Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Crash Course In Customer Service -- Letter To United Airlines

***** Update *****

Exactly 24 hours and 30 minutes after posting this and asking you all to share via every social media outlet available to you, a representative from United contacted me directly with a sincere apology and a good, productive conversation about what took place so that steps could be taken to find sustainable solutions for these issues.  I shared that my intentions in writing this post weren't to be "out to get them", but simply to help them realize the potential losses they could face if these issues weren't addressed.  Since our attempts to resolve this at through the proper channels created more problems, we simply had to resort to more effective means of getting their attention in order to solve the issue and help them take advantage of the opportunity to improve their business.  They expressed a genuine appreciation for that, and not only immediately issued the refund to Tia's credit card, but they will also be calling me back tomorrow to continue working with us to see what can be done to ensure that these problems don't repeat themselves.

I thanked them and promised to hold back the 'bloodhounds'.  I think I heard relief in her laughter. :o)

Last but not least, they read about our purpose for our travel to Ghana, commended us on our humanitarian work, and expressed their sincere regret on inadvertently making it so difficult for us to focus on the purpose of our mission.

We will see how the discussions continue tomorrow... I will keep you posted.

I can not thank you enough for your tremendous support -- my heart goes out to all of you who have emailed, commented and contacted me through various methods to share your horror stories.  I hope you also were able to obtain results, and I hope that this is truly the beginning of the end in this nightmare, and that all this will soon be rectified in full.



I’ll be honest, I don’t have a business degree, and for what it’s worth, I’m not a rocket scientist either.  In fact, I don’t consider myself to be of great intelligence, but I pray that I make up for that with common sense and wisdom.

That’s more than I can say for United Airlines in light of our recent experience with them.  We were simply trying to do good -- traveling to Ghana to work on a child slavery rescue mission, where we successfully negotiated the rescue of two children from slavery and begun building the school we had raised funds for...  so to thank us for our humanitarian efforts, United charged me twice for my flight and won't negotiate the release of the funds they owe me.  

The experience left me wondering why it is that I seem to have more business sense than one of the largest airlines in the world.

Sometimes, I need to have things broken down to me in small, manageable chunks of information, so perhaps that approach will work for them as well.  Let’s give it a try.

A company’s bottom line goal is to earn a profit.

Given that we have all heard of the financial crisis facing airlines, it’s peculiar to me that United’s approach to earning a profit is to choose to save money by encouraging their customers to use their website to purchase services, but then refuse to accept payment from a large percentage of those potential customers, simply based on geography.  They can not accept a Canadian credit card on their website.  

Strange, considering that the U.S. vendors I’ve shopped with in the past (from family owned businesses such as Lisa Leonard Designs, Goat Milk Stuff and Wild Olive Tees, up to large corporations such as Walmart) have never discriminated against me for being Canadian.  My Mastercard number works just fine on their system.  In fact, they welcome me giving them business.  Imagine!

United’s approach forced me, the customer, to have someone else make the payment on my behalf.  

For convenience’s sake, I chose to comply to their wish, and had my best friend and travel partner purchase the ticket on her American credit card.

The charge was never questioned by her credit card company, even though it was a large sum and for an airline ticket not in her name.  Unlike United, her credit card company seems to trust her and value her business.

The charge appeared on her credit card statement, and she paid it with the money I had forwarded to her. 

The assumption that inconveniencing a customer is great for business seems to be counter-intuitive and counter-productive, when so many other companies would gladly welcome having people give them thousands of dollars…  but while this business model is inconvenient and unconventional at best, it could have been worse in the end.

That is, if the nightmare that had just begun had an end in sight.

A company should not assume their customers are criminals.

Unless, of course, they’re running a privately owned for-profit prison or something, by all means… but last I heard, prisons don’t fly.  And neither does United’s accusation that the purchase of my ticket was fraudulent.  

The credit card company never questioned or flagged the transaction.  

United Airlines’ computer system, however, decided that since the name on the ticket and the cardholder name did not match, it was automatically fraud.  Ironic, since it was their system that refused to let me use my credit card for my own ticket.  

I guess it didn't occur to them that if I had really stolen her credit card, I wouldn't have booked the seat next to the cardholder for a 12 hour flight to Ghana.    #awkwardmuch?

Since United seems to subscribe to the theory that two wrongs make a right, they corrected the problem by not calling us to alert us that there was an issue, and just to go the extra mile and aim for three wrongs to make a right, they didn’t contact the credit card company either, lest they find out they had made a critical error.

By this point, I am beginning to ask myself if they handle safety quite as competently.

A company advises their customers when they revoke a transaction.
If United is brazen enough to assume that we’re criminals, and they are bold enough to revoke my ticket…  one would think they would have the courage to admit what they had done…  you know, in case I might be interested in knowing that the airline ticket for travel I’ve been planning all year has been revoked.  All the better if they do this before I drive 6 hours to the airport and arrive ready for my flight.  Imagine the horror of the experience for my 13 year old son, who had visions of travelling to a developing country without his mother at his side.  

