When Airline Customer Relations Responds Too Quickly

I’ve just wrapped up my third trip of the month to Beijing, and suffice to say I’m tired. In the past few weeks I’ve done six segments between the US and China in American first class.

As I’ve written about, American first class is quite an underwhelming product in terms of the seat and food. Depressingly so, almost.

American-777-First-Class-01
American 777 first class cabin

That being said, the highlight of the flights were the crews. On five of the six flights I had stellar crews. Gone-with-the-wind-fabulous crews, even.

I wrote about flying with purser Scott and his wife from Chicago to Beijing and Beijing to Chicago.

Then on my second trip I had a lovely (but slightly abrasive) Dallas based purser with 45 years seniority.

But I think the purser I had on Wednesday from Beijing to Dallas, Sandra, may just have been the best one yet.

She was super senior, with 46 years seniority at American. And she was an absolute treasure in every way. I don’t even know where to begin. We often joke about how when you fly US carriers on longhaul flights it’s like being served by grandmas. But in this case it was really more like being served by that really cool great aunt who’s rocking it.

Sandra couldn’t have been more friendly, accommodating, sincere, or awesome. She really had an “old school” approach to service, in a good way. I talked to her for a few minutes in the galley, and here are just a few of the things she mentioned:

  • She showed up at the airport in Beijing an hour before the rest of the crew, because she feels that’s what she should do as purser to make sure everything goes smoothly.
  • She brought the whole crew egg sandwiches, “just in case.”
  • She explained she’s sad about the 777s being reconfigured without first class, because she’s a “first class gal,” and she likes providing first class service; she explained she recently was working with another flight attendant who said “someone just asked for all their food at once, what do I do?” Sandra apparently responded “well this is first class, honey, you do what the passenger wants.”

Sandra was just so damn awesome. And as luck would have it, so were the other two first class flight attendants — Beryl and Kathy. Seriously, the crew was amazing. So much so that I drafted a compliment letter to American which I wanted to send the second I landed.

When I share my feedback with customer relations it’s always nice to know that the appropriate people are being recognized. So I was quite surprised when I received a response 12 minutes after I emailed American. I figured it was just the auto-responder, saying that I’d get a response within some amount of time.

But nope, it was actually a “customized” response. Sort of. In the worst possible way:

Thank you for contacting Customer Relations. On behalf of American we welcome the opportunity to respond to your comments.

Our aim is not simply to provide transportation to your destination. We want to help our customers enjoy a pleasant journey along the way. We are glad the flight staff in business class on AA 88 from PEK to DFW was able to assist you to your satisfaction. We realize serving our customers is a priority.

Please be assured that we have followed through on your comments in an effort to share your feedback and, where possible, to improve our service. We are working hard to earn your business.

Really?

  • My feedback was about the first class crew, not the business class crew; now I’m worried the correct people won’t be recognized.
  • I wrote nothing but glowing things in my letter to them, so the fact that they say the following shows they didn’t bother reading the email: “Please be assured that we have followed through on your comments in an effort to share your feedback and, where possible, to improve our service.”

Bottom line

C’mon American, this is crap. Sandra, Beryl, and Kathy worked hard to create a favorable impression of American. It’s sad that trying to compliment them for their hard work is the most disappointing part of the American experience.

It’s great that American prioritizes customer relations response time by status, but it would be nice if quality of responses were a metric, and not just speed of responses. Back in the day American had fantastically customized responses to compliments which made you feel like positive feedback actually mattered, but I don’t get that feeling anymore.

Have you emailed American customer relations recently? If so, what was your experience?

Comments

  1. so, i think best case, this *is* an auto-responder that gleans pertinent information from your email and then responds with a robotic, neutral, often inaccurate response. worst case: some overworked, underpaid drone at AA scanned your email quickly, shot off a lame response and that is the end of it.

    i wrote an impassioned critique of some of AAdvantages flaws — including much praise about why I still valued them over any other domestic FFP — and sent it to customer relations a couple years ago. within like 25 minutes i got a boilerplate response that alluded to none of the points i had brought up. needless to say, i was pretty bummed.

  2. Lucky, Do you normally get responses such as the one that you posted when you compliment a crew? I had a fantastic (Mesa) crew on a domestic flight last month and sent in a similar note to AA relations and their response specifically mentioned the Mesa crew so I figured it must have been tailored to my email. I would rather not waste my time sending these commendations in if they are not going to be handled correctly.

