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Lindy
Topic Author
Posts: 4722
Joined: Wed May 19, 1999 10:42 pm

Is United OK?

Wed Oct 15, 2003 11:48 pm

Hi All,

Two minutes ago I came across something that is very unusual in an airline industry.

Let me tell you the story. I was looking online for direct flights from IAD to BRU. UAL is the only airline that does this pond crossing directly without any stops. I was doing multicity price quote on ual.com and everytime I clicked on submit button I've got error message.
Well, I called 1-800-538-2929 for International reservations and what I got?
Voice saying "We are sorry but because of high volume of calls we are unable to take your call. Please hang up and call us later. Your call is very important to United..." Kaboom!!!

Are they for real??? To me it sounds like airline reservation center before deregulation. Now in those hard times when every penny counts they wont take my call??? How they expect me to do business with them? Like I said I'm having problems with online reservations and I would like to speak to somebody about my travel plans, to find out price and if it meets my budget to buy it. I don't have problem being on hold for even 30 minutes, but to tell me to call another time was realy upseting.

They lost another customer. Now I'm willing to fly from IAD thru ATL to go to BRU.

Rafal
BWIADCA - Nikon D100
 
Bicoastal
Posts: 2446
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RE: Is United OK?

Wed Oct 15, 2003 11:54 pm

Today's newspapers had ads for VERY good fares on United to Latin America, Europe and the Pacific. I suspect that it's generating a good response. Good for United. I've booked trips to Amsterdam and Hong Kong in response. People are probably inspired by the ads to make their holiday plans.

Rafal, patience is a virtue. Try again later.
Airliners.net has many forums. It has spell check and search functions. Use them before posting!
 
ntspelich
Posts: 740
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RE: Is United OK?

Wed Oct 15, 2003 11:55 pm

If it's a problem with the website, call their technical support number. From my experience they can usually not only help you with the website issue, but give you fare info.

NS
United 717 heavy, you're facing the wrong way. Any chance you can powerback to get off of my deice pad?
 
AIR757200
Posts: 1466
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RE: Is United OK?

Wed Oct 15, 2003 11:58 pm

They lost another customer.

You have to be kidding me... Just because the phone system can only handle so many calls.. and the high call volume may be people calling with that same problem as you had? Just do what they asked you to do.

Anyway, Spirit has the same message during their high call volumes. So, I just do what it asked me too, call back. And speaking of web-problems, Spirit was letting me book a $132.50 fare to LGA and after four attempts online, the bookings were being rejected due to "fare not available" even though the site was allowing the fare to be booked. So, no hard feelings- I just booked my two passengers on Northwest for $162.50, But in either case, I'm not mad for their web problems... I'll look up Spirit again.
 
luv2fly
Posts: 11056
Joined: Tue May 13, 2003 2:57 am

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 12:10 am

I understand your frustration and they should give you the option of staying on line and not just hang up on you. I use to work for a company and we had a certain insurance company that was the WORST! Well I always had to call them about something and 9 times out of 10 they did the same thing to me.
You can cut the irony with a knife
 
StarFlyer
Posts: 929
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 12:23 am

I know exactly what you mean. This is totally unacceptable.

Why dont you call a travel agent, or is your fare available online only?
Yours truly - StarFlyer
 
andersjt
Posts: 367
Joined: Tue Jul 22, 2003 3:50 am

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 12:43 am

Lindy:

Good and professional customer service standards say at the very minimum you would have been asked to hold for a few minutes. To ask you to call back is tacky. The risk they run is having you book with another airline - which I suggest you do. DL probably has a comparable fare.

UA has got to fix these types of service inconsistencies if they want to survive. The bankruptcy filing is bad enough, it is so confusing to you, me and other customers as to why they continue to make such little, but costly mistakes. I wonder how many other potential customers got the same recorded message? How many of those decided not to call back and booked with another airline?

Good, professional customer service does not have to be costly, all it takes is common sense.

