Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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Giving one the Doing business

Some months ago, I made a mistake in booking a flight. The mistake resulted in my having to make a last-minute change (at the airport) to my “non-refundable” ticket, and for that I had to pay an extra $180 for a much worse flight schedule and was hit with a $75 change fee. Because the change wasn’t for my convenience — indeed, I had to spend an extra three hours in airplanes and airports, and go home by way of Atlanta instead of my original non-stop plan, all for $180 more — the $75 change fee felt like insult being added to injury. So I thought I’d ask the airline if they’d consider waiving the fee.

The airline was Delta.

After explaining what had happened, here’s what I said in my letter to them:

The error was mine, and your agents handled the situation well. I’m asking, now, for a favour: Will you please waive the change fee and refund it to me? I know you don’t have to, but I’m asking you to do it in the name of good will and customer relations — my goof was made bad enough by my having to fly home through ATL and get to JFK three hours later than I’d planned. It would really be helpful if I didn’t have the extra charge on top of that. Trust me: I never would have made that change on purpose.

Will you give me a break, to cover my mental failure? Thanks very much, in advance, for considering my request.

They wrote back promptly, and I’m sure no one reading this will be surprised that they said no. Here’s exactly what they said:

Dear Mr. Leiba,

Thank you for your e-mail. We appreciate your comments.

Discounted airfares have a number of restrictions. They are nonrefundable, nontransferable, and changes are only permitted by paying an administrative service charge plus any difference in fare. The charge is collected to cover some of the costs involved in reissuing reduced rate tickets. However, the total cost of the transportation, including the administrative service charge, often represents a substantial savings over the unrestricted fare cost.

I hope you will understand that the only way we can offer reduced rates is to follow the rules governing each fare. While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many similar requests that we receive from others in equally deserving situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request for waiver of the change fee.

Again, thank you for writing. We recognize this was not the response you expected to receive and trust you will understand our position. We value your business and hope you will continue to choose Delta.

Sincerely,
[name redacted]
Manager
Customer Care

Well, no, I don’t understand their position. I expected it, but that doesn’t mean I understand it. I never understand inflexibility in dealing with customers, and pissing your customers off is rarely a good business decision that often leads to false ecomonies.

As in this case. I’ve made one trip since then, and just booked a second, for which I’ve adjusted my flight schedule to fly on other airlines than Delta, at about the same price — despite that the travel booking system offered me Delta flights that I might otherwise have accepted. By my reckoning, Delta has lost about $1500 worth of business from me so far, as a result of their refusal to refund a $75 change fee.

Now, I don’t necessarily think that any of the other airlines (in this case, Continental and American) would have done any better for me in response to my request. And I’m not saying that Delta did anything nasty. They’re within their rights to insist on the charge; they disclosed it in advance.

On the other hand, they could have been accommodating, and they’d have won my gratitude and my loyalty. Businesses used to go after that, but, too often, they do so no more. And so I’ll cast my vote the only way I can: with my money.

With my money, at least, Delta is reaping what they’ve sown.
 


Update, 14 Aug: I sent a slightly edited copy of this blog entry to Delta Air Lines (edited mostly to change “they” to “you”, and such), on the theory that when one votes with one’s wallet, one’s vote is more effective if one says so. I selected the box that said I did not want a response. Nevertheless, today I got the following response:

Dear Mr. Leiba,

Thank you for your e-mail to Delta Air Lines.

I hope you will understand that the only way we can offer reduced rates is to follow the rules governing each fare. While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many similar requests that we receive from others in equally deserving situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request to waive the change fee.

Again, thank you for writing. We appreciate your selection of Delta and will always welcome the opportunity to be of service.

Sincerely,

[same name redacted; at least he still has his job]
Manager
Customer Care

Look familiar? You think they're paying any attention at all?

6 comments:

Dr. Momentum said...

Somewhere, a bunch of people are switching to Delta because their airlines sent them similar letters.

And so it goes.

Barry Leiba said...

Yep; I know I'm peeing into the wind, here, but whaddyagonnado?

I guess it's just a question of who's annoyed one most recently.

briwei said...

I've been lamenting the death of customer service for ages. This is just another fine example.

The fact that they have to TELL you they appreciate your business means that they really don't. It's very reminiscent of the feeling I get when a customer service person says "Is there anything else I can do to help you?" when they have thus far failed to do ANYTHING to help you.

Barry Leiba said...

I do note that some businesses do exhibit the kind of flexibility I'm talking about. Most credit-card companies, for example, will refund an occasional late fee if you forget to pay a bill on time, as long as you otherwise have a good payment record.

And some not-too-many years ago, I ran up an insane data roaming charge one month with AT&T because of a problem I had in configuring a CDPD data card for my laptop. They gave me back the entire roaming charge (a couple of hundred dollars; at 5 cents a kilobyte, it adds up quickly), and told me how to configure it not to roam without my knowledge.

So, yes, some businesses will still help, and still see the value in it.

D. said...

Most customer-oriented businesses follow some form of "the customer is always right" policy. The airlines, however, have been shamefully ignorant of that attitude, and don't seem to care about good service or customer loyalty at all.

The Ridger, FCD said...

$75? Is that all? US Air charges twice that. So when I extended my stay for a week to be with my father after surgery, I paid $301 for the privilege. It would almost have been cheaper just to buy another round-trip fare - would have been if not for my cat, for which US Air charges $100 (and which they consider my carry-on, so I HAVE to check a bag. For which they charge...). (Especially since that way they'd have been stuck for the two empty seats... unless they had standbys.) Forget a one-way.