  3. @ Walker — It has been a while since I’ve submitted a compliment with American via customer relations (recently I’ve otherwise done it through Twitter or by giving out the “AApplause” certificates. But going back a while I always got what I felt were very customized responses.

  4. You’ve hit the nail on the head with “It’s great that American prioritizes customer relations response time by status, but it would be nice if quality of responses were a metric, and not just speed of responses”

    The problem is that you can easily measure and turn “speed of reply” into a metric which is monitored and used to show how good your service is. Measuring the true quality of the service is much more difficult to gauge. To create a metric for that they’ll use your next favorite thing, the customer survey. I’m sure it will arrive in your email soon.

  5. Authenticity is important. I sent in a glowing compliment of a particular flight attendant to Southwest, and received a legitimately custom response, so I was sure it was actually read. It wasn’t immediate, but who cares? This lady epitomized the brand that SWA is trying to be, and I wanted to make sure she got recognized.

  6. I had a very similar response from AA a few weeks ago. I wrote complimenting the purser in First, but complaining about the food served.

    My response explained why in economy some people were given free food and drink!

    I wrote back and received a similarly bad response that completely missed the point. They turned an attempt to praise customer service turned in to a bad example of customer service by simply not reading. Maybe it is an automated system, as a human surely couldn’t make those mistakes?

  7. Do you have any of your hard copy recognition forms that you could send in? Or you could use the ‘Recognize Employee’ link in the ‘Twitter Feedback’ section of the AA app.

  8. You’re concerned “the correct people won’t be recognized”? C’mon…you write a travel blog. I’m sure AA will recognize the correct people. Who are you kidding?

  9. In a similar situation, I left glowing comments about an absolutely fantastic ANA ORD-NRT business class flight (during which my sister received a birthday cake, sticker decorated postcards, and an inflatable airplane, thanks to the insanely genuine and attentive business class cabin crew), and I received a very nice and obviously custom response from ANA’s customer relations the next day. It was extremely gracious and lacking the errors you had in your AA response, Ben, so perhaps this is just further reason not to fly the US3 carriers on longhaul? They can’t even pass along well earned praise correctly?

  10. In the past six months I’ve written complimentary letters just like what Ben describes to United, Swiss, and Lufthansa. One United letter was about a fantastic domestic first crew, and another one was about the new United Club food (which, while no means gourmet, I find to be absolutely delicious). I was (pleasantly) shocked at the level of personalization in the responses to each one. Just to give you an idea:

    1. The United response to my email about the Club food opened with: “What a delight to open your letter and see such kind words about the new food at the ORD United Clubs. We are so glad to hear it and very happy you are pleased.” It then went on to respond to a few other specific points I had mentioned in the email. After reading this response I actually felt like I had improved this person’s morning!

    2. The Swiss response to my email about amazing service in first class (ZRH-JNB) specifically referenced the purser’s name as well as the names of all the crew members serving first class on that flight.

    3. The Lufthansa response really took the cake. They didn’t even email. Instead, they called me to thank me for my kind words about a crew on my FRA-ORD sector. The woman calling me was from Long Island and was extremely friendly — this was by no means an “automated” phone call. Then, one week later they also mailed me a letter of appreciation for the comments along with a Lufthansa magnet.

    Also, just as a benchmark, I am *G, but by no means the highest status tier on United.

  11. @ Lucky – hopefully, this is just an oversight (J/F mix-up). But it still sounds better than your experience emailing Etihad regarding running out of food. Whatever came out of that? Did you accept the miles from them (I think it was 10,000 or something ridiculously low)?

  12. I had so drama with AA about a checked bag fee in April (which was just refunded yesterday), and both the automated response and human respnce were both angering and unhelpful. On top of that, I wasn’t able to draft an email directly to the person who emailed me, I would have to go back though the whole customer service email process.

  13. Lucky,

    Out of curiosity, given that AA reaches out to you because of your blog, and you have communication directly with Suzanne Rubin, do they ever respond to your blogs? I just wonder if they have folks monitoring your posts and whether they respond directly? Thanks.