Oh how I long for the day when the skies were truly Friendly!
 
uadc8contrail
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 12:44 am

LINDY,
are we to apply your purchasing decisions on all the other airlines???can not tell you how many times i have been put on hold with aa/dl, if you are that upset over this tell me what YOU would do if you have computer software problems and you call m/soft or hp and they put you on hold for 30 or more minutes???toss the computer and buy a dell???what about the software?pretty much dependent on microsoft....
Bus Driver
 
767Lover
Posts: 3254
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:05 am

1. Andersjt is right. You don't ask a customer to call back. You either ask them to please hold for X minutes (there are automated systems that calculate hold times) or you provide an automated message that says "our automated service will ring you back when an agent is available." Heck, my local residential phone company offers this capability -- it exists.

2. At first blush it might appear that Lindy is overreacting about not being responded to right away. If we were talking about most industries that might be true. However, the airline industry's practice of "now you see it, now you don't" fares means that a special fare can be gone in an hour, and a pax making an earnest attempt to book a special fare could be s-o-l simply because an airline reservation or Web system can't handle the volume.
 
Guest

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:07 am

A thread called is United OK? I have a better question.. Were they ever ok? Anyone want to take bets on what time the UA information minister is going to add his 2 cents worth?
 
Lindy
Topic Author
Posts: 4722
Joined: Wed May 19, 1999 10:42 pm

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:11 am

Ok, many of you didn't got my point. I WASN'T PUT ON HOLD. I was DISCONNECTED. I said that I don't mind being on hold.
Anyway. Few minutes after this incident I called Delta Air Lines.
My price inquiry was for the same city pairs, same dates and similar times.
After being on hold for about 5 minutes I got to speak to DL customer reservation center person. Price for my quote was.... $596.90
This is flight from IAD to ATL, from ATL to BRU. At BRU I will spend two nights and then go to WAW. From WAW I will go to CDG and from CDG to IAD.
When I heard the price I told her that she must be kidding me. This is the lowest price for my trip to Europe I have ever paid.
Without any hasitation I have purchased my ticket  Smile

To make some of you guys better I called UAL again. I requested flight from IAD to BRU. Two nights stopover at BRU. Then continuation to WAW. From WAW to FRA and from FRA directly to IAD.
The price was just great... EUROPE ON SALE - $1038 including all taxes and fees.
Maybe if I took them via Latin America or Pacific it would be cheaper. They have them on SALE....

Rafal
BWIADCA - Nikon D100
 
potomac
Posts: 692
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:14 am

i think we are overreacting to what could be a simple, limited-time technical issue, and certainly one that is not only common to UA. lets not let this turn into the prevalent airliners.net theme of "1 issue with UA = they will fail or they should shut down."

and the airfare dance happens all the time with different fares for different seats. with many people making purchases simultaneously, of course its likely that a fare could be available one moment and then sold out the next. though my experience has shown that its also likely that the fare could return with cancelled reservations. that the system - and no, its not just a UA thing, and not even a mainline carrier thing.
 
luv2fly
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:15 am

It is like everyone says, the fare could be gone, true it can be gone while you are holding tho it is tacky the way it is handled, we are to busy for you, so call back, click...
You can cut the irony with a knife
 
uadc8contrail
Posts: 1666
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:21 am

lindy,
would you rather be put on hold or be told that due to high call volumes please call back???i for one regardless of who i am calling would rather call back instead or call another competeter than wait 10/15/ or more minutes, thank goodness no other airline has to have potential customers call back or they would loose biz too, now see u called dl and saved some dinero
Bus Driver
 
andersjt
Posts: 367
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:22 am

Statistics would show that more often than not, if Lindy had gotten through to UA on the first attempt, he would have purchased his ticket, even though it sounds like it costs more than by going on DL. Yes, some of you would have balked at the quote, and checked with another carrier; however, the point is that UA had a chance to make a sale, and blew it. How many other chances did they miss?

