American Airlines Fails In Service Recovery

Yesterday was a real “fun” day. When I arrived at the San Francisco airport at noon for my 1:40 flight, I was informed that the flight was delayed until 7:30 PM. After a few seconds it sunk in — I wasn’t going to make it home last night.

The agent didn’t really answer my questions about what had happened and told me that there weren’t any options on any airline that could get me home any sooner (although she didn’t seem to look very hard). She didn’t apologize and didn’t even seem to notice the enormous inconvenience to me.  

After I told her how horrible the situation was, she gave me some vouchers for free food. As a business traveler with an expense account, this gesture did nothing to dampen the prospects of my 6 hour delay. So I asked if she could at least give me a pass into the Admiral’s Club. She said that she couldn’t do that; all she could do is give me the food vouchers (compare this with my post about Ritz-Carlton).

It turned out that the delay was caused by mechanical problems; so it was totally American Airline’s fault. And the plane ended up leaving even later and I got home at 5:30 AM in the morning — about 7.5 hours later than scheduled.

 Here’s how I’d rate American’s customer service with my C.A.R.E.S. model:

  • Communication: D
    The airline didn’t provide much information at all about the situation
  • Accountability: E
    The airline didn’t try and do anything proactively to remedy the situation (like getting a plane quicker) or offer any options that lessened the inconvenience
  • Responsiveness: D-
    The airline didn’t notify me in advance of the delay and didn’t try to rebook me on another flight. 
  • Empathy: D
    The pilot was the only American Airline employee that apologized for the inconvenience.
  • Solution: D
    A seven hour delay with no real attempt at remedying the situation for travelers is not an acceptable solution.

To put this in perspective, I’m a Platinum member of American’s loyalty program and am very close to reaching the Executive Platinum level (the airline’s highest level). So this is an indication of how American treats its best customers.

While American Airlines can’t avoid all situations where it inconveniences travelers, it certainly can (and must) do much better job with its service recovery process (responding to problem situations) and improve its corporate culture which is not very customer-centric.

The bottom line:  American Airlines does not seem to care about customer experience.

About Bruce Temkin
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, marketing, interaction design, customer service, and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

9 Responses to American Airlines Fails In Service Recovery

  1. Darren Goetz says:

    Sounds familiar. Seems like most airlines customer service model/motto is “you’re on your own”.

    P.S. Not sure if you tried, with such a long delay, you possibly could have switched to flying out of Oakland. The transfer using BART train from SFO to OAK is pretty easy.

  2. Sadly, American Airlines’ staff have been showing increasing signs of heading for the bottom of the service barrel. Southwest is still the gold-standard, although I had a great experience recently on United.

    For more thoughts on recovering: http://pivotpointsolutions.net/2009/10/14/snatching-victory-from-the-jaws-of-defeat/

  3. Karl Jones says:

    It a sad statement that this is quickly becoming atypical of the overall customer experience. Sadder still is that the experience that Bruce shared is not exclusive to American Airlines.

  4. Ben Werner says:

    Have you seen the “Dear American Airlines” UX saga?

    http://dustincurtis.com/incompetence.html

    Looks like American has a penetratingly bad culture…

  5. Jeanne Bliss says:

    Bruce,
    What is especially sad about this is that American Airlines just made a pay-out to employees an average of $150 each — a total cost of $10.6 million — for helping the company meet customer-service goals in the third quarter. There is a perception there that they are making progress! Clearly what they are measuring is not what customers are experiencing!

    Like you, I travel with American a lot and get this type of non caring service on a regular basis. Mission NOT accomplished!

    • Is $150/employee really going to drive different behaviour? Looks like AA has checked the “provide incentive plan to employees” and assumes they are finished. As you say, the mission is a long way from finished.

  6. T says:

    I just stumbled on this after experiencing American Airlines abysmal customer service first-hand. I am currently stuck here until 7:00 tonight after a mechanical problem delayed my 9:30 morning flight (which meant I couldn’t make my connection). I will not arrive to my destination until tomorrow. Now I am trying to conduct conference calls in the terminal, which is pretty much a futile effort.

    I asked AA if they could give me a day pass to the Admirals Club but they refused. No apologies, no empathy, nothing.

  7. KG says:

    Well I’ve had good and bad experiences from American Airlines. As an Executive Platinum member they’ve always been great to me, and often go above and beyond. I was involved in an accident on the way to the airport in November last year and called up AA. They were excellent at sorting out alternative flights etc all without any additional cost to me (despite flying on cheap tickets). I think a lot depends on who you speak to and how you approach the situation.

  8. Lobsang says:

    My wife and I just flew the trans-Atlantic portions with AA and it was the first time flying in about a 5 year window at all for the both of us.

    The good ting is that you are still riding a Boeing which has it’s own ac unit for each seat, as well as a slightly larger seat than Airbus, the airline manufacturer flying the connecting flights.

    The thing about AA is they don’t serve mixed sprits and beer & wine for free as do all other trans-atlantic carriers. They are, of course, happy to take your credit cards. I feel like I am really bothering some pretty hard-working mid-age women earning about $8.50 and hour….

    Hey ~ AA! You want my business? Act more like Virgin Atlantic!

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