Customer Loyalty In The Balance

PrintCan a world class company get out of its own way to keep a satisfied loyal customer?

Hopefully by the time this thought is completed, the answer will be “Yes”.

Right now I am waiting for a phone call from American Airlines, whose world wide revenue is $42 billion with 1500 planes in the air.  339,000 employees and 11.9% profit.  The satisfied, loyal customer is me, and I am banking that AA will understand its role as my first choice in air travel.

Actually, it’s my second choice. My first choice, since I was a child has been to fly without mechanical aids of any sort. Or feathers. After that however, American it is, all the way.

We all have flight horror stories.   Actually, not true again.

I do not have any nightmarish tales of terror-filled dives from 30,000 feet. No images of luggage bound for Hawaii disintegrating into shreds under a marauding gang of monkeys in Mumbai. I have never been displaced by an AA employee who didn’t try to make amends efficiently and with a smile. I like to think of myself as the perfect customer, and I want them to think that way too.

So it was, on September 22, 2014 that I paid American $1520 for two round trips to Barbados, departing February 3, 2015.

On flight day however, a severe medical event put our plans on hold. Speaking to American, the reservationist said, “No problem, we will get you on the same flight tomorrow. Here’s two new tickets. Hope you’re feeling better!”

Next day comes, and we don’t feel any better, so the trip is off.

Calling the reservationist at American, they take it all in stride.

“That’s okay Mr. Brown. You have until February 3, 2016 to use these tickets. It’ll cost you $400 in change fees, but there it is.”
Writing all of this down, we circled our calendar to plan a trip before February 3, 2016.

I am pausing here to listen for my phone to ring. I was told to expect a call from American shortly.

Anyway.    Just before Christmas, I opened up the AA website, and scheduled a trip to California. Then I called American to see how to use my old Barbados tickets.
“Oh, sorry Mr. Brown. You needed to use those tickets by September 22, 2015, the anniversary of their purchase.”
“That’s not what I was told.”
“You were misinformed.”
“What do I do now?”
“You can go to our website and try for a refund. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

All those warm and cosy feelings of customer loyalty and goodwill are drifting away, like 1,520 dollar bills swirling around the sewers of my jaded imagination.

No call yet, as I stare at my phone, but I am still confident that the Supervisor of Customer Service Supervisors is going to call me with understanding, and good news.

As instructed, I submitted a claim for our two tickets to be refunded.   This was tricky, because they only give 250 words capacity to state one’s case.   This is compounded by the site timing out, which means I  had to enter it twice.   I recorded the case numbers, as the site said it would require 4 days to review the request.   Ever hopeful of a logical, fair-minded manager seeing the obvious justice of my request, I closed out and went on Christmas break.

Yesterday, recovering from Christmas, I visited the website, plugged in my case number, and was informed, “No.”

Stunned, I troubled myself with doubt. There has to be a mistake.  Heck, there IS a mistake.  They said “No.”

So, an hour ago I decided to re-wind the tape and try again.    Back onto American’s website, I scheduled our California trip again, put the booking on hold, and then called American reservations to use my Barbados tickets.

I had my story prepared.   The California trip is $984, so I figure this is a satisfactory deal: they honor their $1520 client with a less costly trip.

Linda, a friendly and concerned reservationist listened to my story.

“Yes, you were misinformed all right.  Let’s talk to a supervisor.  Please hang on.  Don’t go away; this may take several minutes, but I won’t lose you.”

I think then she may have gone to help some hapless flier whose baggage was crushed by a forklift, but as promised, she came back on to introduce me to Stacy, another friendly and concerned, super-supervisor.

After hearing my story, she advised that I need to speak to a Super-super-supervisor, who unfortunately does not take incoming calls,  but will call me within 2 hours.

Before we hung up, I asked Stacy, “Do you know what it’s like to have $1520 taken from you?  If you had that money right now, what could you buy for yourself?”   I went on, “I am a loyal American Airlines customer, an AAdvantage member since 1990.   I have earned over a million miles.  Please be sure you pass that along to your supervisor.”

I nearly tore a hamstring just now as the phone rang.  Leaping to the desk to answer, after a pause I heard a tinny voice on the line: “Hello, this is Carmen.  This is about your credit card, and will be your last notice…” .

