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Passengers on JetBlue angry over poor customer service

JetBlue @ SeaTacJetBlue Flight 504 from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Newark, New Jersey was diverted to Bradley International Airport in Connecticut at 1:30 on Saturday because of a freakish snow storm affecting the East Coast. Passengers weren’t allowed to deplane until 9:30 that night and were forced to remain on the tarmac and in the aircraft for seven hours with no food, water or working bathrooms.

The situation already reeks of terrible customer service, but the airline industry often has their own particular spin on egregious situations which somehow is supposed to explain any and all miserable experiences passengers are forced to endure – of course for the sake of our safety. When a dozen passengers called 911 hoping to get an answer why they were not allowed to leave, there were no explanations given. When an unidentified pilot called for help to JetBlue and asked his own company to provide a tug and a towbar, no one from the company responded with any help.

When the plane first landed the passengers were told the plane would de-ice, refuel and fly to Newark. During the seven hour debacle, no logical answer was ever given by JetBlue.

In 2010 the Federal Aviation Commission required that an airline has to provide water and snacks to passengers and the option to deplane after three hours on a domestic flight. If the government determines the airline violated the tarmac delay rule, the airline could be fined $27,500 per passenger. Consumers are not entitled to any of the fines. Pilots did not want police to board the plane until hours later when a taped recording stated:

“I got a problem here on the airplane. I’m gonna need to have the cops on board.”

The ordeal was finally over when police and firefighters came on board to attend to a diabetic person and a paraplegic flier who had difficulty with the circulation in his legs.

The JetBlue website boasts the highest customer service rating among low-cost carriers. According to JD Powers and Associates, the airline scored high grades for the seventh year in a row. The company offers free television, free snacks, leg room and “award-winning service.”

“JetBlue is also America’s first and only airline to offer its own Customer Bill of Rights with meaningful and specific compensation for customers inconvenienced by service disruptions within JetBlue’s control.”

In a JetBlue statement, the organization apologized and blamed the situation on an “unusual combination of weather and infrastructure issues.” The next day however passengers had trouble finding new flights – many of them decided to use ground transportation to get back to Newark and their final trip destinations.

So what could JetBlue have done? Good, bad, or indifferent passengers are entitled to the truth. Two-hundred passengers sitting out on the tarmac should have been enough of an impetus to alert an official who had the power to do something and make a positive decision. It was the airport that finally sent a towbar and tow to Flight 504. JetBlue couldn’t even get it together to help their own company.

photo credit: prayitno

New bank fees not conducive to customer satisfaction

Smart CardsBank of America is reaping in some heavy criticism since the announcement of their $5.00 a month debit card fee. Whether you use your debit card once a month or thirty times a month, the bank wants to charge you. Following suit, but without as much public fanfare are Citi Bank, Wells Fargo, and Chase. If those institutions aren’t charging you to use a debit card, read the notices in the mail which explain new checking account fees unless you maintain a certain balance and how you need to have a mortgage with a particular institution to be relieved of certain fees or other special contingencies needed to be spared more monthly fees.

Banks blame fees on Congress and tell us they are being forced to do this, but consumers aren’t convinced. For instance, how is customer service with all of these new fees going to improve? Will lines be shorter? Will someone answer my mortgage questions quicker? How is charging one for using a debit card going to make this a better experience? That debit card merely reflects my money; I’m not using the bank’s money. Why do I have to pay a bank to access my own money?

In this economy banks will be hard pressed convincing consumers they aren’t making enough money – after all didn’t Congress just bail out the banks for billions of dollars? And doesn’t Bank of America already have a terrible reputation of questionable mortgage foreclosures?

Extra fees just make everyone unhappy. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Imagine a student using a debit card making minimum wage; that fee is nearly 70 percent of one hour of work. And where even the most cynical consumers accept the consequences of outrageous interest rates when using the bank’s money for the purpose of dragging out credit card purchases for years, how can any bank defend a fee to “swipe” a debit card and the technology already in use to make sure your account is properly charged?

So will Bank of America relent and reverse the debit card charges or will consumers revert back to the “good old 90’s” when we actually carried cash with us to buy coffee or a new pair of shoes? For the most part my son and his friends have been raised using debit cards, and probably couldn’t tell me whose face is on a $50.00 bill.

