A few weeks ago I again embarked on a journey to Shanghai. This time it was a short trip, pop out on Saturday and back on Friday. For us east coasters that means a 20 hour 1 stop jaunt on a plane. I am no stranger to such long haul flights, but this one was an especially bad experience. A well written letter softened the blow somewhat.
The Flight to Shanghai
I boarded a plane at 6 am from Philadelphia to Chicago. That means I left for the airport at 2 am in the morning via an airport shuttle. Interestingly enough the shuttle service picked me up in a stretch limo as the driver did not have time to switch cars between me and a limo service trip. A pretty cool first experience for me… But anyway I got to Chicago on time and then flew on to Shanghai. Somewhere over Canada there began a frantic call for a doctor or nurse on board. This culminated in an emergency stop in Anchorage where the airline was not sure if we could refuel quick enough to ensure the airline staff stayed within hour limits. We were stuck on the tarmac for 2 hrs, but we did ultimately take off. It was so close the baggage cars were circling the plane. Keep in mind its 40 degrees outside in Anchorage and I am dressed and prepared for 80 degree China. That would not have been good.
Anyway, upon landing in Shanghai they tell us the person was admitted and then released from the hospital during the 6 hour remaining flight. It quite obviously was something like anxiety. Not really the airlines fault but instead of 24 hours of travel I ended up with 28 hours. I don’t sleep on planes so you can imagine I was doing great at arrival. To make matters worse turbulence meant they did not serve hot beverages near landing. So no coffee. (kiss of death if you know me) Still at this point I would have called it a wash.
Returning from Shanghai
Leaving Shanghai ended up being the worse situation. The plane was fully loaded and sat on the tarmac for an hour and a half before being allowed to depart. We arrived in Chicago with me having 1 hour remaining between flights. The airline though had decided I needed to rebook, so they refused to give me a priority pass to get through security at the jetway. After making it through customs I was able to get one from a baggage claim person and sprint to my next plane…. I missed it by the jetway pulling away from the plane (3 mins by my watch). This meant a 5 hour layover in Chicago, a rebooking of my return shuttle at extra cost to my company, and 29 total hours of travel. I was not happy.
So what did I do about it? I didn’t throw a fit, yell, scream, or get re-accomodated . No I coped with the trip and when I got home I wrote them a well written letter explaining the situation and asking for some frequent flyer points to make up for my horrible trip. Guess what? They gave me some.
The Power of a Well Written Letter
I was first introduced the idea of writing a letter to a company when you encounter poor service by a coworker. That coworker sort of milked the system, he always had some freebie they gave him for complaining. I always thought excessively using such an approach was kind of scummy. But, I also realized that these things occurred because of an old marketing saying, “It costs more to acquire a new customer then to keep the ones you have”. Realizing this I know these companies want me to keep coming back to them. They understand if I am unhappy I won’t return, so they want me happy. If I am not happy they want to hear from me and sometimes will go the extra mile to make me happy. This is why every place you go these days seems to incentivize you for answering a survey of some sort. They want data on how to keep you coming back. While I will not take advantage by always complaining, if I have an exceedingly bad experience I will definitely reach out. I may benefit plus they may make adjustments to help the next person.
A Prior example with a Well Written Letter
I had a similar experience with a roadside assistance service we had years ago. I called the service for help because my car started leaking gasoline. They connected me to a towing company, who said they couldn’t do anything for me until I called a fire company. I sat on the road for over an hour with gasoline pooling under my car trying to get someone, anyone, to help me out of the situation. So what did I do afterward? I wrote them a well written letter. For my troubles they gave me a free year of service. They also noted they had adjusted their training to ensure no one else had the same experience. I did my good deed by helping someone else in a similar situation and I got a free year of service, not bad for one well written letter.
Increasing your Chances of Remuneration
Now I will say one thing. In each case I have outlined I was an existing customer with a track record of purchases. In the case of the airline I was a higher status frequent flyer. In the case of the roadside assistance, I’d just recently spent decent money buying one of their cars. So my recommendation besides being willing to send a well written letter when things go really bad, is to sign up for a companies frequent customer program. The more frequent you use the service the less likely the company will want to lose your business due to a poor experience. A quick google of the airline further reflected this. Essentially people with status were able to get some miles or other items for delays of around 4 hours. One time bookers seemed to get nowhere.
When you have a really bad experience with a company, let them know. Get out your email, lookup their email address, and carefully write them a well written letter. Outline the situation, why it was an inconvenience, and how they can make it better next time. Remember to write the letter nicely, as my grandfather use to say you get more flies with honey than vinegar. Then sit back and see what happens. They may surprise you with a nice gesture of good will.
Have you ever sent a well written letter to a company in response to a bad experience? Did they send you something to improve your view-point on their company?