United AirlinesIn 2009, I wrote  an article  about how United Airlines broke a singer’s guitar by mishandling his baggage and refused to pay for the damage. He wrote a song about it and it went viral, causing United to reverse its decision and a public relations nightmare for the company.


 

If you haven’t seen the video, here it is.

 

Normally customer dissatisfaction of that magnitude should cause financial hardship to a company unless they change their policies. United promised to use the example of  United Breaks Guitars in their training.

What has happened since that time?

According to an article  United Breaks Another Guitar and the Social Media Hype Cycle Comes Full Circle, the videos not only went viral (over 14 Million hits)  but there were 1.8 Million articles and blog posts written about it.

Wikipedia has it own page titled United Breaks Guitars. The article says that United’s stock dropped 10% in value within 4 days of the video’s release . But over the next 5 years, it has continued to rise. Is that significant?

United Airlines Stock Price for 5 years

United Airlines Stock Price for 5 years

In 2009, we were going through a very serious financial crisis and stock prices had all dropped. So the subsequent rise shows that the  United Airlines public relations department reacted quickly, soothed the outrage of its customers and prospects and focused on its core business of delivering quality transportation services to its customers.

Since then  like most stocks in the US, the stock price for United Airlines has increased. So it is impossible to say if United suffered any long term effects from the humiliation it suffered from the guitar fiasco.

Now it appears, another singer, Ellis Paul  has had his guitar broken by United Airlines.

Ellis Paul It was United Airlines that decked my guitar, Guinness and gave it a 20 inch gash on the way to the Pacific Northwest. But I Duct-taped it together and will be playing in Eugene tonight, Seattle tomorrow at the Phinney Ridge Arts Center, and Sunday in Portland with Catie Curtis at the Alberta Rose Theater. Come cheer on Guinness, she's a warrior.

Ellis Paul’s Guitar damaged by United Airlines

But United Airlines has refused to reimburse him.

Is this a policy change at United? Or an example of one customer service representative who has yet to be trained? Or has the training on damaged guitars been discontinued? It is hard to say.

But it said that Ellis Paul who is also a singer knows Dave Carroll, author of the original United Breaks Guitars song and they are working on a new song that will likely find its way onto Youtube.

P.S. I flew with United Airlines in October of 2012 on a trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. They lost my luggage and it took 4 days to find it. When it was finally returned to me, the contents were wet and the material on the outside damaged. While the airlines offered to dry clean any of my wet  clothes, they refused to reimburse me for the damage to the suitcase and the irreparable damage to a souvenir book I had bought on the Grand Canyon. So I am not sure United Airlines is fully committed to customer satisfaction.

Leave a comment if you have any recent stories about United.

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TemkinThe Temkin Group has released a free ebook called The 6 Laws of Customer Experience which is an excellent read.

You can get your copy by going to this site and going through the purchase process. The purchase price is $0.00.

 



 
The 6 Laws mentioned in the ebook are:

1) Every interaction creates a personal reaction.
2) People are instinctively self-­centered.
3) Customer familiarity breeds alignment.
4) Unengaged employees don’t create engaged customers.
5) Employees do what is measured, incented, and celebrated.
6) You can’t fake it.

Temkin goes into detail on each of these laws in the short ebook.

A quote in the book that I thought was really valuable came from The Service-­‐Profit Chain,  a Harvard Business Review article from 2004.

“Profit and growth are stimulated primarily by customer loyalty. Loyalty is a direct result of customer satisfaction. Satisfaction is largely influenced by the value of services provided to customers. Value is created by satisfied, loyal, and productive employees.”

This ebook is an excellent review of the factors that make customer experiences positive or what can go wrong.

There is only one area where I disagree with Temkin. He suggests that if a company is not prepared to be committed to a full customer experience program, they should not start such a program within their organization. In my opinion, if a company is not prepared to invest in their customer experience program, they should prepare to fail.

What is your opinion?

 

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emily cardinPlease welcome guest blogger Emily Cardin, National Customer Service Manager for Specialty Answering Service; a US based multi-lingual customer service outsourcer.

