Customer Serve Us, Please

by Kenneth B. Lourie

I don’t want to be a crybaby, really I don’t, but here I go.

Recently I’ve had experiences with three companies, the first, Turkey Hill Dairy, in Conestoga, Pa. (Lancaster County) treated me like a million dollars, and the other two, Air Tran Airlines (this week’s column) and Blockbuster (next week’s), treated me like two cents.

A few months back I wrote a column, “Not Exactly a Teatotaler,” expressing my near addiction to Turkey Hill Iced Tea. After my mother read the column, she suggested I send the Dairy a copy, which I did. Four weeks later I arrived home and was surprised to find a box sitting on my porch, approximately the size of a three-gallon pack of bottled water.

Upon seeing the package from my car, my first thought was, someone, other than me, had been shopping. When I got to the front door I noticed the return address on the shipping label. It was from Turkey Hill. Eagerly I unlocked the door and picked up the package. It was fairly light so it wasn’t bottles of iced tea. After I sat the box down on the kitchen counter, I opened it to find goodies galore; along with a personal note from their marketing director expressing sincere appreciation for my literary efforts and further acknowledgment that “one good turn deserves another.”

In addition to the correspondence, on company stationary, contained within the box were five T-shirts, one sweat shirt, one hat, two aluminum can huggies, one hot/cold travel mug, one fancy ice cream scoop (all logoed), a set of four iced tea glasses (Amish style) and coupons for 10 free half-gallons of Turkey Hill Iced Tea and six free half-gallons of Turkey Hill Ice cream. What a haul! Now that’s what I call customer service!

Compare and contrast that to the treatment I received from Air Tran Airlines (no columns were involved, until now, however).

I made reservations on an on-line travel site. I entered the requested information and received a reservation code (a mix of letters and numbers) but not a confirmation number. After 15 minutes of on-line waiting for that number to appear, I gave up and signed off, figuring the confirmation number would be forthcoming (e-mailed eventually) and that I didn’t need to be present to have it accounted for.

Well, they e-mailed me all right. The next day! The e-mail said my reservation had not been confirmed by Air Tran, which meant of course I had no seat or assignment. I decided to call the airlines directly and after several 15-minute delays finally got through to a non-computer; although given the nature of the service I received, I might as well have been talking to a piece of non-feeling machinery.

The story they told me was that due to increased call volume during the time I was attempting to confirm (six times the norm, I was told) and the simultaneous installation of their new computer system, through no fault of mine, my Air Tran reservation was lost in cyber space. There was a record but, unfortunately for me, no confirmation number. And worse, my original itinerary - time and price -was no longer available. My options - based on availability, pay more money for less convenient flights. Air Tran’s response. “Sorry, but...”

You’d like to think that somewhere in the company’s system, someone has half a brain and understands how to treat customers appreciatively when computers cause impersonal chaos. I shouldn’t be penalized for their electronic meltdown. I had a record. I applied for a confirmation number. I did what I was supposed to do. They didn’t! Why should I suffer because of their consequences? I shouldn’t! I wasn’t asking for a free flight. I was simply asking them to honor the original agreement we had made the other night, especially since I had typed in my credit card number. They didn’t agree. Now I’ll never fly Air Tran.

I acted in good faith and expected Air Tran to do the same. I guess I was wrong to expect courtesy and consideration. Obviously, every company is not Turkey Hill.

Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.