What am I worth?

I’m worth $200. According to US Airways, at least. In asking, ‘What am I worth?’ this blog post isn’t a rhetorical question about income or status, but a case study on the value of a customer. The life time value of a customer can be a golden nugget of information as a business – representing the total revenue dollars that one person will spend with a company in their lifetime. To Chipotle, Starbucks and Apple – I’m sure that I’m worth more than I’d care to admit. Two or three $8 burritos per month times 12 months times +30 years…you get the picture.

But I recently had a disastrous moment of truth with US Airways where they could keep me or lose me forever, and it seems they decided I’m worth $200. Forever and always. This sum of money was a slap in the face after the series of events that unfolded this past June.

I mentioned in earlier posts I went to Europe this summer with my girlfriend, Brie. It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime – two weeks to explore Rome, Cinque Terre, Nice, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam. It was her first time to Europe and probably our last chance for many years to be able to take off 14 days to travel. I saved and budgeted for 6 months, and we talked about our excursions almost daily between my work and her studies. June 14th finally came and we were scheduled to fly from Columbus to Charlotte then over to Rome.

We spent the layover in Charlotte saying bye to friends and looking at our itinerary. Then after a long 6 months we finally heard our last boarding group called to leave for Rome. The gate agent took Brie’s boarding pass, looked at her passport and said, ‘Well have a happy birthday in Europe!’ I was next and handed over the same documents. A few long seconds went by before she stopped me and said, ‘this passport might not work.’ Cue the shock and anxiety. ‘I think you’ll be fine in Italy but not in Germany,’ she said. ‘Ok…? I’m not going to Germany but what’s wrong?’ ‘Well your passport has wear and tear and I’m afraid they might send you back.’ The unsure agent handed it to another employee, who gave it one confused look. He picked up a phone, rang once, no answer, and declared, ‘We can’t let you on the flight.’ I tried not to panic and ease the situation but they were decided in their unsure decision about my passport I’d used numerous times. ‘If we let you go and Italian immigration sends you back, we get fined $10,000. You’ll have to try to go to a passport agency to get a same day passport. Good luck.’

Customer Service

To make a long story short, we were denied boarding on a Friday evening in Charlotte. I spent the next four hours on the phone with airlines, passport agencies, a useless insurance company, and my gracious travel agent. We ended up having to fly to Buffalo, New York for a 10am meeting on Monday because there was no other availability in DC, Philadelphia, Atlanta or Charlotte. If all the stars aligned, and the passport agency didn’t think my passport was damaged as well – we would have to get the passport quickly, get to the airport for a 3:30 flight and catch a short layover in Philadelphia to finally get to Rome.

The salt in the wound really came when I finally got to the window at the passport agency in Buffalo and the lady said surprisingly, ‘I can’t believe they didn’t take this passport?!’ Great. So an employee with a hunch made a quick decision to try save her employer from a fine and the US government agency is telling me they made a mistake?! Now I have to spend thousands of dollars, rearrange a shortened trip and go through a huge mess as their beloved ‘customer.’

And the entire time every single US Airways representative could care less. I’m confident that Miley Cirus cares more about her brand and customers than US Airways. From the original gate agent to the service desk in Charlotte to the reservations hotline to the service desk in Buffalo to the service desk in Philadelphia. Every single person threw their hands up and said, ‘Sorry, not my job. Nothing I can do.’

0 0-1*The ‘wear and tear’ of my former passport.

 

Four days and $2500 later, we finally boarded another flight from Philadelphia to Rome. We chopped cities and ditched plans but had a great time despite the airline.

When we arrived home and I felt like seeking a resolution with the airline, I found out you cannot call customer service. You email a black hole, and they might have a human write an email back or possibly call you. 13 emails, 4 phone calls and too much time spent explaining my situation – someone finally said, ‘It looks like we overreacted and we will review your case for compensation.’

I have proof that a government agency deemed my passport acceptable. I also have proof of $2500 in expenses in order to stay in Charlotte, fly to Buffalo, hotel and meals in both cities, expedited passport fees, and cancelled reservation fees in Europe. Not to mention the original cost of tickets for a trip that was nearly ruined.

So when the US Airways customer service employee told me they reviewed my case and had decided to award compensation, I waited anxiously to hear the final verdict. ‘Mr. Dichter we’ve decided to award you a $200 voucher for the inconvenience.’ I laughed and said, ‘$200?! That is nothing more than a slap in the face. Our trip was nearly ruined, our tickets originally cost thousands, I spent $2500 to get a new passport, and you admitted that you made a mistake. I fly for business 8 times per year and I’m sure my girlfriend and I will travel numerous times for the rest of lives and I guarantee you that we will never fly US Airways again if you can’t take care of a customer you admittedly wronged’ ‘$200 is all we can do and you can’t take your case any further.’

A business mentor told me that a company can create a customer for life in the way they handle an upset client; an author I follow often says that customers vote with their dollars. Needless to say US Airways lost a lifetime customer forever who will take his dollars and vote elsewhere (I’ve flown four times just in the three months since the event and avoided supporting the company).

