Opinions And Ramblings By Adam Kmiec On All Things

Tag Archives: Customer Service

Killer Customer Service Strengthens Loyalty

Happy Customers (Photo Credit, Shopify)

In any “relationship” between a customer and a company, there are no shortage of things that can go wrong. I get to see this up close and personal, every day, in my role, at Walgreens. From the item wasn’t in stock, to an extra call to your Dr. needed, a coupon not working the way the customer expected and a line at checkout there’s a lot of ways for us to miss the mark. Granted, I’m biased, but I think we do a great job of listening to customers, understanding their tension points and looking for ways to reduce, or even eliminate those tension points all together. Try the “refill by scan” feature in the Walgreens app, the next time you need to refill your prescription and you’ll never go back to calling in.

Statistically, with so many things that could go wrong and high customer expectations, I always appreciate and in some cases, find it quite remarkable, when companies either:

  1. Proactively address a bad experience
  2. Go seemingly, above and beyond

Generally, if you were to ask someone about their last negative experience with a company, they can answer instantaneously. But, ask them about a great one and it’ll take some time to provide an example. Just look at your social media feed; you’ll see complaint after complaint and negative experience after negative experience. I too am guilty (though less so these days) of over highlighting the bad and rarely shining a light on the good. And yes, there is a lot of good out there.

With that in mind, I want to tell you about 3 fantastic customer service experiences I had in the past month.


I love Southwest airlines. I tell people how wonderful Southwest is, so much, I’m sure they think I work for the company or somehow get compensated. They don’t always get it right. And, when they don’t I share that with them and others. Airline travel is tricky. There’s a lot of variables that are 100% out of the airline’s control. For example, weather. On a recent flight, we were 4 hours delayed. This was not a weather issue, necessarily. This was mechanical one. It started with the inbound flight being delayed because of weather in Denver, I believe. But, they were able to make some magic happen and re-route another plane to Minneapolis, leaving us only 30 minute delayed. Much of that, they could make up in the air. But, when that plane landed, they had a mechanical issue. No idea, what it was. But, an hour later, they let us board. We go to take off and…another mechanical issue. Back to the gate. 2 hours later, finally, we take off. All-in-all, we were 4 hours late. This was a 7 PM flight, originally. Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled. But, before I even had a chance to complain, I received an email from Southwest, apologizing for the situation. To boot, they even provided a $100 flight credit. Think about that. They knew they screwed up. They knew customers were impacted. They knew loyalty would be tested. And they knew to try and make it right. Bravo!

Verizon Wireless

Raise your hand if you love your wireless company? That’s what I thought. I’ve been with Verizon for 10 years. Yes, I pay more than T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T and every other competitor, but Verizon has always had great reserve, that’s reliable and killer customer service. The other day, was a great example of that amazing customer service. I woke up, as I normally do, at 6:30. I picked up phone, which apparently, was blowing up all night. I had 20+ text messages. Well, look at me, Mr. Popular, eh? Not exactly, it was a text message warning from Verizon every time, we, as a family, went over our 12 GB monthly plan. Somehow, we chewed through 20+ gigabytes of cellular data…over night…on just one person’s phone. This made no sense, for a lot of reasons. I mean, let’s start with, that’s a lot of data to go through in 8 hours, over night. Also, it was limited to just one family member’s phone. Then, you have the fact, we’re always under our 12 gigs. Oh, and, we were only 4 days in to the billing cycle. Something was wrong, right? I called Verizon and spoke with Justin. Justin listened to my situation. Offered some help. Reviewed my history. He was mystified and agreed something was off. He connected me with Apple, directly, so they could trouble-shoot. Justin promised to call me back within 30 minutes to see what Apple had to say. Apple did and agreed something wasn’t right. Justin called back. Yes, he called back. When’s the last time that’s ever happened? I filled him in. He then put me on hold, connected with another Apple person and someone else at Verizon. Time on hold, was no more than 5 minutes. When he came back, he said, he didn’t have a solution. But, to make things right, he would up my plan to 50 gigs, ensuring I’d have the data needed for the rest of the month. Then, next month, he would personally credit us for the difference, switch our plan back to the original plan (a legacy plan, by the way) and call me back personally to confirm. We even set an appointment for that call. Mind, blown!

