Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A United Airlines Customer Service Suprise

The Story

The other day I'm making flight reservations over at United.com and the most amazing incident happened. I brought up a fair of $150/ticket on my screen, but for reasons not worth getting into, I had to make the actual ticket purchase over the phone. So, I dialed up the good people over at United Airlines. The customer service rep explained to me that fare I was looking at was actually $375/ticket.

How the heck could this be? To make a long story shorter, it turned out that on the next step of the web process there was fine print explaining that the fare was no longer available. While I thought I could get the tickets for $150 each, they were actually $375.

I'm a programmer. I can appreciate how data gets stale and an index may be out of sync.

Annoyed, I listened to the customer service agent read off a closing script. I was told there was going to be a survey at the end of the call (which I was in mood to take), and one of the questions was to rate my overall satisfaction, and would I mind telling him now the answer to this. Well, I explained, at the moment you guys are ranking at about a 2 out of 5. To my amazement, he responded, that he'd like me to talk to his supervisor to see what we could do about this.

After a few minutes on hold, he came back and explained that his supervisor was glad to give me the tickets at $150 each.

He then recited, in the same robotic voice, the spiel about the survey and how did I rank them. I had no choice, I had to give them a 5 out of 5.

The Lessons

This really has been an eye opening experience. Who knew that the price of a ticket could be overridden from what the computer demanded it be? And who knew that a low level support rep could take a proactive role and get his supervisor involved without me asking?

But the really clever lesson I'm taking away from this is how United Airlines has managed to take a detached force of phone jockeys and turn them into customer pleasing machines. Sure, they could have attempted to hire only the most empathetic, sympathetic and independent thinking reps. Or, they could hire the same staff, but give them a simple litmus test to run at the end of a call. It's wonderfully simple, yet surprisingly powerful.

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