Even in pleading for some type of reasonable compensation I did my best to explain my life time value to US Airways – the fact I fly at least every 6 weeks, I’m part of an Inc 500 company that books hundreds of tickets per year and the fact my girlfriend and I will travel for the rest of our lives. Surely an admitted mistake to salvage a client is worth more than $200. Perhaps I’m not good at math, or don’t understand airline customer service or maybe I’m not worth much in my lifetime to US Airways.

 

 

Thoughts? Have you had an airline or other company make up for admitted mistakes and win you over as a customer for life? What is the lifetime value of an ideal client in your business? Tune in next week when I discuss the Big Move. 

11 thoughts on “What am I worth?

  1. Colleen BusBOOM

    Perhaps they also failed to realize that a customer that has a negative experience is estimated to share that experience with an average of 11 people, while a customer having a positive experience is likely to share it with only 1. In this case, and appropriately so, you have shared your experience with hundreds (possibly more) and thus will continue to have a lasting impression on their bottom line – even if they themselves do not realize it. I myself have already shared your woes with 3 others this summer. Needless to say they did not travel US Airways. Shame on them for choosing to ignore the big picture and truly accept responsibility for their mistake. I’m glad you shared this and will continue to take my airline business elsewhere.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Thanks Colleen. I feel like they had plenty of time and reason to make amends before I ‘threw them under the bus’ on social media, but it’s so true how bad news travels faster than good news with clients.

      Reply
  2. Brian

    Well said Patrick! I had a similar experience with Them that wasn’t nearly as bad but I felt the same way after hours trying to resolve and no help. I have done the same and don’t travel with them.

    Reply
  3. Kati

    One time in college, I was incredibly upset with the new chips ahoy recipe. Yes – cue Boulder college experience. Anyway, my friend and I wrote a letter to Nabisco explaining our horror in biting into these significantly different cookies and our disappointment that our favorite cheap cookie was ruined. I had completely forgotten the experience when about 3 weeks later, I received a hand written letter in the mail along with a THIRTY DOLLAR coupon good for any nabisco product (please know the bag of cookies was a mere $2.50.) The agent exclaimed that they had changed the recipe to explore cost-saving options and were looking into changing the recipe back to the original as our letter was not the only letter they received. Went back and tried them out about 6 months later and low-and-behold, the cookie was back to its original glory.

    I know Nabisco gets a lot of bad publicity when it comes to their vendors, but this moment made me realize the value of my dollar in the marketplace and how different many products would look if people spoke up more often.

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      Wow Kati! Nothing like a good old fashioned letter via snail mail to voice your opinion. Great reminder that we all have a vote with our purchases and that there remain companies who take the constructive criticism.

      Reply
  4. Anne Kachelhoffer

    My boyfriend and I were also subjected to US Airway’s contempt and complete disregard for customer service. I shared your story on my Facebook, I hope others do the same.

    Reply
  5. Mike Cook

    When I read this story I was surprised at how the situation with US Airways was handled. It reminds me of every time I get asked for ID when purchasing beer or wine because I don’t look over 40 when I only need to be 21. Corporate policy’s that overrule common sense are unnecessary. Not only did you have a valid passport, but a valid US drivers license, credit card and other multiple forms of ID. I bet you never had an issue with the no nonsense Europeans which makes me sad for the state of our overly regulated, politically correct United States of America. I bet if you were able to take your old passport with you, you would have been able to prove that it was fine. I feel like protesting the “U.S.” in US Airways. They don’t represent the U.S.A. to me. I will support your situation and boycott this airline in my travels as well. I’m glad you were able to handle the “hassle” better then I would have. Screw U.S. Airways!

    Reply
  6. merril boruchin Spielman

    I was deported from Mexico with an expired passport that was not caught by anyone.. TSA, the airlines, everyone read it wrong as i had done. I was treated like a criminal, and when i came back to Denver i went to the ONE HOUR passport office on Parker road and had one reissued. The airline was mad at me because of their fine and wouldn’t let me purchase another ticket. I found another airline that would. I still had my return ticket back from the first airline. Upon arriving at the airport for my return flight.. they wouldn’t honor the ticket..saying they had already flown me back free..(true) but they wouldn’t let me purchase another one.. they said there was no room. I could see my name on the manifest as i had a return ticket. Then they told me i would have to call the main office in the U.S.on a pay phone as they had no phone i could use so I then had to spend $50 on the smallest phone card i could find in the airport.. They told me to wait until Monday or Tuesday.. my ticket back was on a saturday.. put on hold again.. 45 minutes later.. we will let you buy another ticket.. fine.. go to the agent.. she doesn’t know this is okay and says call back and get a person’s id # and the ticket # put on hold again.. but i finally paid for 4 tickets for my meeting friends in Mexico that i had been corresponding with on Weight watchers for 6 years.. I wrote to Frontier. and told them how poorly i was treated.. and by their airlines as well and lied too.. they gave me two tickets worth $400 to fly Frontier again. I used the “would you treat your grandmother this way/” last line.. i think that is why i was worth more!!!! Sending you Love.. Aunt Merril

    Reply

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