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What Not to Do with Technology and Customer Service

What does customer service at the airlines have in common with customer services at banks? Hopefully not much!

Happy New Year to all our readers. The holidays are over and some of us (including yours truly) are still trying to put things in order from the aftermath of having too many days off! But I think this week is when things will slowly settle down and everything will go back to the status quo.

But speaking of aftermath, I'd like to share with you a customer service disaster I experienced while traveling during the festive season.My husband and I flew to Illinois to spend Christmas with his family. They don't live anywhere near Chicago, so we had to take a connecting flight. Fine. Naturally, we had to go through O'Hare, aka, the Black Hole of the Midwest.

Apparently, some heavy fog set in and United (our carrier) had to cancel many connecting flights in Illinois, including ours. That's all right. My in-laws are about three hours south of Chicago, so we decided to rent a car and drive there. All we needed was our luggage and we'd be on our way.

No so fast, said the United people (in not so many words, of course). There was no way they could give us our luggage. Why not? we asked several times. You know, we never quite got a straight answer from them. However, they assured us that our bags would be awaiting us at our final destination later that day. I think the guy just said that to get rid of us. Grudgingly, we acquiesced and found the Hertz counter.

Fine, we can go a day without our bags-as long as we got the clothes by Saturday. You see, not only were we in Illinois for Christmas, but also for a wedding. All our formalwear was in the missing bags, which, United had promised us, would "be awaiting" us at our final destination. That empty promise still didn't stop us from continuously calling United baggage service. We spoke to at least 7 people (there were other calls I didn't bother recording on paper) over the course of 2 days, each with their own unique twist on the situation. For instance, one rep said the bags were never checked in to O'Hare (you mean they didn't put our bags on our outbound flight??). Another said that they were checked into O'Hare at 2a.m. the day we arrived in Chicago. And the one excuse that kept cropping up was that they have the bags and that they'll drive it down to our airport in a truck. Of course, it was incumbent upon us to check with the airport to see if the bags arrived. There was much wasted gas and aggravation as we drove a half hour from our hotel to that airport several times.

The morning of the wedding arrived and there was still no sign of our bags. We went to the mall for the angriest shopping spree ever (Thank goodness there was a Macy's there!). Bottom line-we had to waste our time and our money.

Why? What happened in the customer service chain with United--which, by the way, I had always thought was different from the other airlines? Why even bother affixing the tag with the bar code to peoples' bags if the technology used to scan them doesn't work properly? To me, that's what appeared to be happening here. You would think with all the investments the airlines and airports have been making in tracking technology that they would be able to see exactly where a given piece of luggage is at a particular time. Was it a problem with the volume of travelers? Not necessarily, since this was not the first time I lost a bag in O'Hare, the other times having been "off season."

And why did we have to call seven, eight, nine times before we got a straight story on our luggage situation? Why did we have to give our information all over again each time we spoke to a rep? Why wasn't our updated record pushed to the CSR each time we called so that they would get a better idea for our situation?

What's worse, it was obvious United was offshoring its customer service to India. I can't imagine the awful impression they got of Americans after the angry interchanges we had on the phone! I actually did end up apologizing to the final person with whom I spoke, who was the most helpful one.

We were told that United would reimburse us up to 50 percent of the cost of the items we had to buy due to our missing bags. Yeah, we'll see about that.

These airlines are all alike (I've yet to fly Southwest or JetBlue). Hopefully, banks can learn lessons from other industries, such as the airline industry, regarding what they should and should not do when dealing with their customers. This not only includes the customer service side, but the technology. What good is all the technology in the world if it's not properly utilized?

Next time, I think I'll try to carry-on all my bags. But then I'll have to deal with the TSA, which is a whole other inconvenient can of worms.

Care to share with BS&T and your fellow readers your own tales of holiday travel woes or your views on what's going right/wrong with FS customer service? Drop us an email or click on our Comment link.What does customer service at the airlines have in common with customer services at banks? Hopefully not much!

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