Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How United Airlines let me down - and dropped the ball on customer delight

I am a frequent flier... a very frequent flier and whenever possible I fly on United Airlines. I rack up the miles, I pay coach fare and I stay loyal to the airline hoping to upgrade on the longer flights.

But I saw the dark side of an airline that clearly still isn't profitable enough for their shareholders last week.

I have flown to the UK three times since Christmas to visit my mother who is grappling with an advanced cancer. On my most recent trip I had originally purchased a ticket non-stop San Francisco to London and back. But, once I was in the UK, I needed to change my return to go through New York for a meeting.

My original ticket was about $1000 - seemed like a fair price to me for a winter ticket. Imagine my horror when I called the United 1K desk and was told that to change my flight to come back through New York was an additional $3000 - for a coach ticket! But that was not what was so disappointing.

What frustrated me was the complete lack of help I got from the agent on the phone. Dismissal at my distress, no help trying to find an alternative. I pointed out that I could buy a whole new ticket one way home through New York for $1500 and she nastily said - well why don't you do that then! (which is what I did when I hung up - and just ripped up my return ticket) She felt disempowered because she told me several times that I should go on the web because the web would have "specials" that she could not see, and that it was not her problem that I was making a change once I was already traveling on the itinerary.

Customer delight comes from the culture of a company - and from the top down. It's not just about great product and good support systems, it's also about the attitude of every employee when they interface to the customer. It's a very different thing than customer satisfaction - it's about the feeling you have about a company - do you become a passionate advocate and a loyal user - do you LOVE the company vs. Satisfaction which is a passive feeling.

It would only take one look at my UAL record for any agent to see that I am a customer at least to try to help, and not a customer to piss off. After all Virgin Atlantic has flights on the routes I fly every week too...

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