Room & Board

Some people refer to Room & Board as, Room and Broke. Yeah, you pay a premium for their great furniture, white glove delivery and, you got it, great customer service. Last fall we purchased a coffee table. We love this coffee table. Last week, I noticed something wrong with it. The front left corner was separating. Strange. Odd. R&B has great craftsmanship and all their furniture is very durable. I emailed R&B about my situation. Leah responded the same day. She expressed dismay, shock and indicated how bad she felt. She asked for photos to help her understand the situation. What she didn’t do was accuse me of somehow being behind the issue. She didn’t cast blame. She asked for information that would help her, help me. I sent the photos. She asked for a few more, from a different angle. Each time I responded, she responded, the same day. After 2 days of back and forth she wrote me to say:

  1. She felt bad
  2. They want to make it right
  3. She had already conferred with her manager and her manager agreed they should replace it
  4. But, there was a problem, the designer, no longer makes this piece….
  5. However, she was going to write the designed and ask if they could make a 1-time exception, given the circumstances

From there, she explained, she’d back to me in a week. 4 days later, she wrote with unbelievable news. The designer, would in fact make the replacement unit…at NO charge. R&B would handle the delivery and the removal of the defective unit. Again, this was an item that was 9 months old! Think about that. Wow!

Look, there are great examples of companies doing the little things and the big things. But, it’s true, the old maxim about a person with a good experience telling 10 others, but a person with a bad experience, telling 1,000. Of late, I’m trying to celebrate the great examples and pausing before I share the bad ones. Try it.

Tumi, You’re Killing Me

UPDATED 8/1/2012

After publishing this post and sending it to the Tumi twitter account, Tumi responded via twitter with a 1-800 # to call and instructions to ask for a manager. I spoke with a manager who was already prepped that I would be calling (awesome end to end customer service for nailing that). She acknoledged that they were having some product quality issues with the case and that they were actually in Asia working to address the known issue. You have to love when a company admits there’s a problem and tells you they are fixing it. What they offered to do was:

1. Refund my money

2. Send me a new case of the same design AND THEN replace it when the product was updated to newer specs at NO COST.

3. Let me choose from any other case they had.

I chose option 2. Folks, this is customer service at its best. Well done Tumi. Thank You.

I love Tumi. Great brand. Great products. Great customer service. I’m a huge advocate of the brand. When I purchase luggage it’s Tumi. When I recommend luggage, it’s Tumi. My daughter, 5 year’s old, nearly received a Tumi backpack for kindergarten, before I was over-ruled.  If I’m not mistaken, I believe I have 4 Tumi pieces registered with their outstanding Tumi Tracer program.

All that said, I have to tell you, while they may make great luggage and great bags, I have to question their ability to make accessories. A couple of months back, I purchased a Tumi Ballistic Snap Case for my iPad. After a month of use, it developed a crack in the plastic backing, on the lower right corner. I tweeted the Tumi twitter account, they recommended I call the 1-800 number. I called the 1-800 number, who wanted me to mail back my case, they would assess it and then determine if a replacement was warranted. The estimated time frame for the entire experience was expected to be 14 days. Not cool, in my opinion. I instead visited the Tumi store at the Philadelphia airport. I explained everything that I had explained on the phone and the manager, fixed the problem. How? By, taking back the clearly defective item and replacing it with a new one. Like I said GREAT customer service.

It’s not been a month since receiving a replacement case, and the EXACT same problem has happened. Now look, I get that coincidences happen. But this seems a bit out there, don’t you think? Here’s a photo to illustrate the issue.

Tumi Ballistic iPad Cover Broken

Look, I’m not a whiner. I get it, stuff happens. I get that you can’t respond to everyone. Having worked in digital and social for a long time, I get all of that. But, as a consumer, I don’t understand how an item that retails for $95.00 from a brand like Tumi, can have the same defect in two separate cases. I also don’t understand, how, as a consumer it makes sense for me to have to pay to send it out and wait nearly 14 days to maybe receive a new one. It just doesn’t add up.

