Thursday, August 30, 2007

how to keep a customer, how to be an ass

by now most in the marketing world have heard about Spirit Air CEO Ben Baldanza's woopsy reply all e-mail to a customer's complaint. the short of it: first time customers get the hoop and hop by Spirit's customer service line, can't find a working customer service e-mail address, find Ben and some other wigs' e-mail addresses and fire off an e-mail outlining their horrible flight experience.

air travel in the U.S. (or the "U.S. America") is broken. the good experiences float quickly to the top - especially with the help of the Internet. and, luckily for consumers and customer service folks, the bad experiences float with equal fervor. i'll paste the e-mail below, and then hang on for more Woolard commentary to wrap this post, but first here's an example of good airline customer service.

pa Woolard and i are headed to Green Mountain Falls this weekend for some outdoor infusion. as i normally do, i'm flying Southwest Airlines. i absolutely love this airline. i know people have their issues with the "cattle call" seating, and sure, Southwest gets delayed, etc. but overall, we all know SWA gets customer service and has taken advantage of the crap service of its competition and turned the air service model on it's head.

my Rapid Rewards card number wasn't on the reservation for the Colorado trip, and i was getting ready to book my flight to Chicago for the marathon. i thought i was close to getting a free flight, so i called the customer service line to check. sure enough, the addition of the Colorado flight was enough to get me a freebie to Chi-town. the CSR helped me through it and gave me an exact time line for when the freebie would be ready. but that's not even the notable part. she was hilarious (even at 10 p.m.) and even after i gave her the wrong Rapid Rewards number, dropped my credit card into my couch and mixed up the dates for travel. she gave me crap (in a good way), used the pauses not to eat her dinner or surf Monster.com, but to engage me in what i was doing on each trip, then ask about my marathon training plan. brilliant.

so the point is, especially after you read the below e-mail, customer service comes from the top. SWA has a history of great leadership and that brand personality trickles down. Spirit, however, sounds like the polar opposite.


copy and pasted e-mail thread, via Alex Rudloff. this is quite long, Ben's response is the most important - skim through the rest.

From: Ben Baldanza [mailto:Ben.Baldanza@SpiritAir.com]
Sent: Monday, August 20, 2007 1:02 PM
To: (removed by alex), Christy; Martin (removed by alex); Tony (removed by alex); John (removed by alex); Pasquale (removed by alex)
Subject: Re: Complaint

Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He's never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.

-----Original Message-----
From: James (removed by alex), Christy <(removed by alex)>
To: Ben Baldanza; Martin (removed by alex); Tony (removed by alex); John (removed by alex)
Sent: Mon Aug 20 12:05:09 2007
Subject: Complaint

As first time Spirit Airline customers, we would like to inform you that we found the entire experience to be completely and utterly dissatisfying. Our biggest complaint stems from the delay of our flight on August 14, scheduled to leave Orlando, Florida at 4:40 pm and land in Atlanta, Georgia at approximately 6:13 pm. As we were waiting to board the 4:40 pm flight, an announcement was made at approximately 4:00 pm that the flight would be delayed and the new estimated departure time was 6:00 pm. The entire time that the flight was delayed, there was never an update made to the flight status board at the gate and whenever customers would inquire about the status of the flight to the gate attendant, they were informed that "as soon as we know something, you will know" in a very rude manner. Finally, the flight arrived at our gate at approximately 6:30 pm, well after the time that we were originally told was the new departure, and our flight left Orlando at approximately 7:15 pm.

When we landed and arrived at the gate to de-board in Atlanta at approximately 8:45 pm, the pilot informed the passengers that we were a few feet away from the gate and had to wait for an Atlanta airport Supervisor come unlock the gate door for us. He made it a point to inform us that this was not Spirit's fault (even though our flight was arriving almost 3 hours late). After waiting in the plane on the ground for another 20 minutes, we were finally able to de-board the plane when the Supervisor arrived.

It is understandable that flights are delayed at times, and for this reason, we booked our trip to Atlanta with ample time to get to the concert that we were supposed to attend on the night of August 14th even if the flight was delayed by up to an hour and a half. However, because the delay by your airline was so long and then there was the additional delay of getting off of the airplane, we missed the entire concert which was the sole reason we booked the trip to Atlanta. We had a hotel room that we booked in advance and stayed at the night of the 14th and there were multiple other expenses involved in this trip that turned out to be a colossal waste of time and money. To top matters off, the next morning, on our return flight with Spirit Airlines, that flight was delayed as well. The flight on August 15th was scheduled to depart Atlanta at 10:00 am and instead didn't leave until 11:00 am.

