Does United Have the Worst Customer Service?

So it’s now been nearly three weeks since my United customer service saga, and still no reply from their customer service team. When I first filed the report, their automated systems replied and said:

Thank you for contacting United Airlines. If your message is regarding an upcoming trip, a baggage delay or about our MileagePlus frequent flyer program, please refer to our helpful links below. For post-travel and all other inquiries, we are currently experiencing an increased volume due to our peak travel season. As a result, it will take us longer than normal to respond to you.

I guess three weeks must be what they mean by “longer than normal.” They say it’s because it’s peak travel season. Does it come as a surprise to United that summers are peak travel season? Did they forget to staff up?

My next step: an email to Jeff Smisek to see if that gets some attention.

United Airlines: Using Poor Customer Service To Make More Money

The conventional wisdom among businesspeople is that good customer service is a competitive advantage. But in the airline business, it seems clear that some airlines are using poor customer service as a way to boost their bottom line. My recent experience with United is an example.

There’s a bit of a long story here, but I tried to book some tickets on UAL recently for someone else. Their website wasn’t working (issue #1) on three browsers on two different computers, so we had to call customer service. After a 10 minute wait to speak to an agent, their agent said it would cost $25 more to book the ticket by phone (issue #2). Well, we explained, it wasn’t our fault we were booking by phone since their website wasn’t working? Oh, well, we could be transferred to support, and it might take an hour to find someone to help (issue #3). No, we said, that doesn’t work. Ok, then, we could speak to a supervisor to ask them to waive the $25. Ok. But that might take 20-25 minutes on hold (issue #4). Ok, fine.

Well, after a long hold, the supervisor comes on. Says ok, they’ll waive the $25 fee, takes all our info, and puts us on hold (issue #5). For 10 minutes. Then they disconnect us! (issue #6)

So I call back, wait another 10 minutes to speak to a different agent who has no clue about any of what has happened (issue #7). After I complain to her, she says “there’s no way we’d disconnect you,” implying we’d hung up on purpose. Why the hell would we? (issue #8). Anyway, after I complain for a while, she says they’ll waive the fee to book by phone. But by now, the fare has gone up $90 per person (issue #9). I tell her it’s not my fault the fare went up while they made us wait, while their website doesn’t work, while they hung up on us. She says, “I have no authority to do anything else about it, so you can wait 20-25 minutes on hold to speak to a supervisor.” (issue #10) Really? Again? No, I say, and finally give in and pay the extra $90 per ticket (issue #11).

Then I ask her how I can complain about the whole thing, and she says to go online. Which I did, and filed a complaint. But their complaint system says, “we are currently experiencing an increased volume due to our peak travel season. As a result, it will take us longer than normal to respond to you.” (issue #12)

Anyway, that was more than a week ago. No reply yet. (issue #13)

On sites like, you can see United gets some pretty average ratings. And none of that rates their customer service quality, which if you’ve flown United, you know is terrible.

And, to add insult to injury, I’m a million-mile flyer on United. So if they treat me like this, how will they treat the average leisure flyer?

Why, given all this, would anyone still book on United? Well, most people only fly them when they have the best flight schedules, since their service is almost never the best. I think they know that’s the main reason people fly United, so they’ve decided to scale back customer service, screw their customers, and make the most money off you each time you fly. In this case, that’s $90 per ticket.

On its earnings call today, United announced it’d cost an extra $206 million to deal with the integration of United and (the former) Continental Airlines. I guess this is a way to recoup those costs a little at a time.

I’d been reading a post recently about the 8 rules of great customer service. Here are the 8 rules. I think it’s clear United breaks every single one of them.

1) Answer your phone.

2) Don’t make promises unless you will keep them.

3) Listen to your customers.

4) Deal with complaints.

5) Be helpful - even if there’s no immediate profit in it.

6) Train your staff (if you have any) to be always helpful, courteous, and knowledgeable.

7) Take the extra step.

8) Throw in something extra.

Mr. Zakaria brings us back to the big picture

Fareed Zakaria’s elegant summary of the issues facing people this November.

On the broader economic strategy, I think that Obama has the stronger case …

We need a tax and regulatory structure that creates strong incentives for businesses to flourish. The thing is, we already have one. The … Global Competitiveness Report ranks the United States No. 5 — and first among large economies … Overall … whether compared with our own past … or with other countries, the United States has become more business-friendly.

… (But) America is worse off than it was 30 years ago — in infrastructure, education and research. The country spends much less on infrastructure as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). By 2009, federal funding for research and development was half the share of GDP that it was in 1960. Even spending on education and training is lower as a percentage of the federal budget than it was during the 1980s.

The result is that we’re falling behind fast. In 2001, the World Economic Forum ranked U.S. infrastructure second in the world. In its latest report we were 24th.

Media Innumeracy Watch: The Bush Tax Cuts Extension

One of my continuing frustrations with our media is their innumeracy (innacurate reporting of information involving numbers or financial data). Case in point: today’s NY Times article about President Obama’s proposal regarding the Bush tax cuts. Whether you agree with the tax cuts, or with the President’s proposal, we should all have an interest in accurate reporting. The Times’ lede says:

President Obama, drawing a contrast with what he called Republican trickle-down economics, called on Monday for temporarily extending the Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than $250,000 while letting the taxes of the wealthiest go up.

Except this is just plain inaccurate. If the President’s proposal became law, everyone, including those with incomes over $250,000, would keep their current tax rates for income under that threshold. So a correct phrasing would be “called … for … extending the Bush-era tax cuts for people making less than income under $250,000.” The difference is meaningful.

Gartner: Cloud Services To Drive IT Spend Increase in 2012

The New York Times has a good summary of the new Gartner report on IT, indicating the increasing adoption of cloud services will drive an increase in IT spending, from $3.5 trillion in 2011 to $3.6 trillion in 2012, even as the economy worldwide struggles.

The increase, while modest, is notable because it is happening in the face of a financial crisis in Europe, slow growth in the United States, and a slowdown in China’s economic growth.

Spending on public cloud services is expected to increase 20 percent, to $109 billion, from $91 billion in 2011. By 2016, Gartner said, this expenditure could nearly double, to $207 billion.

That would still be a relatively small portion of the total spending, though it tends to represent considerable computing power and potentially more efficient I.T. systems.


Joe Henderson: The Blue Note Sideman Sessions 1963-64

Trumpeter Kenny Dorham doesn’t get the credit he deserves. Critic Gary Giddins even went so far as to argue his name was “virtually synonymous with underrated.” But Dorham deserves our immediate attention: he had a lengthy career, was a charter member of the original Jazz Messengers, wrote a bonafide jazz standard (“Blue Bossa”) and mentored a myriad of upcoming jazz talents, many of whom are present on Una Mas. Joining Dorham on this 1963 release are a 26-year-old Joe Henderson (tenor), 23-year-old Herbie Hancock (piano), 24-year-old Butch Warren (bass) and 18-year-old Tony Williams (drums). Henderson shines on the album’s highlight, the fifteen minute Dorham-penned bossa title-track. This was Henderson’s debut recording. Two months later, Dorham supported Henderson on his debut lead session, Page One, and gave him a new song he’d just written — “Blue Bossa.”

“Una Mas” by Kenny Dorham (1963)