Customer Care Means Caring About The Customer

You know how sometimes after you get something, it requires service of some type? The furnace breaks down, you need to change a train ticket, there isn't enough rope to tie up the landlord... whatever the problem ends up being. You need help, and in most cases you turn to the people who sold you the item in the first place to get it. Wouldn't it be great if that actually worked?

Now, don't get me wrong; most places have at least passable customer support. You call them up, you talk to a person, they address the problem even if you had to wait on hold for a while, and the problem gets resolved. That's how it's supposed to go. Or you use their website to send them a support email, and they send a reply, and through email the problem gets resolved. It's a shame a certain Airline Company (AC for short) wasn't aware of that, or they'd still have my business.

Last night I booked a trip for me and the girlfriend through Expedia. It turns out all the flights involved are being operated by AC, and for some reason Expedia wasn't able to let me reserve seating, and we're supposed to select our seats when we check in at the airport. Unfortunate, but understandable. Rather than wait until the only two seats available are at opposite ends of the plane, I figured I'd call AC directly and deal with the seats that way. And that's where the trouble began.

It turns out AC doesn't have a phone number that lets you shortcut to the agents at the other end of the line. You have to listen to half a dozen announcements about how cool their website is. Rule number one about customer service: Cut the shit and get to servicing the customer! If I'm on your service line, I've already used your product. You don't have to sell it to me again and again and again between telling me what the 3 and 4 buttons on my keypad will do.

After half an hour of trying to figure out which of the vague options is what I'm looking for, the recorded voice at the other end of the line says "There will be a $25 charge per person for each change you make to your flight." What the fuck!? The website says that only applies to changes that couldn't have been made from the website. You know what every other airline on the face of the earth charges for changes to the flight schedule? Zero. Rule number two about customer service: If something is supposed to be free, don't fucking charge for it.

Hanging up frustrated, I decide to register an account on AC's website to try to reserve my seats there directly. I sign up, and instead of taking me to some kind of profile page, or back to the main page, I'm shown my Aeroplan number. I don't want an Aeroplan card, I want to set up my seats. It wasn't emailed to me, so it's probably not important. I click on the "My Bookings" link, only knowing what it's about because I'm familiar with flight terminology. Rule number three: Don't use industry-specific terms that your customers are unlikely to know.

I find the page where I can enter my booking flight reservation number, and I realize I don't have it; it's in my Expedia confirmation, though, so away I go to Expedia. I get distracted along the way by something shiny, and by the time I get back and enter the reservation number my session has timed out. I return to the login page, only to discover that the Aeroplan number that wasn't emailed to me is required to log in to the site. They assumed that everyone who makes an account obviously wants to use their air travel plan, and would write it down on a piece of paper somewhere. Rule number four: If something is important, as in "required to use your website," fucking email it to them!

While I'm waiting on hold with Aeroplan for half an hour to retreive my number, I go hunting on the website for an email page. No luck. You'd think they'd have a convenient "Got a problem? Contact us" page on their website somewhere, but there isn't one. Everyone else has one, but not AC. After ten minutes of hunting around the website I finally find it hidden in a link for people to report problems they had with a past flight. The only way to send them an email is to have already had a problem. Fuck that, I'm sending you an email anyway. I use the form, and hit submit. It asks me for my name. I enter it and hit submit again. It takes me to a page that says the email will be responded to within 15 business days, and by the way don't forget to hit the button on the screen to actually send the email. Rule number five: Your customer is already fucking frustrated, so make things as easy as fucking possible for them!

After retrieving my Aeroplan number from someone who learned English as a seventh language, I sign back in and enter the number, only to find out that even the AC website won't let me reserve seats, all because I didn't book through them directly. But, on the screen it says that the changes can't be made from the website. That means the changes should be free if I make them over the phone, but does the person on the other end of the line know that? How the hell do I know? I just spent four hours on hold with AC, Aeroplan and Expedia trying to reserve seats on a fucking plane, which should have been available through Expedia in the first place but AC has no concept of customer care (that's what they call this: caring about the customer), and I'm frustrated and exhausted.

Rule number six: If your customer care sucks, you will lose customers. Quickly.

What's the right way to do customer service? Expedia has it pretty much down. Have a readily available contact email form on your website. Have a phone number that cuts to the chase and gets you on the right line as quickly as possible. Have courteous people on the other end of the line who will bend over backwards to make sure you're taken care of. Make this support all free, because you already have the client's money. Be convenient and easy to use.

Fuck you Air Canada (AC), I will never use you again. You will never claim a single fucking penny from me after today for as long as I live.

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