posted by Matt W on July 13th, 2011

The other day I was trying to get a free one-way trip on United Airlines using miles as they are currently the only airline that offers this service. I have a few questions, so I decide to venture into the great customer service unknown. Companies today will do almost anything to keep you  from talking to an actual human. They post the customer service number 47 clicks deep on their websites. Click here if you want our contact information. Click here if you really want our contact information. Now, click here if you would like to send us an e-mail in under 50 characters. Oh, you want to talk to human, then you need to click here for that kind of contact information, blah, blah, blah. When you actually get the correct phone number the fun starts all over again.

A very pleasant female robot-voice recommends, “Just say what you’d like help with.” “I want to use miles.” “Did you say, delete miles?” “God no, Fly with MILES.” “Did you say transfer miles““Nope, not even close” ”I’m sorry, I’m having trouble understanding you. Press 0 for more help.” I concede defeat and press 0. “Push 1 if your last flight was overridden with locust”, “2 if you have a complaint about the quality of the food you receive” (It was a United flight and they don’t serve food so wrong again)… “Push 9 for none of the above and we will give you another equally as non-helpful list of options”. Well, in a minor miracle, before my patience wore out, I was actually put through to a human.

I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.

Now, I get that you can pay a customer service representative in Bangalore substantially less than you can pay someone in say Toledo, but it really doesn’t do me any good as a customer if I can’t understand them. The whole issue of “going to different countries and giving jobs to people that will probably never fly on a plane, as opposed to giving jobs to people in the US that would stimulate our economy thus producing more flyers” as a horribly flawed business model aside; I can’t understand a freaking word this woman is saying. After a few attempts at having her repeat herself, I’m starting to miss my female robot-voice friend. Finally, I say “I am very sorry but I need to talk to someone different because I can’t understand you at all”. I assume her response is something like “I am sorry, would you like to talk to my manager”, “manager” being the only word I truly make out (I am sure that is a word she has to throw around a lot). My response comes without much sensitivity, “That’s probably not going to help me unless your manager is currently in the United States and was born north of the Mason Dixon line (Mocking well over a billion people (1 ½ nations) in one coarsely worded line is a new personal record). To be fair I actually understand most of my Tennessee neighbors quite well. Back on point.

I am transferred to a nice young man with a slightly more Americanized accent and stumble through using the miles for my one-way flight. Flight booked. The man on the phone asks if I would like to report the employee that I originally spoke with. I politely refuse and hang up. I certainly don’t want her fired, and my issue is not with that person, my issue is with United and with the customer service industry as a whole.

So in the end, even though I like United’s  idea of one way flights using miles, I am not very likely to fly with them in the future because of customer service (that and they don’t give you biscotti with your coffee any more on flights). So if United moved their customer service headquarters to Tennessee instead of Bangalore they would have gotten more of my business in the future.

Unless of course they hired my neighbor Bill, I can’t understand a word he says.

File Under Jack of all Trades