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Customer Service Policies
12.28.10

 

I'm in NJ right now -- stranded because of this massive blizzard that's gone through the Northeast. Even though I travel back East every year for the holidays, this is one of the few times I've had to significantly reroute travel because of weather. One of the interesting things about this experience is dealing with the various airlines / car rental companies and how they accommodate you.
 
US Airways
--pretty solid customer service though their customer service person literally sounded like he was reading from a manual, "Thank you for that response. Please direct me which airport you would like me to check flights on for you." But he was helpful. He was patient and the wait time wasn't that long. Even in the morning after the airport was closed -- maybe 20-25 minutes wait? Not amazing but I thought it would be brutal. By night, I called and was immediately connected.
--no change fees (of any kind) associated with rebooking a cancelled flight. Obviously there was no typical change fee but basically any flight at any nearby airport that was open was fair game with no additional cost.
--if I didn't like any of my options, they were happy to give me a full refund.
--I rebooked my flight with them but later found a more convenient flight with Continental. I called US Airways back, explained the situation, and they gave me a full refund. Great! 
 
Hertz
--they're always pretty great in terms of customer service but something strange happened. Because I was stranded here, I needed to *shorten* how long I need my car rental in another city. When they went to change it, they said they were going to charge me $100+ MORE because it was switching from a weekly rate to a day rate. When I explained about the weather -- I sensed they were happy to try and accommodate but there was nothing in their system that they could do. Also somewhat annoyingly, I was able to cancel and rebook the reservation in a way where the increase in charge was only $40 more or so. The customer service rep happily helped me with that but it wasn't an option they initially presented (not that it seemed like they were trying to hide it, but they weren't proactive in trying to bridge that $ gap)
 
This got me to thinking about customer service policies. I think the rule of thumb(s) should be:
 
a) All policies should follow "common sense". I realize that one person's idea of common sense will vary from another's -- but I think in the above scenarios -- everything that US Airways did followed common sense. My flight was cancelled because of weather and I wouldn't expect that I would have to pay any sort of fees associated with rebooking it. I also wouldn't expect that US Airways would rebook me on OTHER airlines -- I know this often happens, but I didn't think that in this case that was necessarily warranted. I also thought it was reasonable that after I found a more convenient flight (especially considering that the flights they rebooked me on changed both the departing and arriving airport) that they gave me a full refund was a very fair policy.
 
b) Hertz's policy was a little baffling to me. I think it would be common sense that the customer could always get the LOWER of either the full weekly rate or the pro-rated day rate. So for example, if you're renting a car for 5 days -- if paying a weekly rate (presumably 7 days) is cheaper than paying their daily rate for 5 days -- you could pay the weekly rate.
 
They told me on the phone that if you take the car for less time and don't qualify for the weekly rate, you have to pay more. That makes no sense! I'm using the car for LESS time and they're charging me more. Fortunately they were really nice about it. I also think that in this situation -- it would be nice for the company to give their customer service reps either discretion or technical ability to do something for the customer. In my case, it would be to preserve the original price I paid for a shorter period of time. So while I wouldn't get a cheaper overall rate even though I was getting the car for fewer days, I would at least not be charged a higher rate.
 
Also, obviously it's incredibly annoying if your rates constantly fluctuate to the point that people can just cancel and rebook and save 10-15% or more.
 
I suppose all this boils down to judgement, but I'm reminded of the infinite flexibility that Nordstrom employees have -- which is there is only one rule, "Always use your best judgement." I wish more companies would adhere to that.

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