Where Have You Gone, Customer Service? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.

Paraphrasing a famous Simon and Garfunkel tune aside, I really would like to know where good customer service has gone?

We spend so much time trying to find new and innovative ways to find new customers, from coupons to rewards programs to tweeting on Twitter (which still makes me feel like a fell into a cartoon and somehow am going to have a puddy tat chasing me!) to updating websites to yes, even blogs like this one here, but it seems that we are losing the basic fundamentals that show us it is easier to keep a loyal customer than to find a new one. I had a few occurrences of this a recent week’s trip to our Raleigh, NC office.

I am a frequent flier on American Airlines. Not because they have the best customer service in the world (they are OK; personally what I think is wrong with the airline industry is a story among itself) but because they fly to most of the places I do so I can at least rack up enough frequent flier miles to be able to insure my bag makes it on the same plane I do and I have a shot at an exit row seat. On this particular occasion, my travel agent waited too long to book my trip, so they put me on a United flight instead because they could no longer get me the agreed upon price on American. That was strike one.

Strike two came when I started to deal with the wonderful customer service at United. First, it was the cattle call they call boarding the plane. I was in group 3 so I am somewhat patiently waiting as they start to board the flight. They call for first class passengers first followed by group 1. Half of the people at the gate get up and start storming the doorway to get in. Person after person walking past me with big 4’s and 5’s stamped on their tickets, however the gate agent is just checking in one after the other. What happened to following the rules? Wouldn’t a gate agent following the rules have made this a more efficient boarding process?

Next, I actually get on the flight. Because of the tardiness in which my travel agent booked the flight, I have the very enviable middle seat. No really, if you want a really good workout, sit in the middle seat between two people who think it is their right to own the arm rests. It is especially fun when you use this time to write blog articles, I can assure you. I did notice, however, that while we are all packed like sardines back here, there are several seats open in the exit rows and forward. I’m thinking—great, if they are open, I will just move up there and give these rejects from the old Stallone movie “Over The Top” all the room they need. A gentleman sitting behind me who was in the same situation thought the same thing, so he asked the flight attendant if it was OK to move. Her response? “No sir, you may not move there. Those are economy plus seats and are reserved for our customers who are willing to pay more for comfort.”

Are you kidding me? First of all, way to insult us by implying that we are too cheap to fork over an additional $35 to not have the guy in front of us sitting in our lap, but why wouldn’t you want to move someone into that seat? The door was closed so he wouldn’t have been taking anyone else’s seat and maybe he would have enjoyed the additional legroom and would have asked for economy plus in the future. What would it have hurt?

Sadly, however, that was not the most ridiculous part of my trip. That came as I attempted to rent a car. I am a corporate customer and a Blue Chip member with Thrifty Car Rental, however the last three times I have tried to rent from Thrifty they did not have any cars. A rental car company that has no cars? At the airport no less? That is like going to a beach, walking into a seafood restaurant and them telling you that they don’t have any seafood left. Each time this happened I tried to talk to someone in customer service and each time I was simply told there was nothing they could do to help me. Too bad buddy, you are out of luck, we just don’t have cars. I guess you had better walk.

My Raleigh office is not too far from the airport, nor is the Chicago office too far from O’Hare, but not exactly walking distance. Maybe I should take up running. If I get really good, I can run from Chicago to Raleigh and won’t have to deal with the airlines or the car rental guys again.

Please feel free to share your own travel  nightmares below or take our poll on the worst parts of traveling.

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One Response to “Where Have You Gone, Customer Service? Our Nation Turns Its Lonely Eyes to You.”

  1. Daniel Nuccio Says:

    Earlier this year I was flying from Philly to Chicago (I won’t say the airline, but it was one of the bigger ones). I had purchased my ticket more than a month in advance, arrived at the airport two hours early, and entered the terminal without any difficulty. The only thing that seemed even remotely odd was that the ticket I picked up at the self check-in kiosk did not have my seating information or my boarding number on it. I make 3-4 round trips by plane per year and this was the first time this ever happened. I asked the airline worker at my terminal what was going on, and she told me not to worry about it. So, I didn’t.

    I waited patiently to board. Boarding time came closer and closer, then finally arrived, and the numbers on people’s boarding passes began to be called. Not having such a number, I went back to the woman I had spoken to earlier and asked when I should board, and she told me not to worry about, this time with a little more attitude.

    Eventually it was only me and a few other people waiting to make this flight. I went back to the airline worker I had been speaking with, and asked her if I had a seat on this specific flight. She told me she couldn’t tell me.

    Some more time passed. I was granted access to the plane. I was seated. But I was seated in what may have been someone else’s seat. The flight attendant didn’t know what to do, and seemed to be put in a position where she had to randomly choose who deserved to be on that flight and who did not. Apparently, I did not. I was told to leave the plane and discuss the matter with the woman I had spoken with previously, to see if I could still make it on that flight. When I got off the plane, she refused to speak with me, until after my flight had flown away without me.

    Eventually a second airline worker came out, booked me a seat on the next plane to Chicago, and compensated me for my trouble, which I appreciate. As I later learned, the source of all my trouble was that I had booked my flight a week or two later than I probably should have and had been put on standby. In retrospect I guess this is understandable. But, what still frustrates me was that on that day a lot of frustration and stress could have been avoided if only the airline worker I had been speaking to had explained this to me at the beginning, and politely said something along the lines of “You have been put on standby. We may not be able to put you on this flight, but we are doing everything we can to do so. If we do not get you on this flight we will get you on the next one, compensate you for any inconvenience this may have caused, and again, we apologize for your trouble.”

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