Specialty Answering Service can answer a business’ phones when its staff is unavailable, when the organization expects an upsurge in call volume, or when it is running a particular promotion and needs all hands on deck for that added boost in sales and marketing.


Emily’s primary goals have always been customer satisfaction and client retention. Her straightforward, honest approach has earned her a reputation as an industry leader, and she is adept at de-escalating even the most dire customer service situations through her unruffled and reassuring demeanor. No matter how challenging or stressful the situation, Cardin sees to it that the clients’ needs are priority. Through her skillful and honed approach, everyone comes out on top, client,customer, and answering service alike.

Here’s her story about how she handled a client who was very angry but turned out to be ‘in the wrong’.

Emily’s Story

As both the owner and National Client Services Manager for Specialty Answering Service, my job is overwhelming to say the least.  When I think back to our humble beginnings, it is sometimes very hard for me to grasp the magnitude of what it means to now be nation-wide.  Client service management is no easy task, especially when considering the number of phone calls a national company may receive on a daily basis.

As any business owner knows, handling millions of anything, from phone calls to widget orders, can result in errors; my days are never boring, I can tell you that!  When it comes down to it, the most effective tool any client service representative has in his or her arsenal is an apology.  We live in a culture of finger pointing and excuses that make a simple “I am so sorry” a refreshing and genuine way to conduct business.

But what happens when the problem is not our fault?  After many years of experience in this industry, I would say that about a third of the mistakes made are a result of our actions, while another third are the fault of our client; the remaining issues stem from our client’s customer base.

So, what is the best way to tackle these problems?  We take the same approach to each situation.  We evaluate the problem, investigate, and report back to the client.  We pride ourselves on our honest approach, but in the case where the burden of fault lies on the client, it becomes a balancing act.

The Case of the Angry HVAC Company

Certain businesses require round-the-clock phone answering seven days a week, and twenty-four hours a day.  They may come on board with Specialty to handle overflow calls Monday through Friday, but utilize our service on weekends as well.  When something goes wrong with your plumbing or HVAC, do you say, I’ll wait until morning to call my plumber so he can get a good night’s rest?  Or would you prefer immediate assistance no matter the time of day or night?  Some things simply cannot wait until tomorrow, and that is where we come in.

Recently one of our clients called to complain about a very important phone call that was missed.  He has a commercial refrigeration business that recently landed an exclusive contract with a national restaurant chain.  On the very first weekend of the contract, several of the restaurant’s locations tried to contact him, only to have the phone ring and ring…ad infinitum. 

On Monday morning, he was contacted by an understandably irate customer and was faced with the likelihood of losing the contract that he had worked diligently for years to secure.

Needless to say, our client was about as happy with us as his customer was with him.  He called to let us know of the problem and, as one would expect, took his frustration out on me.  As he dressed me down with foul language and even threats of lawsuits, I remained calm and apologetic.  I told him that I would investigate the matter and let him know what had happened.  When the barrage ended and I hung up the phone, I was notably rattled.

Client service is my job and although it certainly has its share of unpleasant moments, this phone call was downright humiliating.  I did my best to maintain composure.  One of the most important rules of thumb about being a manager is, never let them see you sweat.  So shaking off the indignity that was just hurled at me, I began my investigation.

My job has become so much less tedious with advances in technology, as I now have the luxury of not only seeing logs of when calls come in, but also have the ability to listen to their recordings.  This is a fantastic resource not only for troubleshooting a client service issue, but also as a learning tool for new hires that aren’t familiar with industry practices or etiquette.  Technology makes life easier.

And in the case of our angry HVAC client, with just a few mouse clicks, I quickly realized that we never received any calls from the restaurants in question.  In fact, we didn’t receive any calls whatsoever. 

It was highly improbable that no calls came in, so the most likely scenario was that the client failed to transfer his lines over to the answering service.  In this case, calls would have only rung in their office, never giving our operators the opportunity to answer the calls.  As it turned out, this is exactly what happened.

Resolving the Problem (that he created)

While I was convinced that the client was responsible for the error, quality service isn’t about pointing fingers.  I contacted the client to let him know that we had ruled out several possibilities.  There were no power or phone line outages, and, based on running KPI (key performance indicators), I had determined that there hadn’t been an unusual number of calls abandoned.  I told the client that we were running a report to see if any of our toll free numbers were down and asked if he could check with his staff to confirm whether his phones had been transferred.  He called me back within minutes, realizing that the error was on the part of his staff.

