American – turning a problem customer into an advocate

I had one of my rare ‘bad experiences’ with American Airlines last week. We are planning to visit our friends who retired from Microsoft last week and are off to live in Rome for a year.

I haven’t travelled much this year, so my Platinum Executive status will evaporate at the end of this year. I want to use my VIP upgrades and (being a Yorkshireman) apply them to a mileage ticket. I can see that may not be an everyday thing so I call, I ask the question and am assured that it is OK. I’m pleasantly surprised how easy it is. We go through how I need to do that. Book our tickets on the web, then call back and apply the upgrades.

I do.

When I call back, I’m told that I CANNOT apply VIP upgrades to the tickets I have booked. That was obviously a disappointment, but what got to me was the brusque – not quite rude, but not the usual helpful, ‘let’s find some alternatives’ approach that I’m used to. I asked how I could complain, and got a short treatise on filling in a web form. Under pressure she did agree to cancel the tickets with no penalties and refund my taxes. I took the offer and retreated.

After fuming for a while, I called back and got a third person. This is the person AA should be lauding, she turned a pissed off customer back into an avid advocate. Robin ended up getting Barb and me seats in business, across the aisle from each other (she also told me that it was only acceptable if we had been married for at least 10 years!) with upgrades confirmed there and then on the flights we originally booked. We ended up booking one revenue and one mileage ticket, with which I’m more than happy

I asked how and why she put so much effort into making it work (there were lots of holds and the whole call was well over 40 minutes). She replied ‘I always know I have to pull out all the stops when a customer calls and says “I need your help. I’ve had the worst afternoon of American customer service ever.”’

And she did! It emphasizes once again how easy it is to turn a problem into an opportunity to delight your customer. In so many instances companies (and the individual representing them) take a ‘That’s the way it is’ approach and I walk away – either to relate the experience to others or – if possible – to another supplier.

It’s the people who deliver on policy and company ethos.

{Brand, Customer Service, Product, WOM}

Technorati Tags: Brand, Customer Service, Product, User Experience, WOM