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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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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