After further inquiry, he found that the regular receptionist was not in and that her replacement was unaware of proper protocol.  We were able to absolve ourselves of the problem, however the problem still existed. 

This is where we took the opportunity to go above and beyond “good” or even “great” client service.  Realizing that the health of his company relied on keeping his cornerstone customer, we volunteered to accept responsibility for his error.  By allowing him to blame us, we risked the possibility that he would be forced to choose another service. 

Nevertheless, by placing the needs of his business in front of our own, we demonstrated a remarkable amount of loyalty, something that would be difficult to find from one of our competitors.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted – we were able to retain our client, and our client was in turn able to continue his partnership with the national restaurant chain whose business will have a tremendous impact on his future success.  This outcome could have only been reached by handling the situation with a delicate touch. 

Regardless of where the fault lies, grace and humility must always be an integral part of incomparable client service.  In the service industry as much as in life, we follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  While many of our competitors are indistinguishable, this is where we stand out.

Disclosure:

I have no affiliate relationship with Specialty Answering Service, nor have they paid me to publish this article on my blog.

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InstagramInstagram, a smart phone picture app recently changed it terms and conditions and caused severe customer dissatisfaction, a user revolt and most recently a class action suit has been proposed. In addition competitors have used this change to promote their own sites, luring Instagram users with promises to treat them fairly.

What is Instagram?

Instagram is an application that runs on an iPhone or Android smartphone. In September of 2012, Instagram claimed more than 100 Million users. The company is owned by Facebook.

Instagram allows users to take pictures, apply a filter and then share the enhanced pictures with family and friends. The pictures are stored on an Instagram data base and then there are easy interfaces to share the pictures on Twitter, Tumbler and Facebook.

I have not used Instagram myself as of this writing, but I have seen my friends and family post Instagram pictures on Facebook.

What happened that caused the User Revolt?

Instagram announced that it was changing its terms and conditions and the net effect of the changes were that Instagram claimed it had perpetual right to sell users’ photographs without payment or notification. Users had 30 days to delete their accounts if they didn’t like the new terms and conditions.

The new policy allowed for Instagram to licence perpetually all public photos users had uploaded to their database.  It would allow Instagram to collect fees from companies for the use of these public photos, effectively giving Instagram a huge stock photo database, for free.

If users did not delete their accounts by Jan 16, 2013, but did so afterward,  it appears that the terms and conditions still allowed Instagram the rights to the photos that had been posted. There did not seem to be any documentation that says that deleting an account terminates Instragram’s right to the photos that had been posted before.

User Reaction

Users starting deleting their accounts and complaining on Twitter. A hashtag called ‘#boycottInstagram’ was introduced in Twitter and a popular post by Wired Magazine told users how to download their Instagram photos and delete their account.

Competitors Court Instagram Users

Companies such as 23Snaps, Flickr, Picassa and Blipfoto promoted that their terms and conditions allowed users to maintain control of their photos.

Instagram Relents

Instagram’s Chief executive apologized and promised that the terms and conditions that offended users so badly would be reworded.  Instagram claimed that legal terms are often confusing and that users didn’t understand what was meant.

Lawsuit Lauched

Also buried in the terms and conditions change also included a clause that was not so well noted as the ‘sale of user photos without notification or compensation’.

A mandatory arbitration clause was introduced that forced users to waive their rights to participate in a class action law suit except in very limited circumstances.  This clause was not removed as a result of the user revolt. Perhaps it was not noticed. A proposed class action lawsuit was filed in San Francisco federal Court.

 Summary

This situation is another case study of the arrogance of organizations that think they can make changes that disadvantage users without repercussion. These terms and condition changes were obviously not well thought out. The recovery of user trust is not complete. The new terms and conditions need clarification and the lawsuit will cause more distrust. Why limit class action suits?

On a more positive note. Instagram did respond quickly to user complaints and the CEO was the one who took ownership, apologized and explained the company’s action plan.

