Beware the Canned E-mail Responses

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As you may know, if you regularly read this blog, my friend recently contacted me to vent her frustration about her recent travel bookings with Delta, who accepted her Continental frequent flyer number for flights occurring after the partnership between Delta and Continental dissolved.  In order to resolve the issue and get credit for the miles, my friend sent an e-mail through Continental’s OnePass Service Center and began this chain of events:

  • E-mail #1 sent To clarify there is nothing that can be done about flights booked before partnership is dissolved and frequent flyer numbers accepted for flights occurring after the partnership between Delta and Continental is dissolved, my friend sends her first e-mail to the OnePass Service Center. 
  • E-mail #2 received 6 days later:  Service Center asks for flight information so someone can research the booking and flights. 
  • E-mail #3 sent 1 day later:  She forwards the information requested.
  • E-mail #4 received same day:  She receives a pre-written e-mail message, otherwise known as a canned response (a previously prepared e-mail response that is sent in response to frequently asked questions) saying they can’t process the credit because Continental wasn’t affiliated with Delta on that date.  Well duh.  We knew before the e-mail chain began that Continental is no longer affiliated with Delta.  That wasn’t the question.  The question was whether or not she would still receive miles because of Delta’s error in accepting the frequent flyer number in the first place, causing her to book a flight with an airline she otherwise had no affiliation.  
  • E-mail #5 sent 1 day later:  She points out they still haven’t answered the question. 
  • Email #6 and #7 received 2 days later:  At this point, not one but two e-mail responses are sent confirming that she will not be given credit for the miles.  She never received a response as to whether there is any recourse negotiated, although at this point, we will assume there is none.

Instead of saving time, the canned e-mail responses actually ended up costing Continental (and my friend) time, productivity and client satisfaction.  Using canned e-mail messages can, when used properly, provide a more thorough consistent and accurate response.  However, as my friend’s experience shows, it can also lead to frustration and customer dissatisfaction when the question is not answered.

When it comes to e-mail inquiries that are submitted to a customer service center a few things need to be considered:  

What is the real question?  Ultimately, my friend wanted to be credited for the miles she was earning on a partner airline; it was an unusual situation because the partnership had been dissolved.  If that couldn’t happen, she wanted to know if there was any recourse Continental negotiated on their clients’ behalf with Delta, since Delta still accepted OnePass numbers for flights occurring after the dissolution date. 

Be careful when using canned e-mail responses if some e-mail conversation has already occurred, and when the answer is not what the client wants to hear. 

Time matters Responses to e-mails shouldn’t take any longer than two days. 

Escalate issues  In unusual cases, escalate the issue to a supervisor or manager – even before the client has requested that the issue be escalated.  

Limit the back and forth  I’ve said it before, in another e-mail etiquette blog, if the issue is complex, the service provider should pick up the phone and call.  Although Continental did provide a phone number for their OnePass Service Center for my friend to call them, they could also have made the proactive outbound call themselves.

It is the simple things that allow us to make our clients more loyal, and the simple things that create client issues.  Reviewing when and how canned messages are used to ensure they answer the question asked, and escalating issues quickly to ensure policy and procedural issues are addressed are key to a great client experience.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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