AAAAGHHHH! This is so frustrating. What information am I missing that UA managers think these customer service inconsistencies are OK?
Oh how I long for the day when the skies were truly Friendly!
 
potomac
Posts: 692
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:35 am

I appreciate the situation - he had a chance to make his reservation on UA, but instead did on DL. Great - the passenger wins. I just feel it is limited thinking to point this out as a UA only thing. I'm sure there are multiple instances where one person will go to purchase a ticket on airline A, and because of some element of the customer service process, they will instead go to airline B. However, airline A is not always UA! These things happen! But I'm sure UA customer service does not think there are ok.

And as far as the fare difference goes, it doesnt surprise me that lower fare seats on the nonstop IAD-BRU service are no longer available. Nor would it surprise me that DL has attractive fares to lure passengers to a connecting service.
 
767Lover
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:35 am

Here's the deal: If I am selling something that is pretty much a commodity -- a seat on a flight -- I want a potential customer to call me and not the next guy. If I disconnect the caller, for whatever reason, they have to pick up the phone and dial a number again. The disconnection means I already have one strike against me -- so there's a good chance the customer is going to dial the next competitor in line.

You want to do whatever you can to sell tickets, and the only way to sell tickets is to be accessible.
 
UAL747
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:43 am

"After being on hold for about 5 minutes I got to speak to DL customer reservation center person. Price for my quote was.... $596.90
This is flight from IAD to ATL, from ATL to BRU. At BRU I will spend two nights and then go to WAW. From WAW I will go to CDG and from CDG to IAD.
When I heard the price I told her that she must be kidding me. This is the lowest price for my trip to Europe I have ever paid."

I've seen fares sometimes as low as 275-300USD. At times, you can fly from DFW-HKG for 600 bucks!

UAL747
"Bangkok Tower, United 890 Heavy. Bangkok Tower, United 890 Heavy.....Okay, fine, we'll just turn 190 and Visual Our Way
 
Lindy
Topic Author
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 1:53 am

Another thing. I AM NOT against UAL. The principal of my post was to tell you that an airline hang up on me.
I am not anti-United. I've have flown with them before and I had plesant experience. The thing was that they hang up on me.
Yes, I would rather be put on hold then to hear "call us another time". If I have to dail the numbers again I can call some other airline instead and try them.
Since 1996 I booked for myself over 80 RT's. And today for the very first time I was told to call again.

UAL747 if you are in NYC and can fly from JFK you can get one way ticket based on RT purchase with BA to LHR for as low as $150.
But tickets to Poland from Washington area are quite expensive. You have to always add connection fee because you don't have direct flights from my area.

I hope that everyone got my point.

Rafal
BWIADCA - Nikon D100
 
User avatar
EA CO AS
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 2:34 am

Voice saying "We are sorry but because of high volume of calls we are unable to take your call. Please hang up and call us later. Your call is very important to United..." Kaboom!!!

Are they for real???


Yes, they're for real. They're using a technique called "Gate Call Limiting," which means they're only accepting X number of inbound calls right now. Anyone over that X amount gets the "Please call later" message.

The reason? It costs a LOT of money to have customers calling your 800 number sitting on hold for a long time. If they know that callers beyond X will be holding a very long time (typically 30 minutes or more), it becomes more cost-effective to just stop those extra calls from getting through in the first place and giving them the "We're sorry....please call later" message instead.

It's a sound business practice, and one UA is using wisely..even though you may disagree.

[Edited 2003-10-15 19:37:31]
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem - government IS the problem." - Ronald Reagan

Comments made here are my own and are not intended to represent the official position of Alaska Air Group
 
andersjt
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:00 am

EA CO AS

Let me get this right - you are saying it is more cost effective for them to lose a customer rather than place them on hold?

Telling the customer to "Call Back" does not tell the customer that the call is important to United. Advise the customer that there is a long hold time, give them a busy signal, anything else but tell them to "Call Back." More often than not, they will change their mind.
Oh how I long for the day when the skies were truly Friendly!
 