It remains to be seen what the new terms and conditions will be and how users will react.

 

Customer ServiceA new study called The State of Social Customer Service 2012 was recently released by NM Incite, a joint venture between Nielsen and McKinsey & Company. It highlights the importance of organizations providing social media users with prompt customer service through the social media the customers prefer to use, mostly Facebook and Twitter.

What consumers share with their families and friends has extensive reach in today’s interconnected world. NM Incite claims that a negative experience posted in public can negate the value of 5 positive posts.

The report defines a term called ‘social care’. According to the report: ‘Social Care is a system for companies to regularly provide customer service through social media platforms. Companies listen at the brand and category levels for customer questions, issues, needs and concerns, and address them through the social channels where existing and prospective customers express themselves.”

Three of the key findings in the report are:

1. 47% of all social media users have used social care, with usage as high as 59% among 18-24 year olds; usage spans all ages and genders.

Even the ‘over 65′ demographic uses social care about 30% of the time.

2. 71% of those who experience positive social care (i.e., a quick and effective brand response) are likely to recommend that brand to others, compared to just 19% of customers that do not receive any response.

3. Nearly 1 in 3 social media users prefer to reach out to a brand for customer service through a social channel compared to the phone.

Interestingly, of those who reach out to use Social Care, only 36% report having their issue resolved quickly and effectively. That means that many organizations are not equipped to handle the situations being presented in Social Media or are failing in their attempts.

Customer expectations from Social Care are very high. The majority of Twitter and Facebook users expect a response within the same day of posting. More than half the Twitter users expect a response within 2 hours!

 Observations:

The need for organizations to provide customer service using social media is not a new thought. This has been growing for several years. What is interesting in this study is

1. The volume of users, from very young (18-24) to seniors is steadily growing.

2. Expectations are high for responsiveness and the response is expected to be ‘effective’

3. Twitter and Facebook are the key social media channels with Facebook taking a large share of comments about products and services.

Facebook is probably more effective at spreading word of mouth as twitter followers tend to include more than just friends and family, while Facebook tends to be oriented towards a person’s closer relationships.

 

Improve User ExperienceDid you miss any of these top posts? Here are the most read posts in 2012 from this blog. I have divided it into two parts. The most read articles in the last 90 days and those that were popular all year or earlier in the year that are not included in the first list, are added to the ‘all year’ list. Sometimes really popular posts that are published late in the year, do not get noticed  in the top lists, because they don’t get a full year’s count.

Most Read posts in the 4Q 2012

10 Key Findings about Customer Service in Amex Global Study
Does a Closed Complaint indicate a Satisfied Customer? A Honda Story
How to Handle Complaints: The IBM Way
Customer Satisfaction Tip: When is a customer wrong?
Facts on How Social Media Complaints impact Customer Satisfaction
Customer Satisfaction: What role should a business partner play?
9 Warning signs that your Executives Lack Customer Satisfaction Commitment
Missing in Action: Rogers fails to communicate during outage
How to Render Customer Service impotent: An Air Canada Story
The Embarrassment of Being Wrong
Customer Psychology tips from ‘The Thank You Economy
Customer Satisfaction technique – Empowerment of Front Line Employees
Top 10 Industries with the Most Customer Complaints

Additional Top Posts for the Entire 2012

Many of the top posts in the last 90 days include those that were popular all year. But some were popular earlier in the year. Here they are:

Best Buy Christmas Debacle alienates Customers
Customer Satisfaction Techniques for Internal Customers
Customer Satisfaction Tip: Use Customer Service to Gather Product Requirements
Biggest Challenge to Exceed Customer Expectations?
Customer Satisfaction in a B2B Customer Relationship

 

Toyota makes it betterIn 2010, Toyota was plagued by a number of forced recalls of its vehicles, the most notorious of which was the unintended acceleration of its vehicles and its failure to notify both the US Government and consumers. Recalls and Lawsuits mounted. Toyota faced a $16.4 Million dollar fine in April 5, 2010 and had two weeks to comply or fight.

On Dec 26, 2012, Toyota announced that it would spend $1.1 billion USD to settle a class action suit in the US that represented owners of millions of recalled vehicles.

