Customer service successes and fails

Traveling during the holiday season is challenging enough. When problems arise, suppliers' customer service plans are put to the test. Let's consider two examples.

I've just returned from a whirlwind trip back home for the holidays. It was a wonderful time and I was amazed at how much the city had grown since I was last there.

During the trip, I ran into a few problems and saw how different companies handle them. Apple's store was an example of wonderful service and, unfortunately, Southwest Air was an example of a customer service problem.

Apple story

After trying to use an iPad as part of my travel production process, I finally gave up. I found the onboard keyboard to be a mistake amplifier. When I tried a using separate keyboard for the system, I found that the keyboard problems were resolved, but the limited multitasking capabilities of IOS made it difficult to write and conduct research simultaneously. So, I ordered a MacBook Air. It wasn't much bigger than an iPad, it had a lovely keyboard and it offered the same multitasking capabilities of my larger systems.

I make a practice of having a complete set of cables, chargers and other needed accessories for travel already packed in my briefcase. The charger already in my briefcase was for a larger MacBook Pro and wasn't the appropriate charger for its smaller brother. It would fry the little battery in the smaller system. So, I went to the local Apple Store, asked the sales rep for help and took home a charger.  I immediately put it in my case for my next trip.

Midway through the trip, I wanted to top off the Macbook's battery. So, I hauled out the new charger and the little MacBook Air and discovered that the sales rep had accidentally given me the wrong charger. I know. I should have tested it before taking it on the road. My only excuse was that I was busy working on a project and thought I could save a few minutes. That was dumb. I accepted my sign and called for help.

I called Apple's 800 number while waiting in Chicago's lovely Midway airport. I spoke with a friendly, helpful agent. I've had good experiences with Apple's support people. Once I was able to help him understand that I was in an airport and I was given the wrong charger, he asked where I was headed. He looked up the closest store, posted a note in my record and suggested that I go there once I was back on the ground.

Once I picked up my rental car, I immediately drove to the Apple Store in Leawood, KS. I spoke with Sandy about my issue. She looked up the note in my record and took me to the back of the store. We traded chargers and I went on with my trip. This, in my view, is how customer service should be handled.  I contacted Apple and they solved my problem.

Southwest Air story

While on the road, I had the opportunity to try out the new MacBook Air and test my theory that it was a better fit for my style of working than a tablet. It was, by the way.

Since I had watched television using Southwest Air's (SWA) free service service on the iPad, I was sure that I would be able to do the same using the MacBook.  The in-air website said that OSX-based machines were supported although the two versions of the operating system listed in the "supported systems" list were ancient. I was pretty sure I could make it work. I was wrong.

SWA requires that travelers download a digital rights management plug-in for Adobe Flash before letting them see the content. When I clicked on the button to download the plug-in, the site tried to deliver a Windows .MSI file, not a OSX .PKG or .DMG installation file. So, no TV for Daniel. That wasn't a big problem because I had already downloaded a couple of books and a film for the trip.

When I got to my destination, I sent a question to SWA via their Twitter customer service account. They didn't answer during my trip and haven't answered since I returned.

Once I got home, I tried SWA's Email customer service account. Several days later, I got a message from one of their staff that demonstrated that either the person didn't understand the issue or didn't read my message at all.

Since I'm scheduled to go on another trip this week, I called the SWA 800 number, waited through a long list of advertisements and finally got through to an agent. I explained the situation. I was put on hold. Later the agent came back and told me that my system wasn't on the supported list because my system was running OSX 10.10, not 10.6 or 10.7. I said that wouldn't explain why Windows software rather than OSX software was delivered inflight. She insisted that was the cause of the problem. I am convinced she didn't know what she was talking about. I could see, however, that arguing with her wasn't going to solve my problem.

This, in my view, was a complete customer service failure. SWA had set up ways for its customers to communicate with the company and those ways didn't work. I still don't have an answer to what should have been a simple problem. There is no way, by the way, for someone to download the needed plug-ins while on the ground. The in-air system doesn't work correctly.

Quick analysis

As companies back away from communicating directly with their customers and force them to use Twitter, Facebook or a voice response system that doesn't understand English very well, they need to consider how a friendly, loyal customer can quickly be turned into an angry person looking for a way to "get even."

Apple appears to have come up with a working system. I suspect that system is paid for out of Apple's premium prices. I nearly always get quick, helpful responses regardless of whether I use Twitter, email or call the company directly.

Southwest has a long way to go. They've made it very difficult for a traveler to get through to a human being and get reasonable answers and deal with real-world problems. They don't respond to Twitter messages at all. Email stock, boiler-plate responses appear to come from people who don't read the customers' messages at all. Telephone help is time consuming and in the end doesn't provide a workable solution.

Kudos to Apple. Southwest, your customer service needs work.