As I mentioned earlier, this was our first experience using your airline and we couldn't believe the poor customer service and flight delays. On multiple occasions, we observed your employees talking rudely to customers and just in general, exhibiting extremely poor customer service skills. My husband and I have flown other discount air carriers before and have never had the kind of problems we experienced with Spirit. Rest assured, that unless we are reimbursed for the costs of our wasted trip (including the missed concert and hotel expenses) we will be very diligent in spreading the word that Spirit is not an airline that we would ever recommend using. You can also be assured that this was the general sentiment among the passengers on board the flight on August 14th. We talked with numerous people who were missing important meetings, events, etc. and we also overheard several people indicating that that was the first and last time they will ever use Spirit Airlines.

Below we've listed all of our expenses associated with this trip and have attached receipts. Understanding that mechanical problems can unexpectedly cause delays, we still paid for our tickets, essentially entering into a contract, with the expectation that Spirit would get us to Atlanta in a reasonable amount of time. Obviously, your organization did not hold up the end of that contract.


Flight and Taxes: $73.60

Concert Tickets: $204.95

Hotel: $81.29

Airport Parking: $17.00

Now, you must also understand this is not our first choice of contact with your organization. We would have preferred our 2 phone calls to Spirit customer service representatives to resolve the issue. However, as with our experience on the flights, this too was sub par. To further your understanding of our frustration, I have included my notes from each conversation with your customer service staff.

Customer Service Contacts

August 15, 2007 - approximately 10:00 am

I called reservations and spoke with CSR Jamir, but only after a 15 minute and 37 seconds hold. (He told me he did not have an employee ID number and did not divulge his surname.) While Jamir was apologetic he was not empowered to make amends or remedy the situation. Instead, I was directed to write an email to customerservicer@spiritair.com <mailto:customerservicer@spiritair.com> and told a response would be given within 24 hours. As we ended the call, I asked him to note the time and my concern and Jamir said he would.

August 16, 2007 2:39 pm

Contacted reservations 800 number again and this time was on hold for 10 minutes. CSR Elisha was polite, but again did not have the authority to make a decision to resolve the issue. Elisha gave me a new number to call for Customer Concerns. (954)447-7965

August 16, 2007 2:53

Upon calling the customer concern number I was placed on hold for 24 minutes. After the 24 minutes, I was greeted by CSR Sandy. (Again she was unable to provide a surname) She was patient at first, listening to my story about the concert, anniversary, etc. She told me she was sorry about the inconvenience and understood the flight was delayed 170 minutes. For our trouble, she would authorize a $100 voucher each for my wife and me. She told me there were guidelines and that I was lucky I got her instead of one of her colleagues because, presumably, they would not have been as empathetic. At this point, I explained to her that I would prefer the compensation in cash and not in an airline voucher, because my expenses were not entirely related to transportation. She then explained the guidelines stated we needed to have been delayed longer in order to receive more compensation.

At this point, the tone of her voice and the overall conversation took a turn for the worse. Understanding she did not have the authority to grant my request, I requested a supervisor. Sandy said there were no supervisors available. I then asked for a name and direct number to leave a voicemail. She then proceeded to tell me all management personnel were on assignment for 8 weeks and would not be available to customers during this time. Now, frustrated, I demanded to be transferred to a supervisors voicemail and informed her they could contact me in 8 weeks if need be. She finally stated she would note the account with regards to the $200 in vouchers and transferred me. As Sandy was ending the call and before she pushed the button to transfer me, I heard her say to a colleague, Im done with this guy. Moments before she made this comment, she boasted that I will be the nicest person you speak with here. How unfortunate for your company if this is an accurate statement.

When she transferred me to the supposed voicemail of supervisor Terry Rusche (out on assignment for 8 weeks), the call was actually directed to extension #8962. This extension as it happens was dead. We resolved to take further written action based on this conversation between myself and CSR Sandy.

We would appreciate your immediate attention to this matter and expect that you will resolve the situation as quickly and fairly as possible.