The payments would go to both the current and former owners for the loss of value on the vehicles that were recalled, due to both faulty floor mats and other conditions that might have caused the unintended acceleration.

Toyota is also going to fix up 3.2 million vehicles that were affected with floor-mat problems by installing a special safety system.

In total, Toyota has recalled as many as 8 million cars and trucks in the US because of floor mat problems and sticky accelerator problems.

There was a theory that the electronic system might be at fault, causing the unintended acceleration but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration  did not find evidence to support this assumption.

Toyota will need to take a $1.1 billion charge against earnings in the next quarter to cover the costs.

The $16.4  Million USD fine paid to the US Government is dwarfed by this latest cost to the company.

If an organization needs to measure the cost of poor customer satisfaction, Toyota is the poster child of how it can impact the bottom line directly.

 

Pool Noodle

Pool Noodle

I am currently in South Florida and it is the start of the Christmas holiday season. Kids are out of school and families are getting together in South Florida or just coming for a vacation in the sun.

We all know that the Christmas season is one of the busiest shopping times of the year. Often, retailers make their whole year’s profit in the last few weeks of the year. So it is key for them to have the right ‘merchandise’ in the stores.

I went looking for a noodle. If you don’t know what a noodle is, then look at the picture with this blog post. It is used in a swimming pool to help people float. Kids and adults alike love them.

It is almost impossible to find this item in local stores, such as grocery stores, dollar stores, pharmacies and department stores such as Target. I asked several sales clerks in the stores I visited and was told that they don’t stock them at this time of year. When I asked why, they said because their head office only sent Christmas items.

I persisted: “This is the time when families are coming to Florida for 2 weeks, during Christmas break. It doesn’t make sense not to carry items that would be needed at this time of the year.”  The sales clerk told me I was probably the 100th person to ask for this item in the past few days. He said that the ordering sheet from the store did NOT include the option to order swimming noodles, so the front line store manager had no option to satisfy his or her customers.

The front line people in the store know what your customers want. Do you ask them?  How can someone in the supply management chain of so many stores ignore the input of the local sales clerks and their managers?

If your organization does not have a feedback loop from the front line staff to those who make marketing, purchasing and support plans, then you are missing out valuable information needed to keep your customers satisfied and provide additional revenue as well.

Having the right product mix, at the right time for customers and their extended families is a key not only to customer satisfaction but customer loyalty as well.

P.S. I did find a noodle at a pool supply store!

Many large organizations have a complaint system in addition to a customer service organization. It is designed to handle the situations where the customer is dissatisfied with the service he received and wants to take the problem to a higher level of management.

The complaint department’s responsibility is to listen carefully to the customer’s service complaint, resolve it or explain why it cannot be resolved in a way that leaves the customer ‘less dissatisfied’.

A closed complaint does not mean the customer is satisfied, even if the customer’s request was granted.

Here’s an example.

My son drives a Honda Civic.  Just before my son’s 3 year warranty was about to expire, he took his car in to a dealer to fix an intermittent noise coming from the door when the radio played. The dealer  repaired it but after my son took the car home, the noise reappeared.

A second visit to the dealer with the same complaint resulted in the dealer opening up the door panel, revealing that the speaker connections within the door were corroding. The dealer recommended replacing the speaker. They refused to cover the speaker replacement under warranty, even though the original problem was reported during the warranty period. My son questioned why the dealer did not notice the corroding speaker connections when they did the first repair, that was under warranty. He did not agree to the extra charge and took the car back with the problem unresolved.

My son sent a letter to Honda’s head office to complain about the dealership and the disagreement with the service department. He asked to have the speaker replaced under warranty.

Honda spoke with my son and agreed to the request, as a customer accommodation.

After the speaker was replaced under warranty, the noise in the door reappeared. So now, it appeared that the corroded speaker connections were not the problem.

My son brought the car back in to the dealership and they made another adjustment to the door panel and accessories, which appeared to fix the problem. But they would not cover the repair work under the warranty and my son was forced to pay for the third repair.

He escalated to the complaint department in Honda, again, to the same person who provided him with the first ‘accommodation’ but was told he would have to pay for this repair. My son was very angry and threatened to take his story about Honda to a consumer advocate that writes for the local newspaper and publicize his dissatisfaction with Honda through social media.

