We all remember the United Breaks Guitars fiasco right? It’s still used as an example of gold star customer dis-service and was something that easily could have been avoided. Good customer service and a caring company could have taken care of it without it ever being more than a blip on the web. Instead they let it just keep going and going because they simply didn’t care about their customer. Well I’m unhappy to report that it’s still going on.
Currently, after you board a United flight you are treated to a video from the CEO who tells you that United is doing everything they can to update their fleet and make your flight more pleasant. However there was a glaring lack of talking points about improving their customer service. If the process of actually getting onto the flight is horrible you’re still losing customers (like me) not because you don’t have newer jets with wifi, but because you can’t do something basic like answer the phone.
I’ve been traveling a lot for business lately and so far the only airline I can say I will absolutely use again is Virgin Airlines. They rock, their desk agents can actually help you, and their automated systems are useful. If this were a comic book they would be Superman United would be Lex Luthor.
Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Cleveland, OH with several of my co-workers for a new client and we all took United. Originally the trip was supposed to happen a week earlier, but dates changed and we had to get our tickets exchanged for new dates a week later. Usually that is not a problem. You pay $50 – $150 depending on the airline change fee, pay any additional airfare, and you’re good to go.
During my exchange I was told that my 1-way ticket (previous date overlapped other out of state meetings) was non-refundable, non-transferable, non-exchangeable, and more expensive than my co-workers who were on the same flight. In total it cost me $600 more than my co-workers and several hours of my time to get to Cleveland. I even reached out on Twitter to the seemingly active United Twitter feed with absolutely no reply. (Tweet 1, Tweet 2, Tweet 3, Tweet 4)
A week later when I went to the terminal to check in I was greeted with the image at the top of this post. Following the directions, I picked up the phone next to it and was automatically directed to customer service and promptly hung up on. I didn’t even get more than “Hello” out before I was disconnected… awesome.
I then spent the next 15 minutes trying to flag down one of the desk people to help me out and and other 30 of her “not able to find my ticket”. She had to get a supervisor to find me. I had almost the exact same experience when I was trying to fly back home.
United, your airbus’s are a little dated, but they are working just fine. Sacrifice the price of buying just one brand new, multi-million dollar planes and direct that money to your customer service. It will pay off in the long run.
Get better systems and better people in place… seriously. Your agents (I’ve spoken to several of them at this point) are terrible. They are rude and have no power to do anything but the most basic of actions. Each time someone is placed on hold while they talk to their “support staff” it gets more and more frustrating. Empower your agents and teach them how to talk to customers with at least some semblance of empathy.
If you’re not going to be using it help customers who need help then what’s the point? All you’re doing is making people angry when you say “Welcome to official twitter page for United. We look forward to connecting with you.” and you do NOTHING to help us out when we ask for it. Stop beating your chest when someone says something nice and help the people who need it. I know those compliments are probably few and far between, but you will get a lot more if you take care of your customers.
Now, let’s go conservative and say I’m only going to average 1 trip per month in a year (it’s been more than that letely). $500 per month x 12 flights = $6,000 dollars. That’s what United has let walk out the door just recently and doesn’t include upgrades, food & beverage purchases, and it also doesn’t factor in how many of my co-workers I’ll be directing away from United each time I fly because I will be a pain in the ass about it and refuse to fly them. That measly $6k also pales in comparison to the lifetime value if I had been pleased with them and decided to use them as much as possible.
It’s obvious that United has learned nothing from the last couple years and if they continue to ignore their customers and treat them like crap they’ll have a hard time filling one of those new planes the CEO likes to tell everyone about.