767Lover
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:02 am

It's not a sound (or wise) business practice if it spurs customers to call another airline. It might be an economical practice, but not a sound one.

As I said earlier, there is technology out there that will automatically ring a caller back as soon as a line becomes available. UA should be using that wisely.

[Edited 2003-10-15 20:03:49]
 
User avatar
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:24 am

Let me get this right - you are saying it is more cost effective for them to lose a customer rather than place them on hold?

In many cases, YES, it IS more cost effective. The vast majority of those calls holding for 30 minutes are informational only ("What terminal are you in at LAX? Can I take my dog? What time do I check-in?), and don't generate revenue. Therefore, when looking at the averages, it's more cost effective to give a "please call back" message while directing customers to your website at the same time for new bookings.

Telling the customer to "Call Back" does not tell the customer that the call is important to United.

Which is why they include verbiage saying "Your call is very important to United," which is something you admitted was on their hold message.

Yes, there are ACD systems that will permit customers to leave their number and have an agent return their call, but this requires pulling extra manpower from their apparently already-understaffed call centers. Result? Even LONGER hold times and more of the "Please call back" messages. Not a good solution.

When keeping costs down and maximizing revenue is the name of the game, something's gotta give. Personally, I think you're overreacting to a very minimal inconvenience. Build a bridge and get over it.
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem - government IS the problem." - Ronald Reagan

Comments made here are my own and are not intended to represent the official position of Alaska Air Group
 
UN_B732
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:34 am

$99 one-way JFK-LON on BA or VS based on round-trip purchase. Learn to love it  Laugh out loud
-UN
Was the fare only to BRU or all the way over?
What now?
 
767Lover
Posts: 3254
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:36 am

EA CO AS:

Point of correction: The automated system I am referring to does not require extra manpower. It is totally automated. And the customer doesn't even have to leave a number...they just press "1" if they want a call back.

Secondly, this is an important issue because it demonstrates misplaced priorities on the part of companies that are desperately trying to increase revenue. Forget inconvenience for a moment: If I were a shareholder for a company that is going bankrupt, I'd be mad as hell to hear they were handling incoming calls from prospective customers in this manner. Losing a $1038 sale might not sound like a big thing in total, but they add up.
 
potomac
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:39 am

would this discussion still be going on if this happened to any other airline.... another mainline, or even southwest or jetblue? i doubt it. while i agree that what happened is not good for business, i just cant accept the fact that this is something that would only happen to UA, something that occurs frequently at UA, and something that UA would not consciously try to avoid.

mole hill..............mountain
 
Lindy
Topic Author
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:41 am

All the way over. Thats why I bought it right away.
I was prepared to spend between $800 and $900. I got excellent deal. Can't complain.

Rafal
BWIADCA - Nikon D100
 
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:45 am

Point of correction: The automated system I am referring to does not require extra manpower. It is totally automated. And the customer doesn't even have to leave a number...they just press "1" if they want a call back.

I think you're missing the point, though...who is it that makes the call back to the customer?

a) Dr.Seuss
b) The Cubs fan who cost them Game Six
c) The Lollipop Guild
d) a UA reservations agent

If you answered "D" you're corrrect. A United agent would ultimately make that call back to the customer, and they'd have to be pulled from their normal duties of taking inbound sales calls in order to do those callbacks.

This increases the company's average cost per call, which is a BAD thing. It's terrible to lose a customer because you couldn't handle the call, but on average the cost of losing that sale is offset by the OTHER sales you're able to get by driving customers to your website and the money saved by not having hundreds of calls holding in excess of 900 seconds (or whatever their benchmark is) on your toll-free line.
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem - government IS the problem." - Ronald Reagan

Comments made here are my own and are not intended to represent the official position of Alaska Air Group
 
767Lover
Posts: 3254
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:52 am

Maybe the Cubs fan should be assigned to handle calls from disgruntled UA pax as punishment!

 Smile
 
AIR757200
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 6:53 am


I just want to go back to the original post.

Two minutes ago I came across something that is very unusual in an airline industry.

