum charges are on a decreasing sliding scale over the next 2 years. By summer 2014 operators will be able to charge a maximum of 20 cents per mb for using data abroad.

My experience in 2012 tells me that one way operators are getting around these price limitations is by simply capping the amount of data their customers are allowed to use when abroad or in the case of the iPad simply not supporting data access. Surely this cannot be a sustainable model? I can’t see my data usage decreasing over time …… One solution would be to buy a local sim card when I go abroad but again this seems tiresome …..

Have you had data access issues in Europe? How did you solve your issues? Also if you’re a mobile operator how do you see the future developing for data access abroad?

Categories: Customer Service, Mobile Phones, Technology, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Responding to customer feedback

Some of the regular readers of this blog will know that I recently had a bad experience shopping at Audi Cheshire Oaks. I thought it only fair to Audi to update readers on action taken since I blogged about the experience.

First of all well done Audi – I was contacted via twitter, they apologised and asked for my contact details and promised to look into it – so far so good – definitely on the right track to making me happy.

They even followed through – I had a phone call from the sales man that I spoke to in the showroom who was vey apologetic and wanted to put things rights. Slightly frustrated that I had to explain to him what I wanted a quote for (again) having told him all of the details 10 days earlier during my visit to the showroom – but I guess you can’t expect everything to be perfect.
The difference this time is that he followed it up by actually sending me the quote – It seems third time really is lucky – Certainly more proactive …..

So after all of that am I going to do a deal with the company? In honesty probably not – at least not from Audi Cheshire Oaks ….. To my mind if this is the service you get prior to making a purchase then I dread to think what the after sales service will be like but it is comforting to know that Audi as a company do take complaints seriously and do seem to act upon them – that means that I’m definitely not put off Audi as a company – to my mind that is successful damage limitation for which the company must be commended.

Anyone else had any good or bad experiences?

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

Technology and Customer Service

I had cause to visit my local Audi Dealership today at Cheshire Oaks earlier today. I’ve been considering a new car for some time and thought that today might just be the day.

During my visit the customer service I received wasn’t what I would consider up to scratch – I was made to feel like I was there for the their benefit and they didn’t seem to care about me as an individual. At the point I was told that I could either wait 45 minutes while the salesman finished the other quotes he had to do (and then do mine) or could have my quote e-mailed to me really annoyed me ….. so I left.

This experience made me start to question how important is customer service when accessing technology. If you want technology badly enough would you put up with poor customer service.

Take Apple as a casing point. I’m always been blown away by the level of service that I receive whenever I have cause to speak to Apple – but would I still want that new iPad, iPhone 5 or accessory if the company didn’t make me feel special?

I return to Audi, the reality is I probably still do want to get an Audi – but i’d be unlikely to purchase it at Audi Cheshire Oaks. My instinct as a customer is to shop at an outlet where I get the best customer service. I guess this is fine for a large company, but what about smaller organisations – if they are they only vendors of a product not shopping with them could be cutting your nose to spite your face.

Would you buy something from an organisation that had annoyed you or didn’t value you as a customer?

Categories: Apple, Customer Service, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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