Fast Company has a great blog today about the US Air/America West merger and the million-plus resulting screwed up reservations.
US Air attempted to do damage control by sending out a form letter (which you can read at the FC site), essentially the story a big computerized mess. As the FC blogger points out, the letter, ostensibly written by the VP of Sales and Marketing (or his assistant) is filled with street-casual language (as opposed to business-casual) that undermines the author's credibility. I'm all for casual language - in context. When you know your demographic will respond to it, for example. I'm guessing US Air's business traveler demographic did not appreciate the attempt at hipness.
There are two other glaring problems with the non-apology:
1) the letter focuses on what US Air has had to endure ("woe is us"), rather than focusing on the customer (apologies without excuses would be nice) and the solution - which is given, sort of, in the kind of language you have to read five times prior to understanding. We get that employees at these airlines have had a hellish time with the transition. That's irrelevant to how it affects the consumer.
2) the letter is entirely too long. If I'm a US Air (or America West) customer, and I'm already pissed off that my reservation has been lost in cyberspace, the last thing I want to do is spend 15 minutes reading a defensive rant about difficult - and admittedly outdated - technology.
Who knows? Maybe the guy's already been fired over this computer systems problem, and he doesn't care.
COMPARE THIS to an article in today's NY Times about the art of apologizing (also known as great customer service). The examples here are also stories, but concise ones, without getting defensive or whiny. Plus, most of the airlines - notably Southwest - take positive action to appease their customers...before they even get a complaint.
As a frequent flyer, which airline am I most likely to use, given these pieces of information?
Postscript: It sure is a day for airline stories. Just came across this one, courtesy of Tom Peters, about how British Airways handled not only the death of a passenger in-flight, but also the subsequent complaints (the answer to both: badly). In the extensive comments section of the Daily Mail article, respondents mostly berated the man who complained because he had to sit across the aisle from a corpse for six hours. Maybe that's a British thing. What appalled me was the response of the British Airways customer service rep: "Get over it."
Two things: If, as I think is true, overseas flights have crew rest areas, why wouldn't the crew have put the "expired" (their words, not mine) woman and her family there, where they would have real privacy, instead of placing the deceased - in the words of the complaining passenger - "like a sack of potatoes" in a first-class seat? (Note to self: least expensive way to upgrade...)
Second thing: I discovered that cruise ships have morgues. And coroners. Lots of people - not a high percentage, but some - die on cruises. Some go on cruises precisely because they know they're going to die, and they want to go out happy. When I took a trip with my elderly father in 2000, I had to research the grim details of what happens when someone dies at sea (and the ship's crew gave me the gory details on thing like people who want to die at sea). I'll save that for another time, but the point is... why wouldn't a plane designed for long-haul flights have a similar compartment?
It's 4:00. Let's see if we can make it another hour without yet another edit/addition to this post.