June 26, 2012
Mr. Ben Baldanza
Chief Executive Officer
2800 Executive Way
MIRAMAR, FL 33025
Mr. Ben Baldanza:
I am writing to voice my concerns about the horrific customer service I received following a cancelled Spirit Airlines flight between Chicago O'hare and LAX on Saturday, June 23. I would sincerely appreciate you taking couple minutes to read my concerns, which I believe are shared by many of your customers.
While I was unhappy about the cancelled flight, I realize this happens from time to time. What I would like to specifically bring to your attention is the lack of empathy and customer service mindset amongst the "manager" level employees I dealt with at Spirit. Given, agents/customer service representatives have limited decision making authority, I requested to speak with "managers" after each interaction I had with Spirit representatives, and each time I spoke with a manager, I was utterly disappointed; and thus my suggestion that providing better customer service training at Spirit is warranted.
I would like to provide you with a brief context of my recent experience with Spirit.
Upon arrival to Chicago O'Hare on Saturday evening, June 23, 2012 to catch a flight to Los Angeles, I was informed by the check-in kiosk that the "flight has been cancelled – see agent". There were approximately 80 customers waiting in line and only five customer service agents working at the Spirit counter. During the approximately 55 minutes I stood in line to reach the customer service agent working the front desk, there were no announcements made about the cancellation, which added to the anxiety of those passengers whose flights have been cancelled but had no idea as to the reason nor whether they would be able to get on another flight. There were many irate customers bypassing the line all together and going directly to the front desk agents, which added to the waiting time for customers such as myself who waited in line to speak to an agent. Furthermore, there were no notices via email nor text message of the flight cancellation, despite the fact I am a Spirit member and my contact info, including my email and cell phone number, is stored in its database.
After 55 minutes of waiting in line, I was able to speak to a front-desk agent (Ben) who informed me that the flight was cancelled due to weather and that all Spirit flights from O'hare to LAX were booked for a week. The options offered to me were to look for a Spirit flight to LAX after a week or to get a refund on my purchase. Given that I had taken the week off and planned these vacation trip months in advance to visit my parents who leaves in Asia and had flown to LA for the week to visit my sisters and me, rescheduling to another Spirit flight the following week was not an option. Thus I had to reluctantly ask for a full refund with the hopes of finding a flight on another airline. The agent sympathized with my situation and offered to refund the full amount and provide me with a $100 voucher for a future travel on Spirit (as a side note, I was not successful in finding reasonable priced flights on another airline within the next couple days, as the lowest priced round-trip ticket was around $800+. Thus I was not able to make the trip out to LA to visit my parents and sisters).
After four days, I still hadn't received a refund nor the $100 voucher. Thus I called Spirit customer service to inquire about the status of my refund and voucher. The customer service rep (Leo) informed me that neither the refund nor the voucher was recorded in the system. And after looking into my itinerary, he informed me that he could provide me with only a refund and not the voucher. I asked Leo to connect with a manager. After 20 minutes on hold, I was able to speak with the manager, Ashley.
After explaining to Ashley my situation, she informed me that the refund had already been issued (which was just processed minutes earlier after I complained for the second time that it had not been) and that I would not be eligible for the voucher given it was not Spirit's fault that the flight was cancelled. Rather, she insistently blamed the situation on the weather and given that it was not Spirit's fault, she would not be offering me the voucher (which had earlier been offered to me).
I was disappointed by her response and handling of the situation. In no way was the $100 voucher going to make up for my missed opportunity to visit my parents and sisters. Nevertheless, it was a small token of sympathy which I thought Spirit had offered to alleviate my anxiety. While Ashley's response and handling of the situation was unsettling, I removed the emotions and try to explain to her rationally and logically from a business perspective why taking away the previously offered voucher was a bad business decision (just having graduated from business school a week earlier, I felt compelled to present the business case).
First, it was something that had been offered to me. And taking away something that had previously been offered is offensive and dishonest.
Second, a $100 voucher is a tiny investment, and likely a good ROI. I informed Ashley that the $100 doesn't replace my missed opportunity to visit my folks in LA. Nevertheless, it's a small token that shows Spirit still values my business.
Lastly, as a relatively new public airline, it may have positioned itself as a "no frills" airline, competing on price. However, if it neglects customer service, it will not be able survive just by competing on price in the long run. The industry as a whole has gone the way of becoming a provider of a commodity, and airliners will not be able to compete on price alone. Spirit's prices will have to move up and / or other airlines will be able to further lower their prices given improved scale given industry consolidation.
After presenting my case, Ashley was still firm on not granting me the voucher, as she replied "No, I will not be granting you a voucher. Again it was not "our" fault". It felt as though Ashley was adding insult to injury and it was clear that she didn't care about losing me as a customer.
Ashley could have done a much better job addressing this situation and alleviating my concerns had she for one instant thought about me as a person, not an adversary. Not once during our conversation did I feel she was listening to my thoughts/concerns. She provided no suggestions nor other options. It was clear she had set her mind that the voucher will not be issued given that it was not "their" fault. Had she been a little more open to thinking about the customer and how to retain me as a customer, I think a mutually beneficial outcome would have been likely, and I could have concluded my call feeling better about Spirit.
Unfortunately, because of her lack of ability to sympathize with customers, she has turned away a customer and Spirit will be generating significantly less revenue from me in the future. I would never fly Spirit for business. And on personal travels, I would only consider Spirit for last minute travel and only if the price difference is greater than $125 relative to another airline on a one-way flight.
Prior to this experience, I felt Spirit performed satisfactorily. However, this incident brings to light that Spirit needs to better hire and train "managers" to deal with customers more effectively. While it's important to focus on the operations and process to make sure things operate smoothly and seamlessly, it's just as important to provide managers with better training on addressing contingency and customer service issues.
Specifically, I believe the following approaches could have been taken in this specific situation to reduce the anxiety amongst those passengers whose flights were cancelled and would have likely resulted in a better experience:
1) Send email, text message, or voice mail to passengers if their flights are cancelled.
2) Have a floor manager at the airport communicate to the customers at the airport so that they are aware of what's going on
3) Create a separate line for customers whose flights have been cancelled (alleviates bottleneck for other travelers) and have a dedicated agent address these customers
4) When multiple flights are cancelled, have the manager in charge make staffing decisions to increase staffing on the floor (while obvious, this did not seem to be the case on Saturday)
5) Follow through on execution/promise. When informed that refunds and vouchers will be given, process them immediately. Delaying the process decreases customer satisfaction, and ups the amount of inbound customer service calls. The slight decrease in working capital as a result of paying out refunds to customers later compared to when it's promised creates additional complaints and increases the need for these customers to speak with customer service agents. Furthermore, additional complaints decrease the likelihood of these passengers choosing Spirit for future air travel.
I appreciate you taking the time to listen to my concerns and hope you will take actions to address them.
Joo Y Park
Product or Service Mentioned: Spirit Airlines Flight.
Monetary Loss: $100.