Happens all the time, not only in the airlines.

Simple response.

 
andersjt
Posts: 367
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 7:16 am

Potomac -

You bring up a good point about whether or not this discussion would have ensued if this were another airline than UA. I think it would - the whole point is to discuss what customers are expecting.

The other point is that with the 3 big guys in such financial straits, why do they want to make mistakes? You'll notice from Lindy's original post that DL did not make the same mistake and got his business.

Oh how I long for the day when the skies were truly Friendly!
 
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flashmeister
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 7:23 am

Seems to me that if UA really needs to turn people away because they can't handle the calls, then perhaps they need to look into hiring a few more agents. When you're a business, you can't expect to force customers to do business the way you do -- it's typically the other way around.

I can appreciate the arguments being made about costs of having people wait on hold. It seems to me, though, that when the business case was made to cut these costs, no thought was put into its negative effect, no matter what the phone script says -- people don't listen to that stuff.

When you make moves to cut your human-to-human interaction with a customer (closing City Ticket Offices, restricting ticket sales at the airport, etc.), you have to then accomodate those customers another way that is convenient to them. Face it -- if a customer is forced to deal with a company via the web, and they can't or don't want to do it, that company will lose the business of that customer. United must not care that much about losing those sorts of customers.

And, UA is not the only one -- DL/Song's new scheme where you buy tickets over the phone from an automated attendant would drive me insane. If I'm on the phone to buy something, I want a human being.

This is just the latest example of UA deciding that it needs to cut costs and force customers to behave in the manner most convenient to United's internal processes, rather than making it easy to do business with UA. So, no. UA is not OK.

And, yes, I do not like UA at all. My bias is clear.
 
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EA CO AS
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 7:37 am

DL did not make the same mistake and got his business.

I don't believe UA really made a mistake, per se. Manpower forecasts are generated based on historical data from days, weeks, months and years gone by. All airlines (UA included) use these to determine how many FTEs (full time equivalents) can be staffed, and at what times. They take various peaks and lulls in call volume into account based on time of day, the seasons, holidays, etc.

That being said, sometimes they're not as accurate as the company would like. When unexpected lulls occur, the company is losing money thanks to overstaffing. When unexpected surges in call volume occur, the company has to compensate by offering overtime to make up for the manpower shortage.

Both of these cost money, and the company has to find ways to minimize the costs as best they can. Sometimes, the unenviable (turning away potential business) takes place in the name of meeting the budget numbers.

I hate to sound cynical, but the airlines (not just UA, but all airlines) realize that with fares as low as they are today, the "Well, I'll just take my business elsewhere!" argument doesn't hold much water. Frequent fliers with large accounts seldom defect.

Besides, when you're offering a $139.00 roundtrip ticket, if one customer won't buy from you out of resentment, there are ten others already waiting on hold who will.

I know many of you will disagree, but customers' buying behavior over the past few years says otherwise.

Sure, UA lost out in this example because it was a high-end fare...but that's the exception rather than the rule. And again, the loss of that business is more than offset by their savings in these other areas.
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem - government IS the problem." - Ronald Reagan

Comments made here are my own and are not intended to represent the official position of Alaska Air Group
 
StevenUhl777
Posts: 3281
Joined: Sun Jul 08, 2001 11:02 am

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 12:54 pm

EA CO US: WELL SAID!!!

That's the name of the game these days...cheapest possible fares. I can't remember the last time I talked with someone over the phone to buy a ticket, and I only fly UA! Given the choice, I'd rather do it online instead of being on hold and talking with someone who speaks poor English and/or difficult to understand. All online, no hassles. It's a lot cheaper to run the website and upgrade it than to pay humans wages and benefits. The airlines have to cut costs somewhere.

Do the LCC's have vast numbers of customer service reps. to take calls and book flights? I doubt it...probably all online and automated phone ticketing as referenced above.

And the winner for best actress is....REESE WITHERSPOON for 'Walk the Line'!!!!!!!!
 