Today in my local newspaper, smaller banks  and credit unions are already advertising no fee debit cards and free checking. It might very well be a good time to make a change.

photo credit: JMazzolaa

When a customer service representative is limited to talk time

Bank of AmericaMy client Jennifer called Bank of America to discuss a mortgage modification on her existing loan. Many of her friends and customers who I work with have had positive results modifying their loans; the process although at times frustrating and record intensive has helped many families remain in their homes with a more affordable monthly payment. The banks aren’t really losing anything because they do make it up at the end, they don’t have to spend the time and money on a foreclosure and sheriff’s sale, and they don’t have to clean or care for another distressed piece of real estate.

Jennifer had not spent more than ten minutes on the phone with the bank customer service representative when the agent told Jennifer she would have to ask the remainder of her questions at another time. So is each customer service agent in this very confusing section of mortgage modifications only allotted ten minutes to answer customer questions? Are bank agents pressured to end calls as quickly as possible to handle the astronomical amount of phone calls and inquiries that come in daily about mortgage problems?

I did call Bank America, but could not get through to the particular agent who told Jennifer to call back at another time with the rest of her questions. An analysis of the situation, however makes me think the agent, by rushing a customer off the phone would be missing  information and therefore inhibiting the business process to proceed with any kind of efficiency. Then there’s the angry factor associated with a customer being dismissed. If the customer has to now call back to find the rest of her answers, isn’t the bank just wasting more time? After all Jennifer will have to spend the time going over her background again when she calls back tomorrow.

Limiting talk time is not going to improve customer engagement. More than likely the customer service agent who listened to Jennifer only had limited knowledge of the entire process, and was not prepared to answer the more complex details of the transaction, but customer service representatives can’t appear to be treating customers as if they were burdensome liabilities. In what is the most expensive and important purchase of most people’s lives, banks still need to create a rapport and help to solve problems with positive outcomes by following some basic protocol, and not be forced to be bound by time limits. Not only does customer service suffer, but the stress and pressure on an agent has an effect on job performance.

So what should an organization do? Companies need to begin with identifying the problem and what causes the increase in talk time. Is it because the agent isn’t knowledgeable about her program? Do customers have to be on hold while a supervisor is found? As with so many other customer service problems, education and training of employees is paramount to running any successful operation. Once employees are confident with their job knowledge, handling times decrease which in turn reduces call backs – thus making for a more efficient and less stressful work arena.

Companies hire customer service representatives to connect with customers and solve their problems. In the complex and frustrating world of home mortgages, there are admittedly no simple solutions, but the protocol for helping people wind their way through the maze of government and banking regulations are all standard. The trouble is the complexity of the paperwork, and there is where banking customer service agents need to focus.

Banking is a business, and just like any other business, employees need to be comfortable in their knowledge and their training. Implement better training programs, have supervisors listen in on calls and direct agents, have agents critique their own work, and reward employees for exceptional service.

When customer service agents listen and focus on their customers again, handling times will decrease and more people can still realize the American dream and stay in their homes.

photo credit: Tumbleweed:-)

More practical customer service training needed for Comcast

IMG_3082There is no doubt once a customer has surmounted the difficult climb to the higher levels of Comcast customer service that supervisors beat the bushes down to make sure customer expectations are satisfied and even exceeded. The problem is one has to cross the Rubicon before extraordinary service becomes a reality.

There is no doubt that Comcast is improving. Everyday more than 50,000 employees are out there trying to please 24 million customers. Are customers too fussy or too “high maintenance?” In reality, that is extremely hard to evaluate since state-of-the art video, high-speed Internet and phone service are touted everywhere as being just about perfect when one uses Comcast. Therefore as consumers we demand perfection, or at least a reasonable facsimile of exceptional customer service.

My experience as a first time Comcast customer didn’t fare well – that is until I worked my way up to the corporate offices. Admittedly, once I reached representatives with titles, my problems were immediately solved. It’s not a matter of customer service people not wanting to help, and it’s not that representatives are rude; everyone I spoke to tried to please. The problem therein lies in customer service employees knowledge and training.

What I noticed was the lack of competency for unique issues. None of the first line customer service agents were able to resolve the problem. When they tried to contact a supervisor or manager when I asked, it meant placing me on hold, the agent using another line to call to support, no one answering or responding in the support department, and then having to wait on hold for an extended period of time and nothing was ever resolved.

Comcast does try to validate their policies and procedures with the “Comcast Guarantee,” which includes a 30-day guarantee for a refund if not happy with the company, a $20 credit for a service person not being on time, routine issues resolved in one issue or a $20 credit, treat your home with respect, be available 24/7, and the promise that Comcast is easy to use and readily accessible.