Tumi, by their own words states:

Product quality and selection are key attributes that have made Tumi a leader. Simply put, there is no other product made like Tumi. This is what we call the Tumi Difference. It is how we approach every aspect and detail of product design. We regard each component — from the smallest, case-hardened solid steel machine screw to our exclusive, virtually abrasion-proof FXT ballistic nylon fabric-of each item as if it were the most important. It means that our products are made from hundreds of custom-designed and engineered parts.

I have to be honest with you, this product doesn’t deliver on that brand promise. It just doesn’t. So Tumi, yes, I still love you, but you’re killing me.

When Data Leads To Bad Insights – A Social Customer Service Analysis

I hate linkbait. Scratching your head? Linkbait is when someone crafts a headline that designed to get clicks, views, shares, etc…but the content is often misleading. Well, earlier this week, there was some serious linkbait going around with respect to a recent “study” completed by Socialbakers, that looked at the social media customer service habits of companies.

The stat, often being quoted from the study was, “58% of social media users want a response. But only 22% actually receive one.”  That stat is sometimes presented as “70% of fans are being ignored by companies.” Provocative, right? Did you lean forward? Raise an eyebrow? I’m sure lots of people did.

Even the “study” looks legit. I mean check this out:

Socialbakers Customer Service Study

and then this…

Brand Number of Fans Question Response Rate Number of Questions Answered
Personal Argentina 309,968 89.13% 14,306
Claro 415,026 96.99% 10,266
Acer Indonesia 612,837 95.05% 4,992
LBC Express Inc. 58,176 91.75% 4,083
Comunidad Movistar Argentina 385,451 91.67% 3,301
Volaris 335,410 77.92% 3,297
Safaricom Kenya Official Page 130,201 88.52% 3,255
KLM 1,540,788 94.14% 2,843
Vodafone Nederland 82,926 92.27% 2,758
Claro El Salvador 133,270 96.74% 2,758

Real companies. Accurate fan counts. So clearly…the data is right.

Add in the fact that Socialbakers is a “global social media and digital analytics company with customers in 75 countries representing every continent. Socialbakers helps companies measure the effectiveness of their social marketing campaigns across all major networks, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+.” and wow this is looking good.

Are you concerned yet? With all this data…and all these insights, you should be right? Wrong. This is the problem that happens when organizations who have never actually brought social media to the enterprise at scale, start offering advice and “insights” about social media. Having actually been part of teams or leading teams that were focused on bringing social media to the enterprise at scale, let me drop some reality to balance the linkbait.

Most organizations have some type of response protocol for addressing content and conversations created in the social media space. My personal favorite is the flow that Ohio State created:

Social Media Response Flow Chart

It’s detailed and allows for a very quick assessment of what content is actionable. In Ohio State’s model they have categories called “Trolls” and “Ragers.” Posts/content flagged as such do not get responded to. I know this is going to just blow away the social media pseudo experts, but, not every comment or post should be responded to. Wait, look outside your window…did the Earth stop rotating? Yes, it’s true, your organization doesn’t have to respond to everything, nor should it.

Did you notice in the nice colorful chart from Socialbakers, the response rate for the Alcohol category is ONLY 5.2%. That looks really bad right? But, take a closer look. Use insights, not raw data. You know how whenever you visit a website from an alcohol company you have to provide your birthdate? They do that to make sure you’re 21 (in the USA) and/or of age. Do you know why they do that? They do it because they are legally obligated to not communicate/market to people under the legal drinking age. The penalties are extremely stiff. Unfortunately, even “age-gating” pages or profiles in an attempt to only allow drinking age adults to enter is not a perfect science. People can lie. People can skirt the system. The tools/options provided by social networks are generally weak. Then, add in the fact that there are significant number of people who choose to omit critical pieces of info, like their birth date, from their profiles and you can start to see how complex this problem is.

So…combine the flow chart from Ohio State with what I just shared about the legal ramifications of communicating with people under the age of 21 and is it any wonder that the average response rate for the Alcohol category is so low?

I could do this all day and poke holes in just about every single data point in this study. But, here’s what I think would be more productive. Check out the total mentions of “AT&T” on twitter here. Scan the first few screens and keep track of how many of the mentions deserve a response. Feel free to do the same for Bank of America on Facebook here. When you look at them or any other brand’s page, what’s the percentage of comments that deserve a response based on the Ohio State Social Media Communication Flow? 30%? 40% I can tell you this, it’s not 70% and it’s not 100%.

