I very rarely rant and rave about customer service, especially not the airline industry. I understand how many problems there are about it, and frankly, given the amount I travel, I'm probably one of the lucky ones to have avoided some of the more frustrating experiences. In fact, I've had some amazing experiences (even with Delta, who many regard as one of the more frustrating airlines), so much so that I wrote a letter to the supervisor of one customer service representative (Pilar from Cincinnati) letting her know that I received excellent service.
Times have changed. And Delta, you may have just made a very costly mistake.
I just went to go book a flight to NYC. Virgin America – who I love – has a great deal right now and was about to fly them when I remembered that I had $300 on Delta for a flight to Atlanta that I didn't use. They had given me the e-ticket number and said that when I needed to book if it wasn't easily apparent how to use this credit, to call them. I'm a Silver Medallion (almost Gold at this point) and called the Premium Service number only to be put on hold for 15 minutes. Fine – they're busy. When they answered, they told me that they couldn't help me without charging me $20 and suggested that they transfer me to the division that works with the online support. Ok, fine. Wherein I sat on hold for nearly forty minutes before I decided that was ridiculous, and I was going to call back the original customer service number. Ten minutes later, they again said there was nothing they could do – dismissive, yet not unkind – and said that they COULD help but they would have to charge me $20 to do so. No getting around it. I explained that I had been on hold for over an hour at this point, inquired about calling at a better time when I wouldn't have to wait as long (to which they had no suggestion nor insight) so I begrudgingly had them transfer me again. This time, it only took twenty minutes; while waiting, tried AGAIN to figure out where on the site to do this myself. To no avail.
The woman that answered was nice; she may have been new, and I have to keep in mind that she probably deals with people far less internet savvy than I. I was patient with her, but she didn't explain the steps very well, nor did she immediately have the answer to what I would consider was a pretty common question; i.e., I have an unused ticket credit, where do I find the place to enter in this information. Also, note that there was no language barrier, but there seemed to be a barrier of airline industry knowledge. (She was very confused that I was flying from San Francisco to the New York Area and didn't care if it was JFK or LGA; I had to explain that typing in "NYC" in their system allows the system to search for all airports. At this point, I'm guessing she was a new employee.) So after being patient, having her put me on hold no less than three times to find out this answer, and having to have her actually walk through the process with me without being able to confidently tell me that if I hit 'continue' my credit card wouldn't be charged, we arrived at the conclusion that you can do this by hitting a radio button called 'e-Credits' and that would allow me to use the credits I had to purchase the ticket.
That took 25 minutes. At this point, I have spent nearly two hours on what should be a relatively easy answer to a very easy question.
I proceed to click and purchase the ticket, only to be told that the flight fare was no longer valid; I would have to pay $150 more to get this non-stop flight selection. The representative explained that there were other people also purchasing flights at the same time and because it took so long, it was probably no longer available. Whether that was the true explanation or not, I chose to cancel the purchase and try to recreate my steps in case it was a system fluke (note that Delta.com was down for at least 1/2 hour today.) She apologized for the delay, which I appreciated, but I was still frustrated that her delay cost me over $150 on the flight. So I decided to call the Premium Sales Customer Service again. And this is where a frustrating, poor experience with process turned into an outright atrocious experience in personnel and customer service.
I waited ten minutes, which I've tonight discovered is normal, and got yet another person on the line. I explained to him the situation, and said in a very calm, very friendly voice that I was really frustrated that this had happened due to a lack of knowledge on her part. Before I could even finish my sentence he cut me off in a gruff voice, saying "Nothing I can do." I replied "Sir, I haven't actually asked you to do anything at this point", explaining that I was frustrated given the fact that I just basically lost $150+ by waiting on the ineptitude of another Delta employee. He cut me off again, said there was nothing he could do. At this point I took a moment, took a deep breath, and kindly started to tell him that I had been a loyal Delta customer for over…
"Like I said, there's nothing I can do."
I was trying to explain to him that I had flown with this airline, choosing it above other airlines for years, based on their customer service as well as my Medallion status and program offerings, and he had cut me off, again.
Now it was getting ridiculous. Know this about me as well; I don't have a hot temper. If anything, I hold back far too much, and try to put myself in someone else's shoes. And I could tell that the person who I was speaking with on the phone wasn't loving his job. So I said to him "Sir, it sounds like you're frustrated right now" and was beginning to tell him that I understood that the industry was really difficult, that I knew his hands might be tied, to which he said "I am NOT frustrated. There's nothing I can do." At which point I decided this conversation was futile, and said "Actually, there is something you could have done. You may not have been able to solve my problem, but you certainly could have been nicer, and could have at least listened to me before cutting me off. Repeatedly. You have lost my business." And I hung up.
I will not be traveling on Delta for this flight, and I'm seriously considering canceling my Delta AmEx – which I keep open despite the yearly fee and high APR due to the perks that it does provide on the airline -as well as shifting all of my business to Virgin America, or as much as I can. The 'status' that I have on Delta is attractive; yes. Not that many people fly it cross-country (or at least to JFK, it seems), and I often get an automatic upgrade whenever I fly it. It's worth it to me to take the 6am flight to almost guarantee this upgrade; United's upgrade system pales in comparison, and having SFO as a hub, it's a rare day when I experience an upgrades on their airline.
A customer is worth different things to different companies. LTV – lifetime value – varies depending upon your product price point, customer retention, frequency of purchase. For me, a frequent business AND personal traveler who flies at least 20 times a year, that could be a costly loss. Assume $500/flight – and that's a low estimate, given any international travel – they potentially lost at least $10,000 per year from my business alone, and assuming that I maintain my travel schedule for the next twenty years (which is probably a long shot), their poor behaviour this evening just cost the company $200,000. Not to mention the travel of my (future) husband and children. This could be a half of a million dollar mistake made by tired, frustrated, angry employees.
Something is clearly broken in Delta these days. I know they're still experiencing the aftermath of their merger with Northwest; perhaps the employees I spoke with this evening were part of that transition. Maybe everyone was having a bad day due to their website being down. There ar
e many explanations as to why I experienced what quite possibly was the most consistently poor service from an airline that I have remained loyal to specifically BECAUSE of their customer service. Or perhaps I should say FORMER customer service. Whatever the explanation, they just lost my business, and I'm not certain when they'll get it back. If they ever will. And that's a costly, COSTLY mistake.