Sincerely,

James and Christine (removed by alex)
(removed by alex)
Orlando, FL (removed by alex)


PS. This is my third attempt to send this email. Apparently, the email address that the first CSR gave me was incorrect. I had to call the customer service phone number AGAIN and have currently been on hold for 120 minutes. Since I'm not doing anything but wasting my time while waiting for someone to answer the phone, I googled your airline to try to find the email address because it is nowhere to be found on your website. Instead of finding the customer service address, I found a very extensive blog concerning the customer service your airline has provided recently. It is apparent that we are not the only people who find the customer service at Spirit to be severely lacking.

____

well, Ben, James and Christine did just what you asked: they told the world how bad you are. Spirit's (and your) bad name is everywhere. from marketing to technology to travel blogs. mainstream media is picking up your story. and i promise you that even if a customer is about to "save a penny," he or she will think about hearing something about some issue where you were a total ass...and i hope they pass Spirit over in favor for a carrier that understands the necessity of keeping its customers happy.

now watch me get delayed for eight days on the way to colorado...ha.

unrelated: anyone interested in seeing Ben Kweller in Lawrence tonight? i've got to take the Monk dog to his g-parents, but will be in town and could be coerced.

5 Comments:

Blogger KFad said...

I missed my Southwest flight a few weeks ago due to nasty Chicago traffic. They were very helpful getting us an available standby seat. One employee took care of everything at one place - never even left the gate area.

You talked about talking to an actual human being and great customer service. You always get to talk to a real person, and they've always been very patient and helpful. Even when I don't know the exact departure time or flight number. Apparently that's important.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow-does this man have a life? I have a certain coworker who ALWAYS seems to have customer service complaints - with the grocery store clerk, the flight attendant, the librarian, etc... Whenever she starts about the latest negative interaction I just tune her out and think "have you ever wondered why you have so many problems with customer service people?"

Anyone who could not just move on after being offered $200 in airline vouchers needs to reexamine his priorities! Delays happen, life is uncertain. How many angry hours that he'll never get back did this man waste on complaining?

12:39 PM  
Blogger Garrett said...

Holy Crap! $75.00 plane tickets! Where do i sign up?

2:20 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

I couldn't disagree with you more on Southworst Airlines declining service. I've been flying them for 10 years, and in the past two, I've been nothing but disappointed. And, after Thursday's debacle at Midway Airport, I'm officially washing my hands of the airline. I understand that weather/delays/cancellations happen, but within less than a day, this airline:

1) Delayed my flight for more than nine hours only to it at 3 a.m. when the plane arrived (after telling us to line up because we were leaving).

2) Would not give me my luggage, saying it was going to my destination "whether I went there or not" on the first flight the next day (I was not on another SW flight until 8 p.m.).

3) Would not reimburse me for travel incidentals or transportation home after my flight was cancelled and the train was not running at such an early (late?) hour.

4) Could not tell me if my luggage had arrived in Denver after I did (from a different airport on a different airline), even though the 'first flight out of Chicago' had landed an hour before I did. They do not track luggage (why the bar codes then??).

5) Did not get my luggage to me until 2.5 hours after the plane carrying it had landed.

6) The final straw, sending me over the edge: They advised me that it was 'not (their) problem' that my entire suitcase was soaking wet and mildewing. They would pay for me to have any items dry cleaned in Denver with A) a prior inspection and B) a receipt detailing the services. They also stated that my ruined purse would need to be shipped to Dallas if I wanted to have it considered for replacement or repair.

Ahh... I could go on, but I won't. I've traveled some, and have had flights delayed/cancelled and I understand that in the packed skies, we all are going to face difficult times. My beef with SW is that there was NO communication (or even patience or understanding) from a single employee, no matter how understanding or patient I had been. Until they can get some form of crisis management plan implemented, stop building gate time into flight times (they “plan” for 20 to 25 minutes at each gate, yet take far more), stop overcrowding their schedules and planes, and start providing their customers with fair information, I'll be flying someone else. I know it doesn’t matter that I’m just one customer, but I think I deserve better for my money.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh boy...get a life...you got a flight for under 80.00$..u should be happy. delays are common. I would give you ZERO vouchers or cash. move on

GOD!!!

5:30 PM  

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