So a transition through Newark airport which was supposed to take two hours ended up taking twelve. Sure there was some bad weather involved but eventually our flight went from delayed to cancelled because of a broken seat. Seriously – that’s what we were told. Here are the lowlights of my United Airlines experience.


As the flight delays lengthened so the story changed. ‘Your connecting flight is on its way’ became ‘Your connecting flight has not left Cleveland yet’ became ‘Your connecting flight is on its way’ and so it went on. Delay times shifted and so did the story. Six hours after the flight was supposed to depart we were finally given the news that the flight was cancelled.

I was surprised and a little angry that the airline staff kept feeding us these inconsistent lines and was left wondering what kind of workplace culture means that a) it’s OK to mess customers about like this and b) no staff seemed willing to question the garbage they were being asked to share with us.

No Ownership

A couple of fellow passengers were speaking with the boarding gate staff and looking for assistance to help fix broken travel arrangements caused by the long delay. ‘I have no authority to deal with that, you need to speak to my supervisor’ was the broken record reply. ‘Where is your supervisor?’ asked the passengers, ‘Round at Customer Services’, came the reply. I followed my fellow passengers out of curiosity and they put their question to the Customer Service desk and got this answer, ‘I have no authority to deal with that, you need to speak to my supervisor’. The conversation stalled and United Airlines were saved by the bell as we were finally asked to board.

When Dave Carroll wrote United Breaks Guitars, the song emerged out of Carroll’s frustration at United’s ability to react beyond what was effectively ‘I have no authority to deal with that, you need to speak to my supervisor’.

On the basis of what I experienced, nothing’s changed. There appears to be no engagement between customer services and HR – and in a round about way I suppose I should be grateful as United gave me a great story to start my talk on rehumanising the workplace with at Ohio SHRM. When mistakes happen, you get a chance to see the real version of the company you’re dealing with. How they react and respond when the shit hits the fan says a lot about how a company treats its people and its customers. Ultimately what really bothers me about this story is that United Airlines think it is OK to put people in the customer service line of fire with no proper training and no power to sort even basic things out for the customer.

What a Gas

I’ve recently taken over responsibility for the supply of gas to Dad’s property. The supplier, British Gas had confirmed they would send me a final bill for Dad’s account. In my initial dealings with British Gas I’d been liaising with a bereavement team who were spot on throughout. Based on my previous experiences with service providers, my heart sank a little when the bereavement team told me they were passing my dealings onto the usual billing team. So how’s it going?

Over the weekend I received a threatening letter demanding £380.73. The threats included additional charges to the bill if I don’t pay, passing the account to a debt collection agency, taking me to court and trashing my credit history. As you can imagine, this letter didn’t put me in the best of moods.

I called British Gas today to give them a meter reading for the property. Yeah I know, they didn’t have a meter reading yet somehow they managed to bypass the final bill and go straight to threats, you figure it out.

I dialled the number, and the machine asked for my 12 digit customer reference. I entered it then pushed several more choices before dropping into a queue. The guy who answered, we’ll call him Gassy, committed a classic call centre faux pas as he asked ‘Can I have your customer reference please?’ ‘You’ve already got it, I entered it when I dialled in’ I replied. I politely and firmly refused to give Gassy the number and he agreed that yep – he had it in front of him alright. Whuh?

Gassy then asked me to confirm the supply address (my Dad’s place) which I did and then we were off. I explained I was in receipt of this letter and I didn’t understand why. Gassy and I muddled about a bit, he got confused about addresses, ‘your address on the bill doesn’t match the one you gave me’ so I explained he’d asked me for the supply address not my home address. I could go on, and on, but you get the dull, tedious, boring, mechanical gist of things. Eventually I gave Gassy the meter reading, he reckoned that information would produce a much lower final bill and I should hear further in about two weeks. So much for the threatening letter eh?

After each one of these crappy service experiences in relation to sorting out Dad’s affairs, I keep hoping it’s the last and I keep being proved wrong. To be honest I feel a little awkward keeping writing about them but the truth is, the vast majority of these businesses I’m interacting with seem to be incapable of delivering a timely, accurate, and dare I say it sensitive service. They clearly don’t talk with and listen to customers when designing these experiences and the end results speak for themselves.

I wish I’d had the foresight to ask Gassy how he felt about the whole thing, after all it must be pretty crap being trained to deliver something so unhelpful and unsatisfying, no? I expect he may have exploded.



I have been sent a sad tale of unrequited love. So heartbroken is the author, they wish to remain nameless. Grab a tissue and read on:

“I’ve been a content Vodafone pay monthly customer for 8 years.  My contract is due to expire this April and normally, Vodafone’s upgrade team has been very efficient and helped me to get the best new deal as well as regular new handsets every couple of years.

With impending contract renewal looming, I decided to shop around.  My first port of call, naturally (as a loyal customer) was Vodafone.  I looked at upgrade options in their store and spoke to some pleasant staff members.  However, the upgrade deals they were offering me, cost MORE per month than I was currently paying, while I would receive LESS calls / texts / mobile internet allowance.  I’m no businessman, but those economics simply don’t add up.

So I started look in other shops, just to see the state of the mobile industry with other providers.  Needless to say, T-Mobile’s Full Monty proposition (£36 per month for 2,000 minutes, unlimited T-Mobile minutes, unlimited texts and unlimited internet) has been causing quite a lot of interest.  I spoke to some helpful staff in a T-Mobile store and have made the decision to take out a contract with them, when my current one expires in April.

I set about contacting Vodafone to inform them that I wished to cancel my contract when it expired, since T-Mobile offered the best deal for me on the market.  Their response?  Not a lot.

‘We’re sorry you’re thinking of leaving us…’  ‘Good’ I thought, thinking that they would be able to offer me a similar sort of deal in order to keep my custom.  ‘Here’s what you need to do to cancel your contract with us.’

That was it.  After 8 years together, through thick and thin, I felt like I was being let go.  No effort to fight and save our relationship; no pleading that they can change, we can make it work, we’re meant to be together.  Just a cold email accepting that they no longer want to keep me in their lives.

And as a customer, that feels pretty shoddy.

Now, I’m not for one moment suggesting that losing my £30-odd quid a month is going to cripple Vodafone.  Perhaps their business strategy for this year does not permit them to price-match T-Mobile’s Full Monty offering.  BUT, I would at least like to be reminded of the memories we shared together.  Made to feel like they actually cared we were breaking up and moving on with our lives.   Instead – nothing.

Over 8 years with Vodafone, I must have spent over £2,000 with them – that ain’t small cheese.  And you know what?  Had they handled the current situation better, I might have stayed with them for another 8 years.  Got my future family on-board down the line.  And what does that add up to?  Lots.

So the point I’m making is this – I understand that when you can’t offer a customer a financial solution that fits their needs, for whatever reason, then you can’t.  But customer service remains a crucial aspect of a retail relationship – and Vodafone’s apparent lack of concern for my feelings has driven me firmly into the hands of a new, different lover.

Let’s hope this relationship proves more fruitful.”

So dear reader, what do you think? Is the customer right to feel jilted, or should Vodafone feel comfortable to let the customer run into the amrs of another? I’m not sure about this one. After all, the Vodafone logo has a giant teardrop right on the centre, maybe they are just too heartbroken to talk about it…

Vodafone Logo