Look, we can all improve. We can all be better. We can all be more effective at turning frowns into smiles. But, let’s also be realistic. Let’s not be so Chicken Little. Let’s not fall for the linkbait and scare tactics. Let’s be pragmatic, not just as marketers, but as consumers. The spirit of what Socialbakers was getting out I can support all day long. The letter, the details and the specifics are just so misguided that I can’t possibly endorse the data or the insights.

Look, it would be great if we could scale social across the enterprise and response to every single person’s tweet, blog post, comment, etc. But, that’s not reality. Of course, most social media consultants, wouldn’t understand that…because they’ve never really been knee deep in a large enterprise, trying to scale social. It’s not easy. If it was…anyone could do it….then again, right now, it seems like everyone thinks they can.

My Relationship With A Black Box


Ever since I watched the Super Bowl in 2002 at my good friend, Reed Roussel’s, house; I was a TiVo fan. For months prior, I had been trying to sell my wife on the idea that we NEEDED a TiVo. Now, need is an important word. If you recall back to grade school, the only real needs are water, air, food and shelter. Well, in the early 2000s, I was looking to add TiVo to that short list. Up until that Super Bowl evening, it was a weak argument, and frankly I wasn’t even 100% sold. During the game though, something changed. We were all watching, talking and eating. A commercial had played. Most of us had missed it. But, like magic, Reed was able to rewind the game, letting us watch the commercial…then again, like magic, he fast forwarded back to the game. Wow. I was sold. More importantly, the wife was sold. True Story: the very next day, we picked up 2 TiVos and had them up and running a few days later.

So, for more than 10 years, I’ve been a TiVo guy. How much of a TiVo guy you ask? Well, when DirecTV ended their relationship with TiVo and came out with their own DVR interface, we switched to cable. When Comcast tried to give us their version of a DVR, we purchased new TiVo’s instead, and had Comcast put the cable cards in the TiVos. When I moved back to Chicago, my 2nd purchase was a TiVo XL. When I moved to New Jersey, the first purchase was a TiVo XL4. It was this purchase and the subsequent experience I had “activating” it, that lead me to tell this story.

For those not in the know…let me take a second to explain the nuts and bolts of TiVo. TiVo is both the box and the software that runs inside the box that you see on screen. There may be other companies that have more impressive boxes (storage size, speed, etc.), but none can remotely come close to offering “software” as great as TiVo’s. So when you buy TiVo, you’re paying for both the box and the service/software. The cost of the software…or rather the cost to use the software, comes in one of 2 flavors:

  1. A monthly subscription model. Think NetFlix…you pay $x a month to license the software/service
  2. A 1-time fee that would grant you access to the service FOREVER. But, that access is based on a per box model. Confusing? If you have 2 TiVos and you wanted a lifetime subscription, you would need to pay the fee for each TiVo you own.

Now, for as long as I can recall, this was always TiVo’s pricing model. You could pay month to month or pay one lump sum up front. Because of my penchant for upgrading, a lifetime subscription just made no sense. These pricing models never made any sense to me, but I’m not privy to TiVo’s financial data…so take that with a grain of salt.

This past weekend, I had my first negative TiVo experience in 10+ years. When I purchased my TiVo XL last year, I signed up for a 1 year commitment. Honestly, I’d forgotten about this. TiVo now has 3 pricing options:

  1. Month to month: $19.99 a month
  2. Year long commitment: $13.99 a month
  3. Lifetime: $499.99 (equal to just over 2 years of month to month service)

So, when I signed up las tear, I apparently took option 2. Before I go any further…let me say I’m completely responsible for having chosen TiVo, purchasing the box, signing up for the service and understanding the terms. With that said…this past weekend, I called TiVo to signup for monthly service for my new TiVo XL4 and to discontinue service on my TiVo XL. The XL4 was going to take the place of the XL in my living room. When I called to make these changes, I was reminded that I had signed up for a year of service on the XL and that canceling would cause me to incur early termination fees. I did the logical thing and asked, can’t I just transfer the commitment to the new XL4? I mean, I’m not looking to break up with TiVo…we’ve had a 10 year+ relationship. The answer was no. And that’s when it hit me. This brand that I love. This brand that I’m a fan of, doesn’t want to have a relationship with me. They want me to have a relationship wit their box. And honestly, that’s just silly.