I wish.  Slamming down the receiver, I returned to the keyboard to wait for the important call.  It should be soon.   Within the next 60 minutes or so, anyway.

Since this issue first arose, I have had time to think back over the years of traveling on American.  Living in Chicagoland, I have parked  hundreds of times next to the south elevator on Level 4 at Terminal 3, and taking the escalator to AA ticketing.

Back then, security was pretty simple.  A pat down and you’re on your way.   The main concourse of H&K gates is festooned with flags from all the countries American flies to.  There was a time I walked under those flags as US troops were welcomed home from Kuwait.  That was a moving experience.

I recall a late night trip from LaGuardia which was ground-stopped due to weather.  That night I slept on the ventilator in LaGuardia, in my suit, but with a chuckle thinking of the tireless, patient ladies standing in tight shoes behind the ticket stand at the gate, making reservation changes until 11pm.

I was last in a long, grumbling line to greet them.   They had just finished with a noisy, self-important little man whose world was not revolving on its axis right.   They were hammering away at the keyboard for his satisfaction.  He walked off in a huff after unloading on the ticket crew.

I was next.  This lady looked up.  She could have been Mom.

“Boy! I’ll betcha you’re gonna be glad to see me!”  I added, “Won’t they at least give you a chair?”

Her face broke into a smile.  Just then, her colleague noticed,

“Do you know that last fellow has put himself on standby on over ten different flights??”

With that, she looked over.

“Hmm.  We’ll fix that.  Delete all those.  Leave the Wichita on.  He earned it.”

These ladies were gracious under the most demanding conditions, and they got me a spot, not direct, but quicker than a stopover in Kansas for the martinet before me.

Well, no call yet. But I am still optimistic that I am in queue for some relief.  

The last time I flew, I opened up American Way magazine to the North American map of AA’s destinations.  I checked off the city dots I had flown into.  Thanks to the airline’s network I have seen virtually all of the majors and nearly three quarters of the intermediate cities on the page.  I may not know much about the cities, but I know the airports.  This may not be the feat of a Magellan or a Captain Cook, but I can claim that American took me there.

The call just came in.

“Mr. Brown, this is Starr.  I am sorry you are having difficulties.  Tell me again what happened?”

Starr and I discussed the situation.  She has news.  “I can’t help you.   Reservations doesn’t have authority to refund tickets.   You need to write a letter to Customer Relations in Phoenix.  Here’s their address.  They have a fax number too.”

“Starr, do you think this is an unreasonable request?  Asking for an exchange based on the misinformation?”

“Oh, not really… I don’t know, but it’s over my head.  You have to write them.”

Starr gives me the name and title of the Director of Customer Relations.  Hopefully, that person has authority.   We hang up.

So, ever optimistic, I am preparing my written request to a manager.  It’s going UPS tomorrow.  My hope is that their antenna are up and sensing this pivotal opportunity to make this customer happy, to reinforce the goodwill I have cultivated and nurtured for a quarter century.

All it takes is “Yes.”


To be continued….



4 thoughts on “Customer Loyalty In The Balance

  1. Phil, I too am optimistic, you likely will write an endearing letter that will make it difficult to place the declined stamp without some thought. If AA decline, and you no longer have AA air miles then it is time to embrace some LUV with Southwest Airlines. They know Customer Service and distribute service well. I can recall a time our plane pulled away from the gate for deicing and then experienced a de-icing delay of an hour. We all grumbled but have survived worst. About 2 weeks later I receive two free flight vouchers in the mail from SWA goes with an apology for my since forgotten Midway de-icing delay. Maybe one of the passengers called or wrote SWA to complain, though I did not. Plus with your advance planning you can get SWA RT ticket for about $350 each. Fly SWA where all the seats are first class, just pick one.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Gordon! If anyone can find full value for a dollar spent, it’s you. So I value your recommendation on SWA. It is the unsolicited little things which endear a customer to a vendor. And economically, it costs very little when lifetime value is in the balance. Thanks for writing!


  3. I had a similar experience with United, but fortunately got a refund (minus a $250 change fee, and another $50 to Travelocity). I hope American’s muzak is better than United’s. Nothing like being on hold for a half hour and having to listen to nails on blackboard. Good luck to you.


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