The news is currently awash with a spectacular example of a company failing to have any respect for its customers. When #United decided to have a paying passenger dragged off one its planes to accommodate employees, whom the airline felt had more right to be at work the next day than said customer, they showed a total disrespect for their customers. The incident, and the initial response of the CEO, also showed a total lack of respect, and understanding, for the power of the citizen journalist and social media.
The fact that other customers filmed the shocking incident and shared it online really should not have come as a surprise, nor should the fact that it got picked up by the media and went viral. The days of being able to just bury incidents under the carpet are gone. Whilst not all examples of bad customer service go viral it is now a real danger for any company, and as such all companies need to start being much more vigilant to customer complaints, especially when these are posted to a social media network.
The other factor here is also basic marketing. When I did my Masters in marketing one of the things we learnt was people talk more about a negative experience than a bad one. It is also accepted business wisdom that happy customers are more profitable for companies – they spend more and it is cheaper to retain them than it is to gain new customers. The other thing we learnt was that a company can turn a customer with a negative experience into a loyal customer by the way they handle a complaint. It is all about making the customer feel valued.
I have numerous personal examples that support these facts. In fact my motivation for this blog post is not the United incident but my current debacle with Turkish Airlines. Right now I am an extremely unhappy customer and have been appalled at their dreadful customer service. As a frequent flyer with airlines like British Airways I have come to expect a certain degree of customer service from reputable airlines and I had been under the impression that Turkish Airlines also fell into that category but clearly not.
The issue in question was entirely my own fault but highlights the difference between an airline like British Airways and Turkish Airlines. I recently booked my holiday to the Philippines but to my horror a couple of hours after paying for the flight I realised that I had booked the wrong dates (due to still being under the weather with my Hashimoto’s btw). I called Turkish Airlines up immediately to try to find a solution to this. I was greeted with an unfriendly and unhelpful rep who refused to help in anyway. This is entirely at the discretion of the airline as I know that British Airways in these situations give you a grace period of 24 hours in case this happens. Not Turkish.
Very distraught I wracked my brain for what to do as I now faced spending less than 5 full days on the beach for 3 and bit days of travel! I then phoned them back to ask about buying a single ticket out on my original planned date and then using my return ticket as planned. Again I spoke to a less than friendly and unhelpful customer service rep who informed my that this was also not an option. I would have thought Turkish Airlines should have jumped at the option of selling me a second ticket, especially as I am sure the currently climate and laptop restrictions on flights will be impacting their sales. I then complained via Twitter and got a much more friendly and helpful response – they lodged my issue as a complaint with customer services for me. Yay!
But no. I got an email from the customer complaints department that it would now take them around 7 days to get back to me! In 7 days time I had hoped to be in a flight and also needed to organise my accommodation! Why on earth would it take them that long to contact me?! To this day I have still not had a response from them, despite numerous follow up tweets. A swift response would have placated me, even if only to sell me that single ticket, but now days of silence later I am a very irate customer who is telling everyone I know, including some very frequent travelers who fly with Turkish (sorry … who used to fly with Turkish). The window for Turkish Airlines to retain me and my friends as customers is rapidly closing – if they do not want my money I am sure many other airlines do.
This experience contrasts with my other recent travel experience, namely with the Radisson Hotel in Austin. There I also complained about a few issues I had had at the hotel. Their response however was very prompt, courteous and professional. When I complained I really felt like I would never stay in a Radisson again but following their fantastic customer service they have managed to flip the situation and turned me into a loyal customer. I now know that if I ever have issues again I can trust this hotel to resolve them in a positive manner and as a result I will have no issue in picking the hotel over another hotel on my next trip.
I am generally a very loyal customer (last year paying close to £1000 more just to fly with British Airways) and I, like many other customers, am actually quite easy to please. Listen to me, respond to my contact request and treat me like a valued customer who you would like to retain. It is my money to spend and I can easily spend it with another company. Keep me happy, like British Airways always does, and I will tell people about my great experience and keep coming back. Make me unhappy, especially by treating me like you have no interest in my future spend with you, and I will tell everyone I know and take my money elsewhere.
Whilst a single customer may not per se be of interest to the company, their friends, family and extended network may be. As word of mouth spreads across that network, as is the case for United Airlines, you start to see a real impact on revenues. Counter that with the cost of good, courteous and helpful customer service, it just makes good business sense to treat your customers with respect – each and everyone of them.
Within an hour of writing this post I received the following response from Turkish. I have no idea why it took them days to provide a standard response like this. It also does not address some of my issues that I complained about. You can see my response below too. Clearly I will not be flying with Turkish Airlines again and I will continue to advocate against flying with them. If you have had similar negative experiences with them I would love to hear about them too.