Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Over 20,000 Webhits: My response to Midwest

Hi visitors from Consumerist and BoingBoing among other great websites, I wanted to share with you the letter I received back from Midwest and my response to them.  I took ALL your comments into consideration.  My only classification is that I never actually complained to Roger.  Once I realized that I wasn't getting the exit row, I simply told a FA I was told I received the exit row in check in and would like to find out what went wrong...that is when Roger came on the plane.  I didn't pester, raise my voice, or badger anyone.  The only person I argued with was Ramone who refused to check me in early and then refused to give me the available exit row seat because I wouldn't like it.  Midwest was concerned I wasn't sharing their side, so I'm posting my response to them along with Mr. Vanderbeck response.  I'm amazed at the power of the Internet to hold companies accountable.  Personally, I try to treat everyone with respect, but after this incident, I realize that no customer service incident should be ignored. You never know when a customer brush-off can be spread over the world.  Regardless of Mr. Vanderbeck response, I know the flight staff at LaGuardia has been reprimanded and will probably not treat a customer like this again!

Mr. Vanderbeck,

As an FYI, this has also showed up on BoingBoing: http://www.boingboing.net/2008/01/07/midwest-airlines-to.html. You already know about the Consumerist. I'll let you know if my complaint posts on any other sites. I'm posted this letter in it's entirety on my blog.

I've gotten over twenty thousand hits to my blog. I'm amazed at how many people are interested in this subject. WOW. I wanted to avoid posting it on the Internet for just this reason. I like Midwest, but again, I fear the culture has changed since AirTran's takeover bid. Cutbacks have been slow and steady. After reading comments on our conversation, I apologized for the harsh tone. I tried the "nice" route and got nowhere, unfortunately. I believe we can come to a fair resolution on this issue. Because I didn't get a response to my letter, that is why I went on the Internet.

To address the specific points in your letter....

"I am very appreciative of your feedback regarding the service you
received at LaGuardia. As I mentioned before, we take our customers
feedback very seriously and I can assure you it is being used to ensure
Midwest Airlines continually delivers the service standards we expect. "

This isn't "feedback" but a "complaint". Feedback is "it would be nice to have signature seating on all flights" or "I miss real silverware on flights" while a complaint is a problem a customer had that needs resolution. If you are perceiving this as merely feedback, that might explain the lack of responsiveness. Because this is a complaint, I expected a response that would indicate some kind of understanding of the real problems at LaGuardia. I've flown Midwest out of many cities and this is the only problem I have encountered in any way, shape, or form. Generally Midwest employees go out of their way to accommodate passenger needs above and beyond the call of duty. Because I was told by your CSR that you've had not only complaints about your LGA crew, but in particular Roger (and based on responses to the internet postings, many other customers have been bullied by Roger as well), I am stil concerned this complaint is being brushed off and others flying out of LGA will have problems. Originally I was told thatRoger was "British". I'm not sure how his cultural heritage is relevant to the situation. I was disappointed that you didn't check up on the issue and appeared to be merely going with what Ramone/Roger reported to you. As I said, blocking my seat and holding my boarding pass prevents me from getting to my assigned seat. I consider that a threat.

As I indicated before, I can not honor your request for a complimentary
ticket for this situation. It would be unfair to our employees that
deliver customer service every day to implement such a practice. Once
word got out that a report of poor or rude customer service earned you a
free trip on Midwest Airlines, we would have an impossible time sorting
through what feedback we may trust, and what feedback is self serving to
receive compensation. Our promise to customers has always been that we
will use their feedback to make Midwest Airlines a better airline.

I completely agree that if you give a free flight to everyone that complained...you go out of business quickly. Of course it would be a strong incentive to reduce complaints, that's for sure. I'm disappointed by your wording of "earning" a free flight. I certainly don't think I "earned" anything. This isn't payment for what I went through, but a good will gesture saying..."Yes, we made a mistake." This is the first time you have indicated anything was wrong. What happened was "Poor or Rude" customer service, rather than a misunderstanding. I haven't had Midwest acknowledge what was done to me was rude our outside the norm. Simply a "misunderstanding. However, your CSR indicated that there have been numerous complaints about Roger and the LGA crew in particular. When I was on the phone with her I asked if that was a Midwest crew or one that was outsourced. WIth my knowledge of Midwest, I know some gates are "serviced" by other airlines and the flight agents are not Midwest employees. She confirmed they are in fact Midwest employes and problem ones at that. Keepinga crew around that consistently gets complaints contradicts "Best Care in the Air."

