Thursday, July 23, 2009

Air Canada – makes a save and a happy customer

Taking off, Montreal-TrudeauImage via Wikipedia

Until about 8 months ago, my airline travel was limited to once a year while visiting my kids at summer camp. I’d been flying WestJet and been perfectly happy receiving warm, friendly service from their cheerful flight attendants. I’d been hearing lots of negative chatter about Air Canada.

Last winter I flew to Vancouver and Halifax on family and business matters. I tried Air Canada again because they had the best combination of price and convenient flight times. Despite traveling in horrible snowy weather, they came through. Last month I had the pleasure of flying Porter – more about that experience in an upcoming post.

Air Canada had a great seat sale in February. Knowing we had to book flights to visit the kids this summer, Mr. B booked our tickets. Knowing very little would keep us away from visiting our kids, Mr. B didn’t arrange for flight insurance.

So, when camp cancelled visiting day this year because of H1N1 fears, we thought we were SOL. According to Mr. B’s research, we were eligible for a credit good for one year from the time of purchase (not the date of travel), we’d have to pay a penalty of $150 per return fare, and either pay the difference for a higher fare or lose the difference on a lower fare; and the credit was non-transferable.

Since we really only use air travel during the summer with a very specific purpose, having a credit through next February wasn’t much of a benefit. My sister told me about having to cancel a flight on Air Canada last year and after asking for an extension, she was given an extra three months.

I called the airline this morning to see if there was anything they could do to help. I explained the situation and the customer service representative (CSR) told me in no uncertain terms since Air Canada didn’t have an H1N1 policy there was nothing he could do. No extension, three-month or otherwise. He lectured me about buying cancellation insurance. I was getting annoyed. I asked to speak to his supervisor. He raised his voice and told me his supervisor wouldn’t do anything different. I told him I didn’t care and I wanted him to escalate the call. The next thing I heard was a dial tone.

After I got over the initial shock of a CSR hanging up the phone on me, I called back. This time a friendly woman helped me and offered to extend the credit period by three months. I asked if she’d consider extending it until the end of July. She explained she couldn’t. I thanked her, told her I still needed to deal with the rude CSR and asked to speak to her supervisor. She kindly obliged me.

The first thing I asked the supervisor was whether or not calls are recorded. His answer: “Sometimes”. I told him about my experience with the first CSR and how I found him to have an abusive manner. I was brutally honest about my airline travel habits and recent exceptions. I confessed that my tone was curt in response to the CSR in question and that although I wasn’t abusive, I may have elevated my voice out of frustration. He was sympathetic under the circumstances. He understood both my difficult predicament and my disappointment with the service.

Within seconds he not only found evidence of the recording, he identified the CSR, told me they worked in the same office and I got the distinct impression he wasn’t a team player. He didn’t have listen to the recording. Without missing a beat he offered to refund our non-refundable tickets in FULL!

To be clear, I was told the refund wasn’t because I had to cancel our flights etc. It was an apology for the poor customer service. And to that I said, “Thank you!” and before we ended the call, a refund confirmation appeared in my inbox. Now that’s what I call service. Air Canada made a fan out of me.

What I’d like to know is how much money companies lose apologizing for poor customer service? Have you had a similar experience? Did you take poor service at face value or did you escalate the call and if so, what happened?
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  1. @kristypryma7:57 am

    It's great to hear a bad customer service story that ends so well. The last time I had to change a ticket with AC, it was when my mother in law passed away. My husband was in Vegas for work, so I had to try to change his ticket back to Toronto to one to Saskatoon for the funeral. Even though he already had a ticket and I explained the situation, the change cost us around $300. Oh, and as far as bereavement fares go...we were told they eliminated them altogether because now they have so many great fares to choose from (Tango, Tango Plus, etc.). I'm glad your story ended up happier than mine did. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hey Kristy,
    I had no idea airlines put an end to bereavement fares. That's horrible. At the very least, they shouldn't have charged you for changing the ticket. As if you and your husband didn't have enough stress when your mother-in-law passed away.


  3. I really like this story and I'm always happy when people share good news customer service stories. Let's face it, they are few and far between. I too have experienced the dial tone when I've asked to speak with a manager but I usually give up after that. Your story has renewed my faith in calling back in the hopes of reaching a more humane rep.

  4. Thanks Louise,
    I think people spend so much time sharing the bad service stories online. I've always tried to be fair and by sharing positive stories, maybe members of the community will inspire each other and feel more empowered to deal with customer service problems head on.

    Sometimes it can be very stressful. You have to pick your battles. With the cost of two airfares on the line, it was worth asking Air Canada what they could do to help.

    Although I was absolutely delighted by the outcome, I would have been satisfied with an extension of the credit to a year from the date of travel. Unfortunately for them, since the first CSR was anything but service-oriented and downright rude, I persisted and got so much more.

    If he had been as nice as the second CSR, I would have either walked away with a 3-month extension or maybe asked to escalate the call only to see if the extension could be extended due to extenuating circumstances. (I have a letter from the camp explaining the situation).

    When I spoke to CSR #2 and the supervisor, I held back my anger and did my best to kill them with kindness and co-operation.


  5. Eden, I'm glad your story had a happy ending. Your experience proves that one must be patient, persisent and polite to get a positive outcome.


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