In addition, why not enhance the Comcast experience by better serving the needs of Comcast employees who need better training when on the floor so they will be more confident when handling customers? Why not hire more supervisors and make it a priority that unique problems get priority handling and not be switched over to another department? Owning a customer’s problem and taking that problem to a resolution is what differentiates the acceptable service from the extraordinary.  That is exactly what happened when my problem finally landed at the corporate level. It’s what customers brag about, and it’s the reason they carry their loyalty across the Rubicon.

photo credit: jsmjr

Using Twitter to get a company’s attention

ディスプレイ前にジンベイ親分が睨みきかせてる。ハンコック様がよかったなBillie Joe Armstrong used Twitter to make a lot of noise over the Internet about his latest experience on Southwest Airlines when he was recently kicked off because his pants were too low.

@BJA official (Twitter)

Billie Joe Armstrong

Just got kicked off a southwest flight because my pants sagged too low! What the (expletive)! No joke!

Supposedly the story centered around a flight attendant who told Billie Jo to lift up his pants. The flight was preparing to leave when the popular entertainer asked the flight attendant if she had better things to do than to worry about his low slung trousers. The attendant asked him again, and then kicked Billie Joe and his traveling companion off of that flight.

After Armstrong tweeted about his experience, a Southwest Airlines customer service representative contacted him and arranged to get the couple on the next flight out, and in their public statement said:

“We reached out to apologize for this Customer’s experience.”

Armstrong is famous, and the combination of  high-profile plus Twitter and arbitrary reasons to kick people off of planes, surely becomes a public relations nightmare. Many might remember another Southwest Airlines debacle when”portly” celebrity screenwriter and actor Kevin Smith was kicked off a Southwest flight from Oakland to Burbank because he was too fat.

@That Kevin Smith’s (Twitter)

Dear @Southwest Air-I know I’m fat, but was Captain Leysath really justified in throwing me off a flight for which I was already seated?”

And of course Southwest had to think fast and reply since Smith has 1.6 million Twitter followers, and Southwest didn’t want this embarrassing  failure pointed out so publicly on social forums.  But even if you’re not famous, you can still share your problems and more than likely get better results than trying to call on the phone or any other methods of communication.

Here are some suggestions:

Share your problem and tag the company’s Twitter account publicly which means you should include the Twitter handle within your message so all of your followers can see it. We’re finding out that most companies are very serious about Twitter now and have special services employed to track and respond to customers tweeting about their particular organization. Someone tweeting about an embarrassing policy or situation can quickly become an Internet firestorm – not a positive public message any company wants out there.

Google the company’s Twitter account. You can search “company name + Twitter.” And remember, you may have to be consistent. Whereas celebrities with huge followings like Billie Joe and Kevin Smith command a quicker response just because tweets get ugly when there are millions commenting out of anger, rage, and sarcasm – results do happen quickly using the fastest forms of communication known.

Tweets don’t necessarily always have to be nasty or negative. If a customer experience was especially pleasing, or an organization stepped out of the box to be of extraordinary help, why not Twitter and give a company credit when credit is due?

photo credit: gabuken

Customer service ratings for airlines during Hurricane Irene

N354AAIf you had to cancel your flight because of Hurricane Irene, you may have been waiting on a “a virtual holding pattern” for a customer service representative. Depending upon the airline a passenger chose, a lot of customer service left  much to be desired considering hundreds of thousands of airline, rail and bus passengers were slated to be grounded as Hurricane Irene swept up the East Coast.

National airlines and their regional affiliates from Washington to Boston scrubbed almost all of their flights because of the ominous forecast. United Continental Holdings cancelled 2,300 flights on Saturday and Sunday, Delta cancelled 1,300 flights, US Airways cancelled 1,100, Jet Blue cancelled 880, Air Tran Airways cancelled 265, and American Airways cancelled 265 flights.

Stella Service, an independent company who rates customer service and mainly focuses on online retailers decided to see which airlines were most attentive to their customers. On Friday, August 26, an average of eight calls were made to each of the top airlines starting at 9:00 AM and ending at 6:30 PM. Twelve tweets were sent out to each airline between the hours of 12:00 AM and 12:00 PM on Friday, August 26. Curious as to how the airlines responded? If most airlines are created equal except for price differences, will customer service differences at times of emergencies influence you the next time you make reservations?

American Airlines kept their customers waiting the longest; scoring in at one-and-one-half-hours before a customer service representative answered the call. Delta did better with only a 30 minute wait time as did Spirit, Jet Blue, Air Tran, and Frontier. US Airways did the best with only two minutes of waiting time until an agent responded to a call.