United sends me notification after notification that flight times have been adjusted by one or two minutes, why not let me know that my ticket has been cancelled altogether?  Again, I’m no rocket scientist, I just figure that since they have my email and information for the purpose of keeping me updated as promised, they’d actually use it to send me vital information.

 Just sayin’...

A company’s mistake shouldn’t penalize the customers.  

You know that Business Degree I don’t have?   Yeah.  I do have some education from the School Of Life, though, and I seem to recall the following topic being covered in Common Sense 101:  When a mistake is made, the best apology is a sincere one that involves taking ownership and rectifying the situation as to not cause undue hardship and further inconvenience for your customer over a mistake your company has made.  


“When the mechanic forgets to tighten the nuts on the rims he just installed on your vehicle and the wheels fall off as you leave to drive home…  apologize without placing blame on the customer or making up excuses, and take ownership of the problem by offering to rectify the situation at your cost.”

“When you overcharge me for an item and I brings it to your attention with proof, provide a prompt refund.”


“Mishandle the funds that have been paid to you, refuse to take ownership and rectify the situation, and force me to pay you $1400 again, with only the comfort of the standard “oh yeah, cheque’s in the mail” promise that a refund request was initiated a month earlier and would soon be sorted out.

“If your company’s system can make a problem that it can’t also rectify, do not continue to use that system.”

A company should not persist in making their customer’s experience miserable.

There is some degree of comfort in knowing that their safety checks didn’t use the same customer service ideals as their ticketing process.  Although it was irritating at best that we would have been asked to board the plane and prepare for take-off only to be told that while we’d done a great job of preparing to fly, the plane couldn’t fly after all… 

Mechanical failure happens.  Twice in one day, even, as our 4th travelling partner, Debra, also experienced mechanical failure in her connector flight with United.

What shouldn’t happen is for United to then proceed to book us into overbooked hotels, leaving us waiting more than an hour outside in the cold in the middle of the night for shuttles to those overbooked hotels, and giving us meal vouchers that the hotels will not honor…  only to wait 40 minutes in the hotel lobby for someone to say there is no room at the inn.  Makes me grateful Mary and Joseph went by donkey and not by United.  It was far better to ride around on a donkey for days while 9 months pregnant and in labor...  without an epidural.

Where were we?  Oh.  After finally getting a room at 3am after the second attempt… 

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Back to The Airport We Go!!!

When we return to the airport the following day in order to spend two hours repeating the entire process all over again, do not continue to impress us with your incompetence by not drawing the two straight lines with a pen, as required by security on our boarding passes.  I know you may have thought we enjoyed dragging all their carryon luggage back to the ticketing counter only to have to start the whole process again, but the only reason we did so was that we, once again, were being forced to accommodate for your mistakes.

Over, and over, and over again.

It is within a company’s best interest to not steal from their customers.  A company’s reputation is important to attract business.

When you tell me that a request for the refund you owe me has been initiated on October 3rd, and that we can expect a refund, don’t expect us to not be upset when you then proceed to tell us, once you’ve forced me to overpay you, that a refund won’t be forthcoming because you never received my money to begin with -- even though you did receive it, and you have proof.  Of course you received my money, the credit card charge in the company’s name appeared on the credit card statement, and it was paid in full.  How else did you ever issue the ticket you later chose to revoke months later?

Don’t continue to insist that you’re keeping the money you’re not entitled to, that you don’t know what happened to it, that you can’t issue a refund, and that this is not your problem.

Don’t tell us to call at a specific time when a supervisor is available, only to then advise us that we can not speak to a supervisor.  

Don’t tell us to go to our credit card company when they did not cause any of this and you hold the power to correct it.

Don’t send us a “please accept our apology” certificate for the inconvenience of the flight delay that falsely claims that you take pride in being a reliable part of our travel plans, and that you regret the inconvenience we have experienced. 

Don’t ask us on an online survey to assist you with making our experience with United better, when you have no intentions of responding to our concerns.

Don’t kill me with humor by offering me a $200 voucher for United or a 20% discount, as though I would EVER willingly choose to fly with United again.  If I can raise $30,000 to build a school for rescued child slaves in Ghana, surely I can raise enough to pay the extra to fly on another airline.

A company understands that without customers, it can not survive.  Do you understand, United, do you? 

Do you honestly think anyone who hears about this ridiculous treatment by United will choose to trust your company or fly United? 

How exactly do you plan to survive when you’ve managed to turn all your customers away?

If you object to how United handled this situation, or you've had similar experiences with United that you'd like to share, please let your voice be heard!  Since dozens of attempts to rectify this through United directly did nothing to get these issues resolved, we would like to have a turn at seeing how quickly they'll respond once this post is made public, and preferably viral.

Please share liberally on Facebook, Twitter (@United, @CompassionCan), via Email, billboard, and any method you can think of.  If anyone would like to purchase some space in their in-flight magazine to share this story, by all means, be my guest.  I'll even pitch in a few bucks to defray the cost.

Yours truly...

JD Richardson

P.S.  For your convenience, since I like to make life easy for MY blog readers -- I have created a TinyUrl for you to share this blog post with ease.  I'm nice like that...  :o)  You're welcome.


P.P.S.  United, I'll say hi to Dave Carroll for you... another fine and talented Canadian.