If You Have To Play By The Books, Show Empathy

Upfront note: I am not writing this article to curse the airline concerned. I understand these are strange times and strange things happen as such. I hope we can all learn from it and reconsider how we approach the ones we care about, both in personal and business relations.

We had planned a trip to Italy in June.
We really looked forward to it.
We had to cancel it.

Okay, Corona is way worse for many people but I hated the fact I had to cancel that holiday. We had honestly been looking forward to it for months. I even had to come up with a story for our two-year-old son about that we couldn’t go and buy ice creams in Italy since there were many sick people and they closed the country as such.

Next, I reached out to the airline where we had bought our tickets. That turned out to be a sad experience and I want to use the story as an example of how I think customer service employees should NOT react in cases where they can’t “do a thing”.

Here’s what happened

Word had already spread they would not return my money, which I still disagree with. I paid a serious amount of money for them to take us to Rome and back. So they were not honouring their part of the agreement.

Not happening.

I was given the option to either reschedule the trip to another date (can anyone who knows please tell me when this will be over?) or get a voucher. I picked the voucher as that gave me the most value (or flexibility) for the money I had given them. The voucher has to be used before December 31st, 2021. That is a long period from now but puts the risk with me.
Second, as a result of COVID, and the expected post-COVID-economic circumstances, I will most likely never get the same value for money, meaning I will reconsider the destination and probably the airline, but I can’t do the latter since the money is already parked somewhere.

In the meantime

In the meantime, I received various warm-hearted and encouraging emails from the airline expressing over and over again they were doing absolutely everything to ‘be there for me’. So I reached out to them, telling I didn’t feel that way from looking at the cancellation. They weren’t there for me. They were only there for their cash flow.

Long story short: we can not help you, We can only inform you. Oh now that you’re here, how would you rate our service?

Well, what do you think? I asked for more than information. I asked for service. But more importantly, I asked for empathy. There are many ways to help me out without returning my money and all you can come up with is: I can only inform you, not help you. What good are you anyway in that case?

Then what?

  • Here are some things they could have done instead:
    A sincere ‘we’re sorry to hear that. Mind if I look along at how we can help you?’. Not automated, personalised.
  • A little empathy. Don’t just read out the rules. Tell me honestly and openly you preferred them to be different as well. Or something similar. Show me you care.
  • Extend the shelf life of the voucher. Make it five years. It’s my money. I will spend it, don’t worry.
  • If I haven’t spend it after five years, return it to me, don’t keep it. Again, if you have to rely on my money in five years’, you’re not in a good position anyway.

Bottom line: give something. You already own the two most essential pieces of this transaction (the flight, the money) so don’t take the rest as well. And I might become a true lifetime customer, especially after COVID ends!

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