An Airline Succeeds Despite Itself
I just had a very strange conversation with the reservations folks at American Airlines. I wanted to reserve seats for the upcoming vacation that the wife and I are taking. I need to sit on the aisle because if I don’t stretch my left leg, sometimes it tries to kill me. But American/Expedia wouldn’t let me book seats at the time of buying the tickets, and every time I reserved seats subsequently, American erased them and said “no can do, try at checkin.”
Of course, we all know what happens to chumps who try to get seats at checkin. You end up stuffed into one of those awful middle rows of the cattle car, jammed between the stoners, screaming babies, or snoring geezers.
So here’s where Airlines try and bleed you for money, and end up costing themselves dough: The call-center guy I ended up with had a very thick Asian accent. Luckily, I am quite practiced at working through language difficulties, having been the guy with the limited language and terrible accent in many foreign countries. And this agent knew his stuff. And he was very helpful.
So, he explained to me that my travel site (which was telling me I could not book seats) was wrong, and there were seats available on some of my flights. He found them, and read them out to me. I asked him if he could simply book these, and he said, basically, nope, then I’d have to charge you $15 per seat per flight. Go to our website and do it. But he didn’t just dump me, he walked me through the couple of screens, and in about 5 minutes I had all the seats.
And it cost me nothing.
But it cost American something. It cost them the extra time it took this guy to walk me through it. And they got nothing for it.
Anyone reading this will, I think, agree, that this customer service agent did absolutely the right thing by helping me in this way. So, all I’m saying is, American, give your hard-working customer-service agents the right tools to help people in this fashion with more speed: Let them book those seats for nothing (or a smaller fee).
You’ll lose little. In fact, I’d say, you’d gain goodwill. And your agent could have booked those seats more quickly than I did with his help. He'd have been off the phone with me and on to helping someone else more quickly. Lower cost per customer call for you, and another chance for this agent to rack up more goodwill for the company.
I was so impressed by this agent's no-nonsense approach to doing the right thing by me that, maybe I’ll forgive that broken seat American tried to put me on from Chicago to Mexico last year, the one that left one cheek hanging about 4 inches lower than the other, pitching my spine off kilter and making my lower back feel like I’d gotten a drunken epidural from a skewer-wielding candy-striper.
American: do the right thing and it will pay. You don’t need to get money up front. Think longer term, and be glad your service representatives are more concerned with your customers than the suits making the tariff decisions (and leaving loopholes).