How many times can you alienate a customer in one interaction?

Ok, I’m putting this right up front so you know what’s coming.  This is a rant. One with merit, in my totally bias opinion.  But, if you keep reading to the end, you judge and let me know if you think I’m out of line.  And if you stick with me, I’ll conclude with some constructive stuff.  A cool idea to avoid this whole mess in the future.

For those of you that are regular readers of my stories, you’ll know I try to be positive; report on positive experiences and give props to companies that do customer service right.  If you want a site full of customer complaints, head to The Consumerist.  With all due respect to them as they provide a valuable service, I just try to focus on the positive and offer actionable recommendations for customer service improvement.  So, enough with the justification. Here’s the headline:

USAirways baggage claim at Philadelphia International Airport is a disgrace.

Why?

After an eight day trip from Philadelphia to Tucson to Vegas, I arrived back home at around 11pm on flight 1750 and here’s what greeted my already cranky, tired worn out self

The plane parked at terminal A and my car was parked in terminal C.  So, the baggage handlers had no control over that.  But, is it too much to ask to return to the same terminal from which I departed?  Again, probably out of USAir’s control but it just set the tone for the rest of the story (I sound like a pissed off Paul Harvey – RIP).  Did I mention it was pouring rain and terminals A and C don’t connect indoors in Philadelphia? 

I get to baggage claim in terminal A and nowhere is my flight listed on any of the carrousel monitors.  so I assume its the one with all the people standing around it looking as clueless as me.

I wait

I wait some more

I wait until all the bags are gone, the carrousel has stopped and there is just me and one baggage rep left in the area

I ask him where my bag is.  “If you want it, go to terminal C or too bad”. (alienation #1)

So I’m irritated but I rationalize that its ok because that’s where my car is parked anyway.

I walk outside, in the rain, to terminal C

Inside the baggage claim office were three claims reps.  I hand my claim ticket over, granted, with a bit of an attitude,   And I ask for them to do what it takes to get me my bag.  I’m going home.

As one representative looks up my info, her colleague tells her “you can’t file a claim yet.  you have to wait ten minutes”

“Wait ten minutes!?! Are you kidding me?” I snapped back

“Its policy” (alienation #2)

First rep looks up and says “You better lose the attitude”  (alienation #3)

First rep tosses the ticket back in my direction and says “Its right out there!” – (alienation #4)

“Out where?” I asked

“Right out there on carrousel 1”

    Oh right. I should have known that my bag would have come up on a different carrousel than the rest of the entire flight…in a different terminal.  My mistake. I waited another 10 minutes.  My bag came out.  I went home. 

    So what’s the answer?  Apparently for me, its 4 times.

    The cool stuff:  technology can make this whole, all-to-common problem go away; along with the fine folks with whom I had to deal.  Build me “Bag Tracker”.  Every bag gets scanned several times enroute.  Give me the ability to track my bag at a kiosk, from the web and give me an iPhone app.  As soon as I get off the plane, I should be able to know if my bag made it on the plane and if its made it back off the plane and at what baggage carrousel I can find it.  If my bag is lost or misdirected, let me tell the airline what course of action I want through the application. 

    USAirways, please take the idea.  Run with it.  Show me this stuff matters.  The last technology innovation airlines offered customers was on line check in.  How long ago was that?  There is so much more to be done to improve the experience.

    Comments

    1. I read this and cheered after having completed yet another rather positive experience with a Continental arrival in South America.

      Agreed, the service model for baggage and the airline industry in general is flawed across the board, and I think it shows. Cost-cutting measures not only demoralized the customer, but surely the employees doing more for less under greater restriction.

      However, there was no need for the immediate attitude from the baggage claim representative, and while great fodder for the blog, I'm sorry you had to experience that. Then again, it IS Philadelphia late on a bad travel night, so you're already starting well below the bar. Thank God you weren't in Detroit, huh?

      I witnessed a similar experience from a different perspective last year or the year before, arriving back to Newark on a particularly awful travel day. My bag didn't appear on any of the 3 carousels where the flight's baggage was randomly delivered. It was late, and the line in the Continental office was lengthy.

      The three passengers in front of me were seriously out of control, one guy referred a claim rep as the "C" word repeatedly, and I must say they handled it coolly and professionally, clearly and repeatedly articulating to said d-bag what happened with his baggage, what the next steps were, etc etc etc. No BS about process, or having to wait, or whatever, just simply "we are sorry, we know where your bag is, it will be here [XX:XX AM], we can deliver it to you at home or hotel immediately, or ….."

      By the time Security finally removed him, one of the reps was nearly in tears, but stayed cool and handled each one of us in line like a champ. Also, my AWOL suitcase was delivered to me by 7AM all the way down in the sticks. Yay Continental. One rare example where good service and professionalism can prevail under increasingly crappy working conditions.

    2. Unbelievable! I definitely commend your blog theme – trying to focus on the positive, but some things like this need to be shared (which is what I try to do on my blog – share a bit of both). I've been in customer service for many years and I just can't understand how some people can treat other human beings with such disrespect, especially if they're in the SERVICE industry.

    3. Thanks for the comments Christina and Sara. As a follow up. Its a frustrating experience. But, Christina I agree with you. Admitting I had a bit of an attitude, customers also have a responsibility to treat service people with respect. You get what you give.

      Here's the email response from USAir (yes I posted this blog link on their baggage claim page on the web site). Good response. They indicated they are taking action. And that's a good thing. Now onto more positive stuff. Great experience with eBags.com to report on.

      "Dear Mr. Dalton:

      Thank you for taking the time to bring this disappointing chain of
      events to our attention.

      Please accept our sincere apology for the frustration and needless
      inconvenience you experienced due to this unfortunate incident and
      especially for the poor handling. While we strive to minimize situations
      which would create baggage problems, it is apparent our efforts were
      less than successful.

      A copy of your email has been sent to the Philadelphia manager for their
      follow-up and internal handling. I am confident they will ensure the
      issues you outlined are addressed in an efficient manner.

      Contrary to the impression we created, your business is appreciated.
      Given the opportunity to serve you again, I am confident we can restore
      your confidence in our service.

      Respectfully,

      Celeste Rooney
      Central Baggage Resolution Office
      US Airways"

    4. Definitely good to hear a response – and one that doesn't look "canned" is a bigger plus!

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