Look, there’s no shortage of pricing models out there when there’s a physical device and a subscription for service. For example, when you purchase a car, you’re often give X years/Y miles worth of service. When you buy a new car from the same manufacturer, your remaining service isn’t transferable…similar to TiVo. The relationship between customer, phone and phone service is quite similar. Your 2 year commitment is not transferable to a new device or a new number. But…with AT&T, Sprint, Verizon or the like, there’s always going to be a monthly cost to access the service. So, what TiVo is doing isn’t out of the ordinary. But, like I said, it was the first time I realized that I don’t really have a relationship with this product I love or this software/service I adore.

No, my relationship, is with a black box. And that’s just sad.

Does Patagonia’s Ironclad Guarantee Only Go So Far?

In December of 2011 I became a Patagonia convert. Not a fan. Not a customer. A convert. I bought in. I picked up, what they were putting down. I fell in love with the rare combination of a company’s mission, products and service.

My first purchase was a Patagonia R3. That was followed up rather quickly with a Piolet Jacket and then a Integral Jacket. Over the holidays I purchase a women’s R2 as a gift and convinced my ex-wife to purchase a Patagonia Torrent Shell (I think it was a Torrent Shell).

Last month, I needed new shoes. Swung by REI (the local Patagonia didn’t have my size) and purchased a pair of Patagonia Tawa shoes. Look, when I get invested in a brand, I get invested in a brand. After about 2 weeks of ownership, I ran into a problem with the shoe. I took them to a Patagonia store, they concurred the problem existed and would have swapped them out on the spot if they had my size. What they did do, which was awesome, was call the local REI, tell them the shoes had a flaw, to expect my visit and process a return. Wow! So, off to REI, where in less than5 minutes they processed the return. Amazing!

Given my love for Patagonia, a colleague sent me a $100.00 Patagonia gift card as a present. I was very thankful and set out to make that $100.00 work hard. I online ordered at Patagonia.com for the first time. I ordered a tee shirt and a hoody. And this is where, things got strange. For the sake of story flow, I’ll bullet out what happened.

  • I ordered online and received a confirmation email ASAP
  • Received a shipping notification a few days later
  • Tracked the shipment online and saw it was delayed/lost
  • Called UPS who asked me to call Patagonia since they were the shipper
  • Called Patagonia and used Patagonia’s online chat – both were not helpful and indicated I should simply wait a few more days
  • A few days later, the item was more than 3 days past the expected delivery date, but when I came in to the office, waiting for me was a package from Patagonia that had a different tracking number, but exactly what I’d ordered. Patagonia was proactive and shipped me overnight/2 day a replacement order because UPS had misplaced the order. My initial thought was WOW…I mean WOW, that’s freaking awesome.
  • The next day, the original order finally showed up. This meant I had 2 of everything I ordered and 2 problems.
  • The first problem was I ordered the wrong size. So no matter what I’d need to make a return.
  • The second problem was I now I had 2 of everything.
  • I figured rather than call the 1-800 number I’d simply visit the local Patagonia store.
  • I explained the entire situation to the Patagonia folks. Literally, every bullet you just read I shared with them. I also explained that I wanted to make an exchange for the right size.
  • They looked over the situation, and basically said, we can usually take returns in-store for online orders, but we’re not sure what to do with the second order since you didn’t order it. After some conferring they said, since it was our mistake you’ll just receive a credit a for both items. Basically, this meant I had $200.00 to spend now, not $100.00.
  • I asked several times for them to confirm. This seemed strange getting an extra $100.00 (I mean when does that ever happen), but I chalked it up to their Ironclad approach to making things right.
  • After they confirmed, I set out to do some shopping. They didn’t have the sizes I needed so I pivoted and ended up purchasing a Patagonia R1 and a UV protection T-Shirt with the $200 I now had to spend.
  • The transaction was smooth.
  • A few days later I received an email from online customer service indicating that they saw that BOTH packages had arrived. I sent an email back explaining what I just outlined above…went to the store, explained the situation, store accepted both returns. Case closed, right?
  • Nope. So this is where I’m at a loss. They wanted me to call them, give them my credit card info so they could “bill” me for the replacement order.
  • I debated doing this because from my perspective, I did EVERYTHING I should have and it was their mistake. But, I also believe in Karma. So I called, gave them my info and they billed me.

