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A Complaining Customer Is a Gift | Customer Support Story

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A few months back, I had the most unpleasant travel experience of my life. I needed to return home a day earlier than initially booked and so I purchased a business class one-way ticket to ensure I was able to arrive home as needed.  Well to make a long customer support story short after NUMEROUS delays and inconveniences, I finally arrived at my destination at 1 am the day I had originally booked.  As a result of the way this particular airline handled this experience, I decided that they would be a very last option for me for future travel.

As the events of this experience unfolded I sat with disbelief that a reputable airline would create a situation that even the most passive customer would be annoyed by.  They did this by not being upfront in their communication with passengers waiting to get to their destinations.  They were not proactive with providing information and/or updates and they placed their employees in a position to deal with “abuse” from hundreds of angry customers who had connecting flights, appointments, and other pressing situations that they now had to scramble to rearrange.

Now after putting pen to paper and writing to them about the inconveniences I experienced, the airline did provide a two hundred dollar voucher to be redeemed for future travel. I decided to utilize the voucher to assist with a ticket for my son to return from college on a school break. The process to redeem this voucher was EXTREMELY frustrating.  It was like a dentist pulling an impacted wisdom tooth which further irritated me and solidified my position not to travel on this airline again.

A customer support/service recovery process should be seamless, smooth, and customer friendly.  Here’s what happened:

I tried to redeem the voucher online. This was not possible. The online reservation would not accept the voucher number and kept indicating that an error had occurred.

I tried to redeem the voucher by phone. This was not possible.  I was told by the agent on the phone that the way that particular voucher worked was by mail in redemption.  Were they serious? You mail me the voucher and then I must book a ticket and mail the voucher back for a credit refund?  I challenged this process and was then advised I could DRIVE to the airport to let the agent at the airport redeem it for me.

I drive to the airport and the agent tries to redeem the voucher. The system would not accept it. She calls to get help from another local agent in the back office but to no avail.  She then calls the airline’s international customer support call center where she was advised that the voucher could not be redeemed for the rate I was booking.  Can you imagine my frustration as this is all unfolding? Why provide a credit voucher with limitations and/or specific requirements and don’t communicate those redemption instructions?

Customer Support Has Finally Arrived

The persistent agent tries again. This time she was transferred to the IT department for assistance.  She had to, for the 4th time, explain the situation to her colleagues.  Finally, after spending an HOUR of my time at the airport, the agent was able to redeem the voucher for the reservation and charge my credit card to cover the balance of the fare. The agent’s persistence and drive to redeem the voucher are commendable.  She had just a few minutes remaining in her shift when I arrived but stayed overtime to assist.  She could have simply said there was no way to redeem it and left at the end of her shift but she didn’t.  Her desire to provide me with a resolution was indeed refreshing and appreciated.

Nevertheless, customer support & recovery should not create inconveniences!  If you are trying to compensate a client or recover an irate client, the recovery process should be smooth & efficient.  It should make doing business with your company easy so that the customer is patronizing the business in the future.  The further inconvenience will not aid in customer support and recovery efforts.

As I close this blog today, I encourage business establishments to inspect their customer support & recovery process.  A complaining customer is a gift. They are identifying ways you have let them and perhaps other clients down and allowing you the opportunity to improve.  Embrace the feedback and inspect your processes to ensure you are being customer friendly. Create positive emotional memories for your customers so that when they need the service you are offering they are happy to patronize your business.