Thursday, May 25, 2006

customer service

Due to a change in plans immediately following my return to the US, I needed to change my final destination in my return flight to Madison.

Anyway, not a big deal. I had called United Airlines yesterday to see what it would cost. I was quoted $150 fee plus the difference in the fare cost. Apparently I got a wicked discount on my flight from LA to Indianapolis when I bought the trans-pacific flight. Anyway, taxes and everything, I was quoted a reasonable cost yesterday.

Today I call again to make the purchase, and after a very short waiting period, Ian answers the phone. He seems nice enough. He says he has to check my fare rules before making changes, so I let him put me on hold. The two minutes he claimed turned into 10 minutes, then he came back on and apologized. He said that the fee change was $200 (not $150). Whatever. I asked him how much the flight would cost. Again he puts me on hold for "two minutes." Fifteen minutes he comes back and apologizes for the wait. Apparently a flight to Madison would cost an arm and a leg. I ask how much the total was, since I only pay the fare difference, not the whole thing. He gives me an outrageous number, so I ask for the value of this fare that we are replacing. "I have to check with my service director." He puts me on hold again.

I sat there and fiddled with the phone, getting angry, and I found a timer on the phone. We were 32 minutes into the call. He came back at 35:23 and apologized for the wait. He said my flight was worth $200 (I was quoted $150 yesterday) but all together it would be $416 plus any taxes. So naturally, I asked the magnitude of the taxes. "I have to check with my service director." The nasty refrain.

Strange thoughts started crossing my mind. Perhaps this service director was training him.
SD: "Now push the x button, and then F2. No, F2 not F and 2 at once."

Or maybe the service director was a game of solitaire.

He comes back at 46:12 and apologizes for the wait. He says it would cost $460 with taxes. This whole time his numbers seem rounded, so this is suspicious. I deliberate painfully on the phone with him for a while, trying to understand where the cost came from, then I ask him how much the taxes cost, "if it will take you less than 30 seconds." He mumbles a bit, then I say, "Why don't I just talk to your service director?" He says okay, and puts me back on hold.

At 51:37 he comes back and apologizes for the wait. I growl a bit under my breath. He says that due to the confusion about the rebooking fee ($200 today, $150 yesterday) they could give me the cheaper cost; would I like to buy it? I think for a while and say, "Yes, I would like to purchase this, but first can I talk to your service director? I have a question to ask." He reluctantly says okay and puts me back on hold.

I sit on hold for a while listening to the circus music, anticipating his return saying his boss is busy. Instead, an angry-sounding lady picks up the phone and very quickly introduces herself and states again they would give me the cheaper change fee. I say that's okay, and act pleasant to her. First, I enquire about the phone menu system. The menu was different today -- does she expect this? Perhaps something funny was going on. She says they have been doing menu work. Okay, so I express my concern about yesterday's quote and the SIGNIFICANT cost increase in less than 24 hours. The flight is not for more than a month, so fares should not start climbing so fast.

She asks if I'm flexible about times, and I say "yes, of course, if it's cheaper." So she finds the EXACT SAME FLIGHTS FROM YESTERDAY and quotes me THE EXACT SAME DOLLAR AMOUNTS FROM YESTERDAY including cents. I quickly agree to a 2-hour layover in Chicago to make the change for a reasonable cost including taxes. She was good: efficient and very good at understanding my needs and concerns. Only one thing she lacks: foresight to have taken over my call earlier after Ian came to her four times for help calculating taxes.

I had originally planned to bitch at her about how their operations were too clunky, since a price quote took almost an hour -- but when she came up with a decent price, and I could tell she knew how to run things, I blamed the call on Ian hoping he would choose a new career.

Strange thing: everyone sounded American at the other end of this Australian phone number. Yesterday, everyone (including the automated menu system) sounded Australian. The email confirmation I received later originated from a New Jersey IP address. Maybe the Aussies working for United have Friday off?

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