March 15, 2007

Accent Neutralization, Cultural Awareness and Two Bucks Will Get You a Ride on the Subway

Here are the conversations I have had with the customer service representatives at a major airline while trying to change a cross-country flight reservation to return one day later:

First conversation:
(After long hold time)
Me: I have a reservation with you and would like to return on April 22 instead of April 21. (I'm put on hold while CSR in India searches for flights).
CSR in India: No problem, we have seats available on several flights that day.
Me: Really? When I first made the reservation yesterday, I was told there were no seats available on April 22. I'd be surprised if there were suddenly so many seats available that day.
CSR: Oh, April 22? I was checking March 22.
Click. (The sound of me hanging up).

Second conversation:
(After long hold time)
Me: I have a reservation with you and would like to return on April 22 instead of April 21. (I'm put on hold while CSR in ?? searches for flights).
CSR: I am tranferring you now to the reissue desk.
Me: What? I don't have anything to reissue. I told you, I have a reservation, not a ticket.
Click. (Me hanging up again).

Third conversation:
(After long hold time)
Me: I have a blah blah blah. (I'm put on hold while CSR in India yada yada yada).
CSR: We have a first class seat available. That's what you have now, right?
Me: Yes.
CSR: But wait .... We don't have Class A, B or F available.
Me: I don't know what that means. Do you have a first class seat available on the other flight or not?
CSR: I'm sorry ... It's my first week on the job.

Next step -- I send an email to the airline's customer service department, complaining about the incompetence of their reservation agents. A short while later, I receive this reply:

"We have several vendor partnerships which enable us to become more efficient and as a result, strengthen our long-term viability. These partnerships help us
effectively handle the millions of calls received each year. Our partners receive the same training and are equipped with the same tools as [airline name] representatives. In addition, we require supplier personnel to attend ongoing accent neutralization and cultural awareness classes to minimize barriers and provide you with the excellent service you deserve. Your comments are appreciated and will be forwarded to the department responsible for our partner relationships."

My reply:

"It seems that, in 2 out of 3 cases, your CSR did a poor job of listening to me. This doesn't seem to increase "efficiency," I'm sure you would agree. Perhaps instead of cultural awareness and accent neutrality, your CSRs should be trained in more basic skills, such as listening to what the customer is saying."

So the CSRs from other countries are being trained to say "like," "okay" and "dude," and to ask about the Red Sox and the Redskins and the Red Wings, instead of learning the fundamentals of customer service. I for one do not plan to bet on the airline's "long term viability" by buying its stock, or, in the future, its tickets.


At 9:43 AM, Blogger Barbara said...

Ever read The World is Flat by Tom Friedman? This is what we get with outsourcing. You're lucky you could even understand their English? Maybe they had taken the crash course in how to speak American. If anyone did a study of customer service success today and even 10 years ago, I think it would point out that the percentage of customers being well served has greatly diminished and that the cost of customer service has diminished as well as we level the playing field by including the third world.

At 2:30 PM, Blogger media concepts said...

My dad told me something interesting. He was the sales promotion manager for Pan Am during their heydey in the 1960s. He said that he routinely made calls to the airline's reservation agents, just as a customer would do, to field test Pan Am's customer service. He said that Jet Blue's chairman routinely flies on Jet Blue, just as a regular customer would do. We both wondered how many of the executives of the other major airlines call their own customer service to make flight reservations, or just to test out the level of service. Chances are, these folks either fly private planes, or fly their own airlines in first class by having assistants make the arrangements, and thus they are clueless as to what is taking place inside their organizations. If they are aware of what's going on, apparently they don't care.

At 9:02 AM, Blogger globalchameleon said...

Wow...what a nightmare! And what is "F" class? (the seats by the lavatory?) Maybe the devaluation of customer service jobs (becoming low-wage, low-status in the US, then suitable for outsourcing) is linked to the steady decline in quality. And it's a vicious cycle - as these jobs are valued less, the people who take them are less committed to doing a good job (knowing they'll just get yelled at). What if the concept of serving people, solving their problems and making them happy was elevated? It's an attitude that seems to work at hospitality establishments like Ritz-Carlton, etc.


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