He also checked with  the owner of  dealership (of another brand of automobile) to see if his expectation was reasonable: that a problem identified during warranty should be fixed under warranty, even if it takes several repair attempts to fix it. The dealership owner confirmed that, normally, a dealer would honor the warranty until the problem is fixed.

About an hour after my son’s argument with the complaint department, they phoned back to say that Honda would repay him for the  third repair and cover the cost of the repair under his warranty.

So my son was ‘satisfied’  in the eyes of the complaint department.

But, in reality, even though his requests were ultimately granted, he was left with a bad feeling about Honda in general. Why did he have to go to such lengths to get his problem fixed?

Why didn’t the dealership recognize the principle that a problem identified during warranty should be covered by warranty. If it wasn’t up to the individual dealership to make that decision, and they had to get approval from a warranty department, why didn’t they follow industry practices?

Lessons to Learn from this Situation.

If your customer service department’s job is to stall and refuse customers requests and then give in to the few that persist, then your customer service policies need a major overhaul.

A complaint department that acquiesces to a customer as an ‘accommodation’ (or as I like to call it, a favor) when industry standards say that the request would have been granted under generally accepted business practices, is a failure. Why should the customer have to take the problem to a complaint department at all?

Look at the complaints coming into your organization. Are you begrudgingly agreeing to follow common business best practices in your industry? Are you calling the resolution a ‘customer accommodation’ instead of a customer’s right?

A customer who has to go to great lengths to get satisfied with your organization for normal business practices, will look for someone easier to deal with in the future.

 

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Customer Service cannot helpI recently experienced a frustrating interaction with a Customer Service department that was rendered ineffective because it depended on feedback from staff it could not control.


Here’s the story.

I was returning from a vacation at the Grand Canyon and had to take two flights home: one on US Airways to Atlanta and a connecting flight on Air Canada to my home in Toronto. My luggage got lost and did not arrive at my destination with me.

I reported the bag missing at the airport immediately after my flights and was given a card by Air Canada with a reference number, a  customer service number to call and a website to visit to check on the status of my ‘delayed’ bag.

The card was very customer friendly. It told me that Air Canada would do everything they could to locate my luggage and return it to me quickly. It promised that the information on my report was entered into a worldwide baggage tracing system which had already begun working to locate my delayed baggage. They apologized for the delay and the inconvenience and provided me with a toll free number for the Central Baggage Customer Care Center.

They also provided a website where I could review the status of delayed bag, and could send Air Canada a message if any changes were necessary to my file.

I felt warm and fuzzy.

A few hours later, I looked at the website and found  the Worldtracer  tool. I could enter the reference number of my bag and there were 4 possible statuses:

1. Tracing continues — Please check later. This status indicates that ground personnel and agents were currently working on locating my baggage.

2. Item located — Airline confirming. This status indicates that ground personnel had located my baggage and are awaiting confirmation information.

3. Forwarding to Delivery Airport – This status indicates that ground personnel and agents had located my baggage and are in the process of forwarding it to its final destination.

4. Received at airport — Delivery process initiated. This is the final status in WorldTracer which indicates that the bag had been received at its destination and that the airport agents have closed the file and are arranging ground transport for delivery.

My status was the first one: Tracing continues.

I waited until the next day and checked the website again. Still set at ‘Tracing continues’.

I phoned the Central Baggage Care Center. The customer care representative looked at my file and gave me the same answer. They told me not to worry as 80 – 85% of the bags were found within 24 to 48 hours.

After 24 hours, I checked on line again. Still Tracing. I called the customer care center. They gave me the same status. I asked to speak to a manager. The manager offered to reach out to the two airport baggage teams and see if they had any news.

The next day I was checked again and it was still tracing. I began to get somewhat concerned as the day progressed with no change in status. The manager called me back when he came on his shift to tell me that he had word from US Airways that my baggage did get on the same plane as I was on from Phoenix to Atlanta but they had no word about where the bag went from the time it was removed from my first flight.

After 48 hours, I became more agitated. I phone the customer care center several times. Still no news. I was asked to be patient and wait.

