AA Grounds Passengers; Web Response Gets A “D+”

American Airlines cancelled almost 600 flights today which brings the total to more than 3,000 cancellations this week. The result: 100s of thousands of stranded travellers. That’s a lot of inconvenienced customers. For many of them, the cancellations represent a major problem; keeping them from important business trips, vacations, and family visits.

So how well did American Airlines respond to its customers’ problems? Rather than trying to dissect American’s entire response, I took a look at how the firm handled the situation on its Web site.

On the top of the American Airlines’ Website homepage there is a clear red link: “ADVISORY: AIRCRAFT INSPECTIONS AFFECT SOME AA TRAVEL.” Here’s where the link led to:

Click icon to see the entire page

My take: As I’ve discussed in the past, good customer service has four components (which I’ve dubbed ACES): Accountability (take responsibility for fixing the problem); Communication (clearly communicate the process and set expectations); Empathy (acknowledge the impact that the situation has on the customer; and Solution (at the end of the day, make sure to solve the problem)

Here’s how I’d grade American Airlines across the ACES:

  • Accountability: C-
    While the page starts out by saying “We are sorry about inconveniencing you…,” nothing on the rest of the page suggests that American Airlines is taking full responsibility for the situation. There’s no statement saying that they are committed to trying to fix the problem.
  • Communication: C-
    The airline gets credit for putting a prominent link on its homepage. But it does not provide very clear picture of the process for customers to resolve their issues. There’s a link where consumers can send emails to “request information about compensation,” but no statement about the timing or content of the response that they can expect. Also, the site does not make it clear what customers can expect when it says: “Customers who were scheduled on a flight that was cancelled may request a full refund…” Does “request” mean that AA will give every inconvenienced traveler a full refund?
  • Empathy: D
    There’s nothing on the page that acknowledges the potentially severe problems that this situation has caused for many customers. 
  • Solution: D+
    At best, the airline is describing how travelers can get on another American Airlines flight.  But there’s no description about what they are going to do make up for the inconvenience. Also, the airline has limited their solution for travelers who booked after April 8th and insists that everyone must begin travel by April 17th.

Overall Grade: D+

The bottom line: You may not be able to avoid all problems, but you can certainly control how you respond.

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

6 Responses to AA Grounds Passengers; Web Response Gets A “D+”

  1. Hi Bruce,

    Long time reader, first time commenter. 😉

    I experienced the AA situation first-hand when I was traveling home to Calgary from San Antonio last week. The response that I got on the ground was A+.

    Accountability – not really a service rep’s problem to solve why the planes were grounded, but they were certainly accountable for making sure that new flights were found and putting customers up in hotels if required.

    Communication – service reps were roaming up and down the line handing out bottles of water (empathy) and taking time out to answer customers’ questions about how long the wait would be or what they should expect when they get to the ticket counter. Folks in line didn’t feel ‘in the dark’.

    Empathy – in addition to answering questions and handing out bottles of water, service rep’s listened to customers’ gripes and tried their best to empathize by simply listening, often speaking volumes without saying anything at all.

    Solutions – while I can’t speak for others, my experience couldn’t have been better. I asked about another flight heading to Calgary on United and if it would be possible to ‘coupon’ my flight over to the other carrier. No problem – AA took care of it. I spent a few extra hours at the airport, but got to sleep in my own bed that night!

    I understand that you’re assessing how AA responded to the situation at a higher and broader level. But sometimes, at least in San Antonio, what’s going on the ground level is more reflective of the real customer experience.

    Cheers,
    Scott

    PS – I even posted my satisfaction and approval via Twitter between standing in line and getting on my flight home.

  2. Bruce Temkin says:

    Scott: Thanks for reading and now commenting. My assessment was only of the website, but it was great to hear that AA did a good job on the ground; at least with you. I am actually going to add “Web” tot he title of the post. I’m actually on an AA flight right now and will have another post on AA later today.

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  4. Scott Monty says:

    I wonder how your grade would change if you knew about this:
    http://aaconversation.blogspot.com

  5. Bruce Temkin says:

    This post seems to be popular with Scotts. Everyone should take a look at the link to an AA blog that Scott Monty left (thanks Scott). It’s much better than what was up on the AA Website. Unfortunatley (for all of us bloggers, not just AA), most people don’t read blogs. So most of the stranded customers who went to the AA Website probably never saw the blog post (I didn’t).

    Lesson learned: Communications via a blog post (or any single channel) does not make-up for poor communications in other channels.

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