Thursday, August 30, 2007

Schoolboy error plus angry customer equals trouble

Our latest column in Travel Weekly:

It is often very easy to fall under a mesmerising spell when using technology.

E-mail is no exception. Many people rightly argue that e-mail has revolutionised and sped up communications – although my own trade, journalism, has become increasingly lazy because of it – but as with anything, the benefits must be tempered by its pitfalls.

E-mail is terrific for reaching potential customers quickly and cheaply with targeted offers.

But here is a good example of the perils of the technology. A few weeks ago, chief executive of US low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines, Ben Baldanza, came unstuck when he hit the dreaded ‘Reply to all’ button.

Rather than forward an e-mail to someone within the company regarding a complaint he had received, the customer received the following reply:

“Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I’m concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He’s never flown with us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny.”

Obviously angered by the e-mail, the customer sent the reply to a well-known blogger who immediately posted it on the Internet. It’s a sobering thought that we came across it within hours.

Forget for a moment what the response says about Baldanza and the customer service processes used by Spirit Airlines – there are a few lessons to be learnt from this.

Firstly, do not misjudge the simplicity of technology applications, they can get you into all sorts of trouble.

And secondly, never underestimate the power of the consumer to turn your actions against you and use the web to their advantage, damaging your reputation within hours.

NB: Our own e-mail (yes, I know the irony of all this) to Spirit’s director of communications about the incident has yet to result in a reply.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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