Technology Stills Needs Personal Touch

I was originally going to write a blog post about the conversation topic I alluded to in a few Tweets on the evening of June 29, 2011; however United Airlines changed the topic. This blog post is about the frustration when technology does not actually make things easier. It also gets more frustrating after asking for help when the technology fails.

I wanted to book an award fare to fly myself and the L&T Wife to California on United. So I went to the United website, logged in with my frequent flier number – you know the one that literally has almost half a million miles in the past 11 years. I went through and looked at all the options for flights before finally picking one. I signed myself and the Wife up for it, picked our seats, continued to the payment page and entered my credit card number. Clicked the Submit button, and nothing happened. Clicked button again, nothing happened.

I changed browser from Firefox to Safari and tried again all the way from the beginning I could not save or hold my work. Nothing happened under Safari as well. I then decided to call United Rewards Reservations, which is when the frustration started. This is a basic synopsis of the conversation

"Hello, I am having trouble booking reward travel on the website."
"When and where are you trying to travel to?"
I respond with the information
"No, there are no seats available for the dates you want."
"But the website shows many open seats."
"I am sorry sir the website is wrong."
"Okay, so what are my options?"
"There is a flight three days earlier for outbound and two days later for the return."

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot I thought – I did not say it. I was polite to the agent as they are just reporting what the screen is showing.

We go round and round and finally get the exact same itinerary, as I had created online. I did not care if it was a mileage saver fare or not, her system was defaulting to fares that take less miles. If I was asked I would have said, I had picked specific flights online.

Then came the time to make payment. Online it was 75,000 miles per person; via the phone it was 100,000 miles per person. I ask why the difference.

The agent had no good explanation, so I asked for a supervisor. During this time I was placed on hold, without music or other audio so I had no indication I was still connected. The supervisor could not assist me.

As we passed the thirty-minute mark the supervisor indicated I should be transferred to Web Support to assist. After a few minutes with the Web Support person I was able to book my flight.

It was extremely frustrating. I tried to do it via self-service on the web. It did not work. I tried to call for help and that did not work for the first 40 minutes. It took approximately 45 minutes on the phone and three agents to finish the transaction I already had details for. If the first person I communicated with listened to my original issue they might have thought to transfer me to the web team earlier. Instead I believe that they were just going off the script, not really helping the customer.

I tweeted out my frustration and decided to wait 24 hours to see if there was a response before posting. So far I have heard nothing.

Now some people may be thinking that it is only 50K miles, ~10% of your tally. To put the value of that in context, 50K miles is a round trip somewhere in the US with the right planning. Now that this trip is booked, I will get to call again to add my dietary needs as I can’t do that from the website. I think I will wait a day or two.

For those of you that have an impact on customer interaction, think about what happens when your website doesn’t work. How will you help that person? Have you provided them with enough information to know where to go for help? Is the first point of contact going to listen and respond or just follow a script? That one decision can change a customer interaction from a phone call to a frustration and wasting time for everyone involved.

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