I was hoping for some kind of counter offer. "I can't give you a free flight, but what I'd like to do is...." According to your CSR, a $25 voucher is given to any customer that calls in a complaint--even the one that didn't get 2 lumps sugar with their coffee.

You indicate in your latest email that you feel I don't believe the
employees did anything wrong. Anytime our staff does not effectively
communicate with a customer or makes them feel that they are not valued;
I feel they did something wrong.

That's the language that concerns me. You are lumping this into the same category as a FA that forgot to give me sugar with my coffee. This was poor customer service and not a misunderstanding, in my opinion. Blocking a seat and holding a boarding pass is a serious offense. Compounding it was Roger staying on the plane and the gate door remaining open until he left the plane. That's why I had my cell phone out--I was fully convinced I was being taken off the flight. Note that I never actually complained to Roger. I said to the FA I'd like to be re-seated because I requested exit row at the gate and thought I was getting it.

In fairness, I must point out that two of your comments on the
consumerist are misleading. First you state, "And Midwest's response?
Nothing until I did an email "carpet bomb" of their entire executive
staff". Our records indicate a member of the customer relations staff
spoke with you on the phone regarding this issue on November 19th. At
that point you were offered a $25 discount certificate as an apology and
the LaGuardia manager was immediately contacted with your complaint.

You may be "out of the loop" on this. *I* called your CR staff to complain. I was very polite and said a $25 voucher was not acceptable and she gave me your CEO's information. She said only your CEO could offer alternative compensation and her hands were tied. I sent the CEO a letter return receipt and didn't hear any reply back. That letter had my phone number and street address, but not my email. That was deliberate.

However, you responded via my email and first asked for my phone number. That shows that you weren't responding to my letter or in response to my complaint of 11/19, but to my group email to the Midwest executive staff. Thus my dissatisfaction with CSR response nor my letter was acting upon...only my email to the entire exec board got a response.

I'm delighted the LGA manager was contacted, however that was only to get their side of it. Again, your CSR said she simply couldn't understand Ramone's broken English and Roger comes across strong because he's British.

Oh and thanks for acknowledging this was a complaint and not feedback!

In addition, you indicate that you received a form response letter
regarding this complaint. This simply is not true as I personally typed
you an apology addressing your concerns. I can assure you your
situation is very unique, and we do not have form letters for this type
of situation. Rather than prepare form letters, we prefer to focus on
fixing the issues that they would be designed to address.

I'll agree this seems unique as Midwest has been stellar in the past. I believe while your email was personally typed and was not a "Dear Customer" letter, it however failed to address any of my concerns, just that there was a misunderstanding and you sincerely apologized for the misunderstanding. That did not address Roger's aggressive behavior nor Ramone's inability to communicate with customers. That concerned me that they have done this in the past and will do this again.

Our transaction with TPG Capital is currently not scheduled to close
until the end of January. I can assure nothing has changed with our
management structure or with our customer service philosophy. In
addition, our customer service philosophy will not be changing once the
deal with TPG Capital is complete. Midwest was acquired because of our
unique approach to customer service, not to change it.

As I'm sure you know that while it isn't until the end of January, it has been in the works for a while. Already Signature Seating on some flights costs extra and other amenities appear to be dwindling. AirTran's takeover bid did hurt the airline in my opinion and TPG's relationship with Northwest (not a well-respected airline) is of further concern. In other words, I believed my incident was insight into what was to become of Midwest under TPG and I received no assurances otherwise. This was chalked up to a "misunderstanding" rather than dealing with the actual problem of poor service out of LGA. This is a key time for Midwest and customers and former investors need to know things won't change. This is the first time you are addressing this issue and I thank you for that. I posted this to my technology blog because while *you* might think that TPG won't change things..companies say that all the time. The only person I know who doesn't change things after a buyout is Warren Buffett. To think that TPG won't change things is heroic, but probably unrealistic. Midwest no longer answers to public shareholders anymore, which I think is always key to treating the public well.