If you’ve read all of this, thanks. I wanted to give an accurate and thorough overview. Am I wrong for being irritated about this situation?

If the situation had been reversed…had I overpaid on an item that should have been marked down, would Patagonia chase me down like a lawyer after an ambulance and say, “Adam, you over paid, we MUST refund you the difference.” I don’t think they would. In 32 years, I’ve never seen it happen. It happens, when I identify the error and then chase the company down.

Was chasing me down for $84.00 (tax and shipping were not part of the 2nd shipment cost) worth it? By worth, I mean from a resource investment and brand reputation standpoint? When you consider the obscene margin (if you’ve worked in retail fashion/clothing you know what I mean) on their products, was it worth it? Look at my purchases above…in a span of less than 6 months, I’ve directly spent on contributed to the spending of roughly $700.00 worth of Patagonia products. Was $84.00 worth it? Is the letter of the law more important than the spirit of it?

Am I being too sensitive? Not sure, to be honest with you. While I did the “right” thing, did Patagonia?

Bryan from Patagonia reached out the same day this post went live. We connected by phone. He explained the situation, apologized for the confusion and made things right. Awesome work by the Patagonia social media and customer experience teams.

Southwest Airlines’ Strange Interpretation Of Loyalty

I love Southwest Airlines. If you follow me on twitter or have been a regular reader here you know I’m not exaggerating. But, just because I love them doesn’t mean I won’t criticize them.

On March 1st, they overhauled their loyalty program. They call it the Rapid Rewards program. In many respects the program is a leap forward. For example:

1. There are no black out dates. Granted that doesn’t mean there aren’t blackout flights on those days.
2. Points never expire so long as there is some account activity in the past 24 months. Very cool.
3. As soon as points are earned they can be used. The old program required you to accrue 16 points before you could redeem.

So far, so good. But, here’s where I think they made a mistake. Under the old program you earned the same number of points (1 to be exact) for every flight you took regardless of destination or mileage. Thus, a flight from New York City to Boston earned you the same number of points as a flight from New York City to Los Angeles. With the new program, you earn more points for the longer/greater mileage flights. Incidentally, these are of course, also the more expensive flights. I know why Southwest did this.

As a marketer, I genuinely understand it. Too many people were earning too many points too quickly, thus generating more free flights than Southwest preferred. In essence the new program is a traditional miles program, that’s really no different than what American, United or Delta offer. That’s disappointing when you consider how different Southwest is from those airlines.

Now, I started this post talking about how this program is a loyalty program. That’s really what it is. Great loyalty programs reward their most valuable members better than casual members. Under the new program, Southwest isn’t really rewarding loyal behavior.

Loyalty, when it comes to air travel, really is about frequency. The big question being, how many flights will this customer take on my airline. Think about it, if you fly 50 round trips a year, that’s 50 opportunities for you to choose Southwest or the competition. Under the new program, a very frequent flyer like me, is penalized for flying short flights. I travel from Chicago to Pittsburgh and Chicago to Minneapolis at least 6 times a month in total. But, I earn less points than the person traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles twice a month.

Aren’t I a more loyal customer in this scenario? Is not my frequent patronage more valuable than the longer trips flown by a more infrequent flier? I think so. What do you think?

Imitation Is Flattery

Full disclosure: I loathe Delta Airlines for so many reasons.

I was strolling throughout the Minneapolis – St. Paul airport this evening on my way to a Delta Airlines flight that was of course 2:30 delayed, when I saw this new sign. It sorta struck me. Delta has implemented these signs and charging stations throughout their gates at the airport. The reason it struck me wasn’t because it was new. No, it struck me because it’s a direct rip off of the charging stations Southwest has been offering for years. And, while imitation is certainly the most sincere form of flattery, you can’t help but be struck by the massive gap that exists between Delta and Southwest when it comes to customer service.

