Racing Towards The Bottom, or, How Not To Handle Customers

Sunday, 2 September 2012

I’m currently in the process of buying an airplane ticket to visit my family for the holidays. So, like everyone else, I first turned to the aggregation searching sites. Once I’d narrowed down my ticket choice, I was redirected to the airline’s website (in this case, American Airlines), where I was ostensibly supposed to finish the transaction.

After entering all the billing information, I submit it and receive a notification from the airline company that the seat is now booked, and that final confirmation will arrive once the credit card transaction is finished.

No confirmation comes.

Six hours later(!), a message arrives stating that the transaction was declined by the credit card company (because my credit card company is stupid).

Monday, 3 September 2012

I send the credit card company a secure electronic message via their website and somebody calls me on Monday. We do the security question song and dance (which was way too easy) and I get the card unblocked.

I then call the American Airlines customer service number to clear up the billing issue. Here’s where it gets really stupid: Basically, their customer rep and I spend 20 minutes, in which I fork over all the details of my credit card again, including expiration date and CVV2, including the billing address, etc., and what do I hear, only at the end of the conversation?

“Thank you sir, I’ve submitted this billing information into the queue, it should be processed within 24 – 48 hours.”

“What the fuck?” I think. “Wait, say that again?” I ask.

“Yes, the ticket isn’t yet confirmed, I’ve submitted the billing information for processing, and it will take 24 – 48 hours to do this.”

“Wait, why does it take so long?” I ask.

“That’s just the amount of time it takes.”

So let me get this straight, my full credit card details are going to be floating around in someone’s slow-ass batch-processing system for 1 – 2 full days just waiting to be poached? And, I have no confirmation that yes, I have the ticket. Way to go, guys. Do you even have control of your own systems? What year is this?

If American Airline’s systems are the speedy equivalent of a 386/DX sitting under a desk somewhere, I wonder how vulnerable they are to getting hacked. I mean, how long does that batch-processing queue have to be?

I keep my eye on my e-mail, but receive no confirmation that the billing is even being attempted a second time. That’s stupid. I’d like to be kept in the loop if the ball is moving at all.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Watching my e-mail. No confirmation has arrived in the first 24 hours after I called customer service. Wow, their system is really, really slow.

The worst part about all this is the limbo into which American Airlines places their customers. I can’t go and book a flight online because their dumbass batch processing system could trigger at any minute and bill my credit card. And I don’t trust their systems enough to want to call customer service and ask them to cancel the whole order, since who knows if the cancellation would screw up a different reservation I would make or if it would remove the transaction from the queue in time. (Are their systems ACID?) So I am stuck waiting, until either the booking succeeds or ultimately fails. Then I can proceed with my flight planning.

In this case, it is a codeshare flight with British Airways, so my thought would be to try booking via their website, since they’re the eventual carrier I’d be flying anyways. But all I can think is that something, somewhere, would screw up, and I’d get to the airport without a flight at some point.

But no, American Airlines, this is not how you handle customers. You do not put them in limbo and prevent them from getting on with their planning. You do not scrimp on Online Transaction Processing systems: it’s just penny wise and pound foolish to have people who are willing to pay you good money stand in line for 1 – 2 days.

They, like I, will just be very, very angry with you. And they will not want to do business with you again.

It’s close to 27 hours since I called customer services, and there’s still no confirmation or failure message in my e-mail. I’ll update if/when I finally get it.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

51 hours after the initial call to customer service, I finally received the confirmation.


Suggestion: You need to make it possible for customers with initially denied credit card transactions to rerun the transaction via the website once they’ve cleared up any issues with their credit card company. There’s already a way to check the status of a booking, there just needs to be a button added to let people settle the bill if it’s unpaid. I’m thoroughly disappointed at having to fork over all of my credit card information to a human in Fiji. (I asked where the guy was sitting, and he seemed honest…)

I will probably never call customer service again, as it’s less secure than just canceling the ticket and rebooking over the internet with humans out of the loop.

Then again, I haven’t seen a security audit of AA’s systems, so who knows how bad things are over there?

Suggestion: You need to inform customers at every stage of the booking, paying, possible rebooking, and confirming processes. We don’t like being kept in the dark when a services company is doing things that involve our money and our time.


Reading this isn’t encouraging:

CIO Magazine –
“Your successor is Maya Leibman, who has worked at American for 17 years, most recently as president of the AAdvantage customer loyalty program. What are you and she talking about these days?”

Outgoing CIO Monte Ford –
“I got Maya out [of IT, where she helped launch curbside check-in and self-service kiosks] into the business units. She’s a very smart and very talented individual with a great personality. Maya has a different style than I do but philosophically, we agree.”