  14. Last year I wrote to AA Customer Relations as the email form had a character limitation. Like yours, my experience was a very complimentary experience when a DFW-LHR flight lost heating in the back cabin (yes, some of us still fly economy), and the 777 was diverted to JFK. At midnight AA switched aircraft, unloaded and reloaded bags, and had us on our way with just a two hour arrival delay. I can’t imagine what happened behind the scenes to make that happen so quickly. The FA’s were amazing – with that rare can-do attitude with a spot of humour. AA management deserved to know. On the day of arrival I automatically received 5,000 miles into my AAdvantage account which was a nice bonus.
    I received a written response to my letter. Even though you could tell there were scripted elements, they appreciated the feedback. What took me by surprise is that they apologised for the inconvenience I experienced, and they enclosed a $200 voucher! The way the paragraph explaining the compensation was phrased was unchanged from how they respond to a negative complaint.
    I suppose they get so many complaints to which they hand out compensation, that whomever processed my positive comments decided that the nice ones also deserve the voucher too.

  15. It’s unfortunate about the email response, but I what I take away the most from this is that it’s good to know that good customer service isn’t completely dead from American carriers. Seems like we’ve been brainwashed (deserved or not) to just assume that the asian carriers are going to provide top notch service while we just have to put up with american crews to get to where we need to go.

  16. I give the flight attendants this little certificates of appreciation so I know they will turn them in themselves.

    There is not much room to write something but I gather they pile up in their file to show their superiors they are doing a good job.

  17. Would writing a DOT complaint about this make them listen to your story about your first class experience and disappointing customer service form email?

    Not advising you to complain to DOT, just asking cuz they read those I’m sure.

  18. I have to agree with @Adam regarding feedback from United. Granted I’m a United GS, but that hasn’t meant much in terms of online CS in recent years. But lately I find their responses to be timely and always customized. I write about the good as well as the bad. When it’s about the good, their pride of change exudes in their responses. Given the generally better food inflight and in the lounges, their expanding Dreamliner network (I’ve flown Dreamliner flights LAX-NRT, DEN-NRT, LAX-PVG, LAX-MEL, IAH-LHR, etc.), and a subset of FAs who have overcome the heritage “attitude” to become stellar ambassadors of their new vision of themselves, I’m very much inclined to give them some credit where it’s due! I’m enjoying the difference and it compels/propels me to continue my patronage as I should achieve 4mm, and thus lifetime GS status, within 18 months, despite buying nearly exclusively coach tickets (just LOTS of them!).

  19. Kind of lame! ….good that you got a great crew. That’s a long career…. I guess she likes flying even more than you.

  20. @ Agshdj — Ultimately that’s not something I’d do, since I think it’s a waste of every party’s time. That’s not what DOT complaints are intended for.

  21. I’ve sent AA 2 emails about re depositing 20,000 miles (along with phone calls) for a cancelled award ticket. Neither have been answered… so I feel your disappointment!

  22. Forget the incorrect content… that’s just an poorly-worded e-mail. It doesn’t flow, the sentences are just very matter-of-fact, etc. Weird.

  23. Quite the opposite response from Alaska. I started a thread on the Alaska FT forum, thanking one of their Phoenix Call Center ops, Goldie, for excellent service and their forum monitor replied quickly, telling me that he had shown the comment to Goldie and placed it in her file! I felt guilty at not contacting Alaska direct.
    Then followed a flow of pleased customers praising the Phoenix overnight team …..and my partner felt guilty at not sending a thanks to Rochelle of the Boise team!!
    In my case I found the Holy Grail of redemptions (Transpacific QF F), and was convinced the booking would not confirm. She kept calmly telling me what was happening…confirmed with Alaska…then confirmed with Qantas…then waited while I obtained seat allocation (2A)… and she was genuinely happy for me.
    Nothing creates better PR than great service well recognised.

  24. I can’t believe you had to suffer the indignity of an erroneous e-mail which led…nay…forced you to write a blogpost!!

    I hope they credit you with 1 trillion AAmiles for this.

  25. Most personalised reply I’ve bad was from bmi – the captain was excellent at handling some horrendous weather, keeping everyone calm and getting our flight away (when BA weren’t flying) – I emailed in my praise and got a nice reply back from customer services followed a couple of days later by a personal email from the captain thanking me for my kind words and giving some more details about the flying conditions. Very impressed, sorry bmi are no more.

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