Friday, September 21, 2012

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you”—again


Several subsequent experiences have served to convince me that some large companies do not direct energy, resources, and training toward maintaining a high level of customer service despite the fact that it is the customer who keeps the bottom line healthy and the shareholder happy. Here are a couple of them.

I hold a credit card that allows me to collect points and redeem them for travel or other rewards through the auspices of a large travel rewards organization. For this privilege, and others, I pay a fee of $120 per year. In January of this year I used 90,000 rewards points, all accumulated through purchases rather than airline travel, purchases made over a few years, to book a return flight Maui for my friend and myself in September. The itinerary I was given included a Vancouver-to-Denver segment, a Denver-to-Los Angeles segment, and a Los Angeles-to Maui segment, over fifteen hours of travel for a trip that would take five hours on a direct flight. In August the flights were rerouted, reducing the trip to 11+ hours.

 At Vancouver airport on the day of the flights we were directed to the automatic check-in machines, which printed three boarding passes for me for the three flights but only one for my friend. We therefore had to wait in line to see an agent, who rather rudely told us that since the other two flights were with a different airline we would have to go to that airline’s check-in counter to get the additional two boarding passes. We convinced the agent to accompany my friend to the other airline’s counter where the boarding passes were printed. On the final two flight segments we were assigned seats in different sections of the plane, this despite the fact that I had booked the trip eight months earlier. When I asked at the departure gate of the first flight if our seats for the following two flights could be changed so that we might sit together, I was told by a semi-interested agent that since those flights were with another airline, I would have to wait and ask the agent at the departure gate of the next segment to make those arrangements. As the Vancouver-to-Portland flight was delayed and the next segment was boarding when we arrived in Portland we were unable to change our seats. We did manage to be seated together for the final portion from San Francisco to Maui.

When we arrived in Maui after a long and often frustrating day of travel, we discovered after standing for 45 minutes beside the luggage carousel that our bags had been left in San Francisco. They were not delivered until 3:30 the next afternoon, thirty minutes beyond the latest time of delivery guaranteed by the airline. The company, with which neither of us ever flies, offered a $100 travel voucher as compensation.

The frustration that we experience in these kinds of customer service breakdowns is primarily the result of the simple fact that in spite of what we may have paid, in spite of the time we have spent, in spite of the promises of the company with which we are dealing, we are throughout the process able to exercise little or no control over our situation and in the end are unable to receive satisfaction. A $25 gift certificate and a few apologies made by telephone and e-mail do not make up for the treatment I endured in that department store. A $100 travel voucher, virtually useless to us, does not come close to compensating for the loss of at least one day of our vacation. Nor do they affect the company enough to give the customer the confidence that such egregious failures to provide basic service will be seriously addressed.  The companies are fully aware that most customers will not take their complaints any further once they have received “compensation.”

The bank recently replaced my credit card due to an unauthorized charge of some three hundred dollars made on my old card. I received the new card within a day of reporting the fraudulent transaction. Unfortunately, the new card was not linked to my online banking service, so I was unable to see recent transaction or to access recent or past e-statements. I called the bank and was treated most kindly and my problem corrected instantly. However, when I went back online to view my e-statement, I again could not gain access to it, so I called the bank a second time, only to be connected with an agent who was unable to understand my problem, no doubt partly because she continually interrupted me when I tried to explain it to her. Finally I was able to speak to a very pleasant person in Online Banking Assistance, who apologized profusely and then advised me that he would send an e-mail to the relevant department and that the situation would be corrected—in five business days or less! Naturally, I protested and was again greeted with profuse and sincere apologies but no promise of acceleration toward action on my issue. I was helpless. That same morning I had read online that the bank was showering its shareholders with unprecedented dividends thanks to record profits.

 In this case, at least, my problem was corrected the next day.

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