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David Lee King

Bad United Airlines Customer Experience



This post starts out describing a bad customer service experience I had, then turns my whining into five things you should think about in your library.

First, for the story:
I spoke at New York Public Library a few weeks ago. After my presentation, I decided to show up early at the airport, so I could work on some writing projects (as in a book – stay tuned for more on that one).

At the United Airlines ticket counter, I went to the self-service EASY CHECK-IN counter. One would think that by advertising the counter as EASY CHECK-IN, that it would, in fact, be EASY CHECK-IN. That was not the case.

I received my plane tickets just fine – that part actually WAS easy. But I was there 4 1/2 hours early, and the EASY CHECK-IN machine apparently didn’t like that – it wasn’t set up to check bags that far ahead. Unfortunately for me, the person behind the counter wasn’t much better than the EASY CHECK-IN machine!

I explained my problem (I wanted to check my bags early). Pretty clear, right? Instead of addressing my problem, the Counter Guy simply pointed me to the REALLY LONG LINE for normal ticketing, and said “go stand in that line, and see if they can get you on an earlier flight.” WHAT??? That’s not what I needed! So I re-explained that I already HAD my tickets (I showed him) and said again “I just need to check in my bag… ” In a “most patient” tone (you know, that “you must really be a dumb customer but I’m still supposed to be nice to you so I’ll talk louder and slower” tone), the Counter Guy restated that I needed to get in the REALLY LONG LINE to see if they could put me on an earlier flight, and that was all he could do for me!

ok…

So I headed over to the REALLY LONG LINE. 45 minutes later, when I finally reached the Counter Lady at the end of the REALLY LONG LINE, I explained my problem again (I just want to check my bag). In a very helpful voice, the Counter Lady said “you know, you didn’t need to stand in this line for that.”  (admittedly, I knew she’d say that, but by this time I realized I wanted to blog about the stupid process I had to go through, so I held out).

I told her that the Counter Guy at the EASY CHECK-IN counter said I had to stand in this line to get my bag checked in early. So what did the Counter Lady do? She simply rolled her eyes in the general direction of the Counter Guy, and then helped me with my real problem (someone finally took my bag – yay!).

And now for the library part. What’s the moral of this story? I have a couple:

1. Labels are useless if they don’t match functionality. In this case, the EASY CHECK-OUT line wasn’t easy. What are your labels? What do you call your library’s self-check-out machines? How about labels on your website – do they match functionality? Ex – Advanced Search… is it really more advanced, or does it just have more options? How about “Named Areas” of your library? Do you have a reading room, or “The Nathan B. Rezznick Room for Discovery?”

2. Train your employees (or, don’t be Counter Guy)! In United’s case, two employees standing within 15 feet of each other handled one pretty standard problem two different ways. Do your reference desk staff and your circulation staff do this? How about your IT staff vs public service staff? You should all be on the same page.

3. Do something about the problem.
At United, when they realize there’s a problem, they roll their eyes at each other. Hopefully, later on someone chatted with the Counter Guy about customer service, procedures, etc. At your library, when a public computer doesn’t work right… do you roll your eyes at the PC Technician, or do you work with him/her to fix the problem?

4. Make sure staff and customers use the same thing. I’ll hazard a guess that the upper management at United have never actually had to stand in their own ticket line for 45 minutes (or even used the EASY CHECK-IN counter). When customers need a book, and ask your reference staff for help, do they use the the same front-end public catalog the customer uses, or do they use the staff, back-end version? Certainly the staff version provides more options and possibly more information. But how will staff really understand the customer search experience if they don’t use what the customer uses?

5. Be the best library in the world.
Seriously. Make being the best library in the world your goal, and then figure out how you can achieve that goal within your time, budget, and community. With that mindset you can’t NOT improve something, and who knows? You just might achieve it!


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  • Jhontaff03

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  • Jeremy

    I had the worst time with Continental and made a Facebook group please join and help me make this bad company that they are sucking and need to improve now! Share your bad experiences in the group and maybe someone someday will listen or read our group!

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=group_164316380271502&ap=1

    thank you for anyone who reads this and helps in this fight to make big companies like Continental Airlines know that we pay them to provide a service for us and not to bite the hand that feeds you!