Mr. Greenbaum, thank you again for your feedback and your past support
of Midwest Airlines on savethecookie.com. I again sincerely apologize
for your dissatisfaction. Our intent has never been to "revoke" the
offer of a $25 discount voucher that was provided to you back in
November. I apologize if you implied differently because we stated we
could not honor your request for a free ticket. The offer of a $25
discount certificate remains.

Let's talk specifics here. What would be fair and right? I learned early on in customer service that when I customer complains the *best* phrase you can respond with is "What can I do to make this right?" Giving someone something they aren't interested in doesn't help. This simply isn't about money, as they say it's about the principle. I only asked for the acknowledgment of my concerns, assurances it wouldn't happen again to others or to me, and a feel good token to know that my complaint was serious and you want my continued business. I thought offering miles would be an interesting idea because it costs you less. I was disappointed you never looked at my Midwest Miles account because that would have given you my full contact information and you would have seen my flight history. If you would have looked, I'm a few thousand miles away from a free trip anyways and I expected you to respond "While we can't give you a free flight, how about I top off your miles so that way you can get a free trip if you wish." Early on I mentioned I have an upcoming flight to SF in two weeks which is why I wanted resolution on this issue.

You can tell by the letter, my willingness to arrive extremely early for my flight and my polite complaint to the FA when I didn't get the exit row, I like the exit row. I have back and leg problems and being able to keep my knees elevated makes the flight more tolerable. I can move them around to keep the circulation going and preventing my feet from numbing. Yes I could fly other airlines and get first class, but I'm not rich and can't afford it. However, I like Midwest. I always fly Midwest when I can. I believe in Midwest. It's the only airline in my portfolio. I like the fact it started as an offshoot of Kimberly Clark often doing charitable flights for sick children. Much better than bar and strip club approach of a certain other airlines that flies out of Love Field.

To me, the solution seems very obvious. Mr. Greenbaum was told by Ramone he would have an exit row, he was blocked from his seat by Roger...by golly why don't we make sure Mr. Greenbaum gets an exit row on his next flight. Only Elite Frequent Flyers on Midwest get to request those before the date of flight. You could easily check my reservation and put me in the exit row (if available) to put me in the same position I'd be if Ramone and Roger hadn't treated me poorly.

It is my sincere hope that you will have the opportunity to fly with
Midwest Airlines again and enjoy the customer service that you were
previously accustomed to. We look forward to welcoming you aboard.

I apologize for not being direct with my request. Midwest used to bend over backwards to treat their customers like royality (as I understand you started initially as a airlines for Kimberly Clark executives), so I was reaching for the stars figuratively and literally with my request hoping we'd meet somewhere in the middle. I can understand how my request seemed extreme, but I believed with so many problems with customers being denied boarding for silly reasons, I assumed you'd want to go overboard to assure me that isn't Midwest under TPG's approach. When I couldn't get a response, I needed to yell louder on the Internet to be heard.

It was not my goal to put Midwest in a poor light, my goal was to improve Midwest for myself and others. Sure I could fly another airlines, but I *want* to fly Midwest. I want assurances that asking about an exit row isn't "failing to follow crewmember instructions". It is nice to be welcomed aboard rather than blown off. I hope that your LGA crew also welcomes people aboard and when they request a certain seat aren't tricked into believing they have that seat and then blocked from taking their seat when they complain about it.

Fact is, whether you say it or not, the fact that as of this writing my page has gotten over 12,679 hits about this issue, I suspect there will be changes at LGA regardless of whether you can confirm it or not. Of course, this was the long way around the issue.

So in sum, I'd simply like the exit row on my next flight if it isn't already taken. Frankly, I'd rather have that than the free ticket. That to me is more important. A $200 free ticket won't make or break me, however seating in the exit row saves me hours of discomfort and a chiropractor bill. That to me is priceless. Whether you do it or not, I'll probably still fly Midwest because while I believe the cookie has crumbled..cookie crumbs are better than pretzels any day.


David Greenbaum