It seems that the Customer Care center only keeps the file for 5 days. After 5 days, the file gets transferred to another organization. the Central Baggage Office takes over the search. But in order to do so, the customer has to file another  claim form with them. The first claim form I filled in at the airport was, in Air Canada’s words, only an ‘incident’ report.

I looked at this claim form because I was already past the ’85% of most bags get found in 2 days’ timeframe.

I had to repeat much of what was in my original claim. To my horror, I  also was asked to identify everything that was in my bag, the size, color, brand, manufacturer, and/or serial numbers, etc,  identify if the item was for a man, a woman or an infant,  provide the date when it was a purchased, the City / Store where it was purchased and the original purchase price. I had 21 days to provide this information. I had to also provide information about any home owner insurance I might have for lost items or any other kinds of insurance I had.

They also asked if I had ever made another baggage claim from Air Canada or another airline.

All these questions made me feel like they wanted customers to be intimidated into ‘not filling’ in the form, so they wouldn’t have to compensate the customer for the lost baggage.

I was furious.

The customer care center I had called had a mission to keep customers calm for 5 days. After 5 days, the customer care center could wash their hands of the problem and send the customer to the Central Baggage Office. At first, I thought the Central Baggage Office was a higher level search team but, in fact, based the documentation requested, it was designed to make customers ‘go away’ or minimize their claim.

I decided that before I get transferred to another office, I was going to escalate within the existing customer care organization and get them to do some work on finding my bag, instead of just ‘waiting’ for the status to get updated.

I called and asked to speak with the same manager I spoke with before. I asked what response he had from US Airways in Atlanta and what response he got from Air Canada in Atlanta.

The customer care manager was very polite but told me that he had had no response from either of them.

I asked if he had escalation points he could call. He didn’t. US Airways was not his airline and he had no contacts.

I reminded him that US Airways was a Star Alliance partner with Air Canada and that someone in Air Canada had contacts with US Airways. But the customer care department did not have any contacts with other airlines.

I asked if he had heard from the Air Canada personnel in Atlanta. Again, he apologized that he had left a phone message but they had not responded. And he had no escalation contacts in Atlanta either, even though he was trying to contact personnel from his own organization, ie Air Canada.

I pointed out to the Customer Care Manager that his management team was not providing him with the escalation contacts he needed to do his job properly. It was clear to me that he didn’t have the right level of contacts, even with Air Canada to do anything but wait and try to appease the customer with the hope that 5 days would pass and the irate customer would no longer be his department’s problem.

I threatened to take this very poor process to the press using a Consumer Advocate in one of the largest newspapers in Canada. He asked me to wait. He would check with his more senior manager to see what could be done.

One half hour later, the manager called me back to tell me that my bag had been found. It was already in my local city and had been passed to the transportation company for delivery to me.

The website status still said ‘Tracing continues’.

The next morning my bag was delivered to me. It must have been lost somewhere because there was an additional tag on it to get send it to its final destination.

When I checked the status on the website, it finally showed: Received at airport — Delivery process initiated.

Sadly my baggage was damaged. So I have now entered a new process with Air Canada for damaged baggage. The saga continues.

What went wrong with this delayed baggage process?

1. The Central Baggage Customer Care Center is dependent on baggage handlers of 350 Airlines and/or their administrative staff to update a world wide tracking data base with up to 3 status updates.

a. Item Located.

b. Forwarding.

c. Sent for delivery.

2. The front line baggage handlers in both US Airways and Air Canada did not update the tracking tool. They executed the process to send the baggage to the right final location but because the tool was not updated, no one knew. The customer support organization does not know why the baggage handlers did not update the status and nor does the customer.

3. Without the information, the Central Baggage Customer Care Center is powerless to do anything other than soothe the customer and wait. This is very unproductive.

4. Management has no escalation help they can turn to.

5. Baggage handling organizations do not have to respond to messages left for them.

6. While the customer is happy to get their luggage back, the process could have been much less stressful if  he or she knew that the bag had been found and what the time frame for delivery would be.

7. The process that manages the situation after the 5 days of waiting needs to be less intimidating for the customer who has experienced a loss of a very personal nature.

 

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