And for all of you Twitter users – Air Tran, American Airlines, and United Airways never responded. Delta responded within 14 minutes, Jet Blue, and Frontier responded eventually, and Delta went one step further by responding to tweets and including the customer service representative’s initials on each response so follow-up could be more efficient.

If you’re a frequent flyer, will better response time and more efficient customer service influence your choice in the future? Continued questionnaires about the value of customer service and if consumers are willing to pay more for excellent customer service have overwhelmingly come back with high reviews. I can’t even imagine how customers who had to wait hours to speak with an airline representative to change a flight must have felt. It’s probably a good bet they have taken the “blood oath” never to use that airline again. In the end, it is all about customer service, isn’t it?

photo credit: ahisgett

Customer service for Web users?

SIMO Network (2010)It seems the federal government is making some strong suggestions to companies such as Google, Microsoft and Apple that it’s about time they employ some technology to prevent advertisers from tracking consumer movement across the Web. In other words, why isn’t consumer privacy protected when we power up and go online? Isn’t that all part of customer service; to protect our privacy wherever we shop? Of course some tracking is needed for the Internet to function, but invasive practices by advertisers and online publishers have taken the privacy out of our virtual shopping carts too many times.

It seems rather strange to the technologically handicapped person like myself to understand why advertisers get away with tracking consumers around the Internet? No matter where we go or what we buy, some company is making a pitch to sell me something, and I just know it’s not a coincidence. This practice, called behavioral advertising is invasive and generally annoying. After all, don’t we all remember the constant badgering of telephone solicitations during dinner hour? Didn’t we all welcome the “Do Not Call” registry for telephone solicitors?

Let’s face it; consumers don’t want to be tracked, and I shutter to think what is being done with the personal information these “cookies” gather on me whenever I search the Web. No matter what I look up, what I buy, or what advice I seek, someone is looking to invade my privacy and make a profit.  According to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz), consumers want to shop, browse and share information that is respectful of someone’s personal information.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va) stated;

“I want ordinary consumers to know what is being done with their personal information, and I want to give them the power to do something about it.”

Online privacy demands began with the Federal Trade Commission and are calling for a “Do Not Track” type of technology. Surely the entrepreneurial technology gurus have an idea how to protect customer privacy. If this were to become law, it would become illegal to collect identifying information including names, email addresses, and credit card numbers without an individual’s consent. Sensitive data like religion, sexual preferences and identity as well as health related issues would be prohibited unless a person consented. Businesses would have to make it clear how data is used; customer service on the Internet would prevail.

photo credit: red.es

Can’t get much customer satisfaction with Facebook

MurrayHill_MS_FacebookFacebook has become a ubiquitous part of our national culture – like it or not. Just this week the American Customer Satisfaction Index partnering with  ForeSeeResults polled 70,000 users of websites and social networks including Facebook, Google, CNN and Wikipedia. Facebook scored a low of 64 out of a 100; an “F” for any high school report card.

Facebook has no subscriptions, and it’s free. Are we expecting to get something for nothing? Complaints about Facebook concentrated on their interface changes, the company’s privacy policies, and their profound increase in commercialization. It’s doubtful that Mark Zuckerberg meant Facebook to be a charity, so marketing is a key factor. Most of us find customer service and customer satisfaction a challenge just in the businesses and organizations we pay to use. It’s a stretch to think that a social media site conjures up the scrutiny of a customer service report card.

I find it hard to believe that Facebook gets so much criticism. Let’s face it; we are all subjected to the customer indignities of airlines, cable companies, print newspapers, and wireless phones. Airlines more or less have monopolies as do television and telephone companies. With those organizations a lack of customer satisfaction and a total lack of customer service are arguable points since we pay for these services, require these services, and don’t receive what we pay for or use.

On June 12, the Facebook monitoring site, Inside Facebook stated the social networking site has been declining throughout North America and parts of Northern Europe. With the launch of Google+ will a new social network cater to the customer service demands of demographics ranging from six-years-old to sixth-six years old, from Alaska to New Zealand, and from every imaginable background and heritage? Zuckerberg claims he is trying to meet the demands of his users. Do you believe?

Now new critics are telling us the launch of Google+ will overturn the world of Facebook. If Google+ promises to carry their customer-centric ethos to this social media site, they might be some serious competition for Zuckerberg. At the very least, it all brings more awareness to the necessity of customer service – no matter which way you cut the pie.

photo credit: The Daring Librarian

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