Guest

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 2:56 pm

Considering there sell off this week to make some fast cash... I have a feeling their quarterly report due on the 30th is not going to be good.
 
tekelberry
Posts: 1309
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 3:46 pm

Here the airlines are....whining and complaining that they don't have any money and demanding money from the government when they basically tell their customer to go elsewhere.

I'm sorry, but any airline that isn't willing to take your business doesn't deserve your business.

I would have taken AA either with IAD-ORD-BRU, DCA-ORD-BRU, BWI-ORD-BRU and IAD-ZRH-BRU(Swiss codeshare). Delta is still good though.

[Edited 2003-10-16 08:54:29]
 
tekelberry
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RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 4:03 pm

EA CO AS,

I know it's such a pain to call potential customers back. Who do those customers think they are?!?! They're taking away the reps time spent at playing Solitaire! Maybe we should just have robots handling all calls while those overstressed reps socialize with each other and play computer games.  Insane
 
767Lover
Posts: 3254
Joined: Fri Sep 26, 2003 6:32 am

RE: Is United OK?

Thu Oct 16, 2003 9:58 pm

I was getting tired of arguing this point, but I have to clarify something that keeps being mentioned:

EA CO AS: The automated call-back technology I spoke of does not require that agents physically call customers back. The system I am speaking of gives a message to the caller that "all lines are busy, we can automatically dial the line for you and notify you with a special ring when your call goes through." (Or something to that effect.) The caller then hits "1" or whatever to agree, and hangs up. The system continues to "dial" the call center on behalf of the customer (invisibly), and when an open line is reached, it rings the customer's phone, the customer picks up and hears the call going through (ringing at the other end) as if they made the call themselves. Basically it's like the customer hitting "redial" over and over, except the system is doing it for them.
 
cloudy
Posts: 1613
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RE: Is United OK?

Fri Oct 17, 2003 1:57 pm

I currently work at an answering service. Our business is helping people get a hold of people that can help them when no one is available at the moment. Most of what people have said is correct. When everyone is busy, these are generally the best options, listed in order from the best to the worst from a customer service point of view.

1. As 767Lover said, to take a number through caller ID or a human operator and call back.

2. Put the customer on hold for a few minutes, after notifying him, and take the call when you can.

3. Ask the customer to call back.

4. Put the customer on hold for a very long time.

No matter which option is choosen, it will be percieved as more polite if it is done by a human rather than an automated system. This is especially true with option 2 and 4. Economic factors sometimes prevent this, however. Human operators are expensive.

Some have suggested that United just does not have enough staff. Those who have not worked in call centers often do not realize just how much call volume varries, and how unpredictable it is. You can be put on hold for a long time on one day and yet get through on the first ring at the same time the next day or even in the next hour. Volume durring rushes can be literally hundreds of times greater than durring slow periods. If you want be assured of always having a halfway reasonable response time, your operators are going to be doing nothing 2/3 's of workday. That is the only way to have enough people to handle the innevitable rush. When companies cut back, people who only work about 1/3 of the day are innevitable targets. When a large number of these customer service people are laid off, service innevitably suffers.

A customer calling a call center that is at 3/4 capacity will experience intollerable delays more than half the time he calls. This is not because the call center is swamped half the time - it may be rushed for a considerably shorter time than that. It is because the law of averages dictates that he is more likely to be calling when the center is swamped - the whole reason the call center is swamped is because a lot of people are calling.

IN SHORT....the slow period/rush nature of call center work, combined with simple knowledge of statistics - will tell you that laying off even a small portion of a call center's staff can result in a dramatic impact on customer service. This is ironic considering that such workers are often idle much of the time - but it is the truth.
 
tu154m
Posts: 613
Joined: Tue Oct 02, 2001 4:52 am

RE: Is United OK?

Fri Oct 17, 2003 2:27 pm

Rafal,
Thanks, from an employee, for going with DL. Hope all goes well!
S
CEOs should swim with cement flippers!

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