Power to the (front-line) people

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Most experts on customer service agree that empowering the front-line people to effectively deal with most of the issues that arise with customers is a key to loyal customers. Providing the training and guidance to do that can be difficult, especially when these “front-line” people may be located thousands of miles from your company.

I was reminded of the power of this simple truth again today in dealing with United Airlines. I am a 1MM+ mile flyer with United (making me a permanent Premier Exec). This sometimes gives me perks, though not as good as a 1K or Global Services flyer. I was planning on going on vacation in a couple of weeks and had booked tickets for my wife and I to go. I booked them many months ago using award miles, so the trip cost $10 each.

Because our dog has cancer and only has so much longer to live (though he is kicking butt and has the doctor impressed), we decided to cancel our vacation plans (not sure if the couple we were traveling with finds that a plus or a minus, but I digress). Today I called United to cancel the flights and have the miles re-deposited into my account.

Shocked was I when she informed me that it would cost me $600 in cancellation fees to have my miles re-deposited. (Two travelers on two one-way tickets at $150 per ticket.) I asked the customer service person if I could just forgo the miles and not pay a fee because the policy was unbelievable and I would rather lose the miles (and then work to earn new ones on a “sane” airline) than pay $600 to keep my miles. She quickly offered to only charge me $300. I forcefully said no, that I would prefer to lose the miles than pay for them, even though I would be “pissed.”

She said she had to charge me. I stated that I understood it was not her policy and she was just enforcing idiotic rules from others. I also asked if I could just not fly and lose my miles and be pissed. She asked if I was likely to make this same trip within the year (good suggestion), but not viable. She said she did not want me to be pissed and she would just re-deposit the miles into my account.

Shocked was I, but happy. I thanked her for helping me and returned to my earlier belief that United, like many airlines, has idiotic policies designed to piss off their best travelers, but at least they have some empowered front-line people who are willing and able to work around them.

Mitch

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