Having family abroad requires frequent traveling. Because my kids are in school, our flights always land during peak travel times, either around Christmas or summer vacation, resulting in steep ticket prices. So, when I started planning our summer 2017 trip to Israel, I was thrilled to find a travel website called JustFly, offering substantially cheaper tickets per person. I wasn’t familiar with JustFly or the airline, but I was so eager to secure the airfare for such a historically cheap price that I went ahead and booked it.

Only after booking did I look at customer reviews, and, to my dismay, I noticed that both the airline and the travel website received low customer reviews, as well as some horror stories related to customer support. I am typically an optimistic person in nature and tried not to worry myself.

About a month before our flight, to my horror, I discovered that my wife’s name was truncated. It  read “Go” instead of the full family name “Goldwasser.” Still, I reassured myself that we had  a whole month to take care of this small correction, and that it wouldn’t be a big issue. Because I work in Silicon Valley, I figured that, in this day and age, it should be as simple as someone going into our record and correcting the mistake.

I was very wrong.

JustFly provided an 800 number on the email confirmation, so I started my quest to correct the mistake. A very friendly agent assured me that she noted the case and would contact their “travel partner” to make the correction, but that I should follow up in a couple of days. A few days later, I did as I was told. I was taken through almost identical steps of identification (itinerary, name, birthdate, phone, flight details etc.) To my surprise, I also received an almost identical response saying, “We still haven’t heard from our ‘travel partner’ but don’t worry, now we’ll call you back in couple of days to resolve this problem. The responsibility to follow up is on us.” A few more days passed, and I started to get the feeling it might be more difficult than I originally imagined.

I decided to call AirBerlin to see what they had to say. Finding a customer service number to call wasn’t an easy task, and I eventually used the phone number for bookings (though everyone happily published their sales number). The agent told me that it’s the travel site’s responsibility to fix the matter for me and he couldn’t do anything else about it. I ended up speaking  with JustFly a total of 5 times and AirBerlin 3 times on the phone. I also sent a detailed message to AirBerlin via their website online form asking for their help; I received  the same scripted answer:

JustFly: “We’re waiting for an answer from our travel partner on the matter”
Airline: “Your travel agent should be able to fix this!”

I was getting increasingly frustrated as more than 3 weeks went by and practically nothing had changed. Five days before the flight I was determined to correct the issue that night! After another unsuccessful call with JustFly, I decided to call the airline again. It was morning in Germany, and I was connected with a super nice agent who spoke good English. Like previous agents, he insisted that the travel agency could fix this and he couldn’t help me.

Then, I had a moment of empathy when I realized his reluctance to take care of my case. Since I was using the 800 number for the airline booking, the agents on the other side were only supposed  to take care of customers who booked their flight directly with the airline. I said, “Listen, I get it. You’re only suppose to take care of AirBerlin customers and not other agencies.” “Yes,” he confirmed.

“I respect that. I tried to do just that for the past 3 weeks and nothing happened!” I continued,  “I NEED you to get off script and think outside the box and treat me like I booked directly with you. Because, at the end of the day I am flying with your airline and you should be able to fix this problem.”

There was a moment of silence on the other side and a little grumble in German.  He said, “OK, I’ll do it…” Lo and behold, I heard him fixing my wife’s last name while I waited  on the line. It was a relief when he asked for my credit card information to charge 11$ for the change, especially after JustFly notified me that the change would cost $100 + the difference in the airfare!

Now, here  we are on our trip to Israel. Everything went just fine at the airport and I’m writing this reflection from the comfort of my airplane seat at 30,000 feet. But, this incident made me think about how this experience could change in the future.

I truly felt that the only reason I was able to resolve the problem was because I showed empathy and understanding to the customer service agent who helped me and, in turn, received his empathy to my situation and eventually resolved my issue. I can’t stop thinking about how this situation might be handled in the future, when a lot more of our customer service issues will be processed by bots with less human-to-human interaction. I doubt that empathy will be a factor at all. What will we do then?

 

 

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  • Archana Vaidyanathan   3 months ago

    Nicely written Eliad! I think your story resonates with so many of us. At the end of the day, we still prefer to hear a human voice and not a digital assistant, Given that we even have to train people to be empathetic and think outside the box at times, I wonder how we can do the same with bots? It is a challenge to bring the human element/experience at the core of any technological invention.