How to Respond to a Complaint

Recently, my husband and I flew from California to Florida on American Airlines for a family celebration.  Short of crashing, what could go wrong did go wrong. The plane was delayed almost an hour taking off and we missed our connection in Miami by a mere five minutes (the winds were in our favor). A flight attendant on the LA flight had told us the connecting flight would see some passengers were missing and would hold the flight for us, but it didn’t happen. We later learned that is not the protocol and it was up to our crew to notify connecting flights; that didn’t happen either. The next plane was still at the gate, but no employee was at the desk. That was the last flight of the day into our final destination (of course), so American put us up at an airport motel and gave us vouchers that partially covered dinner and breakfast.

We arrived at our destination half a day late. On the return trip, only two hours before departure we got a text that our flight had been cancelled. We were then booked on a Delta flight back to California, but when we got to the airport our last name was misspelled on the boarding passes.  That would not fly with TSA, and we were told it would cost us $50 a person to correct them. I don’t think so! The fee was waived, and we got back to LA about six hours later than previously planned.

When we got home I wrote a letter to the CEO of American Airlines, using bullet points to explain all the screwups. I was firm but not angry or emotional. In about two weeks, I got a phone message from an assistant to the CEO, addressing every point I had made in my letter. She apologized four times, mentioned every problem specifically, and was most understanding.  She said she was putting 15,000 miles into each of our frequent flyer accounts.

I called her back (I also had to leave a message) and complimented her enthusiastically for how sincere and comprehensive her response was. I told her I had trained many employees of customer relations departments in many major corporations, and that she responded in an exemplary manner.  As for the miles, I thanked her but told her that whatever faith we might have had in American had been lost and that it was unlikely we would be flying with them again if we could avoid it.

However, if you need to respond to a complaint, do follow this woman’s example:

• Do apologize. It means a lot.  If you don’t apologize you may think you will avoid culpability, but studies have shown that people are less likely to sue when they have received an apology than when they haven’t.

• Don’t blow off the customer’s concerns.  Address them specifically and directly. It shows you have taken all problems seriously and want to do better.

• Offer the customer  something as recompense; it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture, but it will show that you are offering it in good faith and with good will.

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Filed under All things having to do with the English language

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