I very infrequently complain on Twitter about goods or services I receive from companies because as a professional social media manager, I understand how hard it is to please each customer while simultaneously wanting to want to fix every problem fielded through social.
However, the afternoon of March 4 was an exception.
I was sitting in my office at my desk trying to change a flight home for Easter. I had realized I could fly home Thursday morning instead of Friday, but had already booked my flight to Buffalo through US Airways. I logged onto the website, and attempted to change my flight.
Eek. $200 change fee. Not okay.
Usually, when this happens, I attempt to cancel the one part of my flight and rebook on another airline (or the same one). Most of the time, it ends up being cheaper than paying for the new flight PLUS the change fee. But US Airways has a policy against canceling one part of an itinerary online, so I grab my iPhone and dial the number provided for me in the pop-up on my monitor.
I called, was connected to the automated system, then hung up on. Four times.
This was during the height of the Midwest’s second or third winter storm (over 2,000 canceled flights that day), and apparently the recent US-American merger consolidated the phone system between the two airlines. I personally don’t believe that qualifies them to make excuses, but it’s not the fault of the people on the other end of the phone for that.
What astounded me were two things that happened when I tweeted my frustration.
- I received several favorites, RTs, and replies from strangers across the country about their similar frustrations with American.
- American tweeted me the most garbage response of all time.
The constant apologies from American’s Twitter account that day were frustrating, to say the least. Their strategy did not help customers; it only frazzled them more.
I was comforted to know that other people were going through exactly what I was enduring at my desk. Many people tweeted at the airline that day, and they responded almost identically to each situation, as if the customers behind the @handles did not matter in the least, when in fact it is those customers who should matter most.
Customers who are upset will now take to their social channels in the digital age to complain about poor business models and practices, but the power of word of mouth remains stronger than ever. I told more people that day about my horrible experience with US Air and American than I’ve ever done the same for positive reviews about a company. Negative PR grows much more quickly than positive, and American’s negative customer service through their social channels has definitely spread.
I called back a week later and, surprisingly, was connected immediately to an American representative. However, I was told (very rudely) it would cost me $225 to cancel my one-way flight from Boston to Buffalo that cost me $99, and that if I just happened to not show up for the first flight, they would cancel the second flight back to Boston. So now I’m still flying home Friday, and I will never book US Airways or American again.
I may love cheap flights, but I will always believe in the power of customer service over everything else.