United Airlines is in the news again. After the fiasco with United Breaks Guitars, a video that went viral on Youtube about a damaged guitar, United lost a passenger’s luggage  and even after 6 weeks, refused to refund the $25.00 baggage fee they charged. The passenger filed a small claims complaint in a US court. He also wrote about it in Yahoo Finance.  A few days later, United found his bag. They also sent him a check for the cost of the complaint and the baggage fee.

What I found interesting is the words the passenger, Charles Wheelan, a Dartmouth Professor used in describing the problem in an interview with CNN.

1. ‘I felt helpless’.

2. ‘You failed to fulfill what you promised to do for this $25.00′.

3.’ I need to send a signal to wake them up‘.

Customer service organization needs to be sensitive to these emotions and be ready to dis spell them.

Here’s the video

The article on Yahoo News, called ‘Why This Traveller’s Outrage Feels so Right‘  has some other very interesting points.

1. The airline industry is not a perfectly competitive market. Due to airport rights, gate restrictions and timing and route flexibility, there is not always an equivalent alternative to flying with an offending airline.

2. Many airlines seems to misuse this pseudo monopoly to mistreat their passengers. This seems to be a flaw of companies that don’t have significant competition. They are inclined to take their customers for granted.

3. Economists and business people assume that no one would rationally make themselves worse off to get even with someone who has ‘done them wrong’. Filing a small claims complaint isn’t worth the time for the money expected to be received. But Economists don’t understand human psychology.

According to the article: “Scientists can now literally watch our brains as we go about different activities. Getting even with someone who has done you harm stimulates the same pleasure centers in the brain as other enjoyable activities.” This explains why many people will go to such lengths to ‘get even’, especially when it is personal and may cost them money, time or reputation.

Lessons learned

Customer Satisfaction applies to all businesses, organizations, and governments. There will always be some customers who will go the extra mile if they feel they have been unjustly harmed. In today’s internet environment,  social media and blogs, disgruntled customers with some web marketing skills,  can take their case to  the press and their peers quickly and inexpensively. No organization can afford to be unresponsive to unhappy customers anymore.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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