Want a great example of the broken state of airline customer service in this country? Try a four-way conference call between yourself, Amex Travel, US Airways, and Delta. You’ll see firsthand how CSRs from the two airlines can play the “it’s not our responsibility” so well that even a devoted Amex Travel rep can’t get them to solve your problem.
Michael’s story is long and complicated, but only because that’s how all airline reservation stories in the United States are these days. You can read the blow-by-blow tale on his own site, but here’s a condensed version:
- Michael books a Las Vegas vacation package—flights and a hotel stay—through Amex Travel.
- The departing flight’s flight number is changed. No worries.
- The return flight is canceled, and Michael is rebooked on a flight that’s no longer a direct shot to NYC—now it includes a 4 hour layover in Phoenix, and arrives almost 5 hours later than he’d originally booked, on the morning when he has to go back to work.
- He calls Amex Travel and speaks to Moses, who agrees to call US Airways while Michael remains on the line.
- Michael wonders to himself why Moses can’t just cancel the package and rebook a new one with a more appropriate itinerary, but at this point he goes along with Moses’ suggestion.
- The US Airways rep suggests, in the following order:
- That Michael just take the flight he’s calling about;
- That he wait until he’s in Vegas, then cancel his return flight and try booking a new one then.
- Moses asks to speak to a supervisor. The US Airways rep refuses, then relents eventually, then keeps Moses and Michael on hold for several minutes, then disconnects them.
- Moses calls back and manages to connect with a supervisor named Rena. He asks her to book a return flight for Michael on a different airline.
- Rena says she can’t, because the flight was a “Code Share PNR” through Delta. For the purposes of this story, the point is she says Delta has to make the change, because they’re actually selling the seats on the flight.
- Moses asks Rena to stay on the line and calls Delta. The Delta rep, Katherine, refuses to participate in a shared call with US Airways.
- Moses connects her anyway. (Good for Moses!)
- Katherine says she can’t make any changes to the flight, because US Airways has to. Rena says she can’t make any changes to the flight, because Delta has to. Katherine says she has other callers waiting and has to go. (This is our favorite part of the story—that Katherine refuses to help a customer because she has to go help customers.)
- Both airline reps get off the line, leaving Michael and Moses where they started.
- Now Michael asks Moses why Amex Travel can’t just cancel and rebook the flight. Moses tells him Amex Travel is unwilling to do that, because the hotel would charge them a cancellation fee.
- Moses eventually manages to find Michael a new return flight that leaves Vegas earlier—cutting Michael’s final vacation day short—and flies into far-off Newark instead of JFK or La Guardia, and still has a layover in Phoenix. But at least it doesn’t arrive at 5am in the morning on the day he has to return to work.
Michael says he’s going to call back again and continue to fight for a better return flight. He also points out that as a small business owner, he’d never be able to stay in business if he treated his customers so badly.
Katherine and Rena know how the customer service game is played, not just in the airline industry, but all over corporate America. If there’s a tough problem, it’s best to pass the buck onto another party as soon as you see an opening and move on to the next call. Customer support is a liability- the cheaper, the better. I was really having a tough time fighting through this system- I haven’t talked much about my contribution to this lengthy conversation, but it suffices to say that I was incredulous, and often asked these various representatives what they would do if they were in my shoes. They had no answer.
“My Saturday Battle with US Airways, Delta, and AMEX” [Help with a smile Tech Blog for Non-Geeks]