Tonight, I arrived at the airport 70 minutes before the scheduled take-off. I had checked the flight status before leaving and the flight was on time. Some how, in the 10 minutes between when I checked and when I arrived at the airport, we were now 2 hours delayed. No notification (Southwest offers this) and no warning. When I arrived at the gate, the gate agent couldn’t offer any information about why we were delayed (this never happens on Southwest). Finally, we learned why (the inbound aircraft was delayed coming from St. Louis), but the agent wasn’t sure if the current scheduled time was accurate (again, never happens with Southwest). While we were all waiting for the flight an automatic notification played every 15 minutes or so over the intercom; it was reminding us that the flight was 2 hours delayed and we could purchase food on the plane (Southwest doesn’t do this period, and usually when there’s a significant delay they hand out free adult drink tickets). Think about that. Hey, not only are you delayed, but by the way you can overpay for crappy food on the plane; cool? When the flight finally arrived, there was more great news: we would be flying on a regional jet, so we’ll all need to gate-check our baggage (this never happens on a Southwest flight), which just adds to the delay when you land. The flight attendants lacked empathy and were robotic (never happens on Southwest). Talk about a hell of an experience. But, honestly, this isn’t an isolated incident. This is Delta airline at it’s norm.

They can try to change the signage, they can try to copy, but the gap between them and Southwest is Grand Canyon wide.

Heck, even the visual is a demonstration of that they just aren’t “plugged-in” or “connected.”


When you travel as often as I do you look forward to the perks you get with “status.”  Southwest does a great job of providing real value to their most frequent flyers.  From their A-list program to their Companion Pass program, they understand how to reward frequent loyal travelers.  Starwood does a great job as well.  I look forward to my stays at a Westin, Sheraton, aLoft, etc. because they understand how to take care of their valued guests.  I’m on a first name basis with all the people who check me in at the Sheraton Station Square in Pittsburgh, PA.  I always get to avoid the standard line for checkin and use the platinum line.  I always get my upgrades and I always get the types of rooms I’m a fan of.  The 15th floor is the platinum level and is reserved for only platinum members.  Their club lounge is on this floor and it’s a great epxerience.  The view is great, the seats comfy, the food and drinks very good and the service amazing.

It’s good to be platinum.

So I Was Held Hostage By Yellow Cab

This isn’t a work of fiction.  This isn’t a lie.  This isn’t a stretch of the truth.  This is, in fact, a 100% completely true story of how the Pittsburgh Yellow Cab Company essentially held me hostage for roughly 30 minutes.

Let’s start with the definition of “hostage,” just to make sure we are all on the same page.  Webster defines a hostage as:

  • a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement
  • person taken by force to secure the taker’s demands

My trip into Pittsburgh was going amazingly well.  The flight from Chicago took off on time, arrives 15 minutes early, there was a cab waiting, no line for the cab and we made it into Pittsburgh quickly.  I was just praising the gods for all this great fortune, when things took an abrupt turn toward crazy town.

The cab driver stopped at the MARC USA Pittsburgh office and read me the fare; $34.00 and change.  I pulled out my Discover Card (it’s my card of choice and I’ve used it for every cab ride I’ve ever taken from and to the Pittsburgh airport) and handed it to the driver.  The driver snapped his head back at me, pursed his lips and in a clearly irritated tone said to me, “I don’t take Discover, only Visa or Mastercard.”  I mumbled under my breath, that this was ridiculous and the said to him, “well, that’s the only card I have.”  This was technically a lie.  I had my Visa CheckCard that’s tied to my banking account; however I never use that card for cab rides.  In the past I’ve witnessed and heard of stories where a vendor/service will run up charges once they have your CheckCard info.  I should also mention that the Yellow Cab website clearly indicates that they do in fact take Discover Card.  But, I digress…back to the story.

The driver snapped back to me and said, “Bullshit, I want my money now.  You’re not going to rip me off.”  Woah, this totally caught me off guard.  I was completely confused.  At this point, I said, “Well, there’s an ATM over there (roughly 15 feet away), I’ll go there and get you your money.”  That seems fair, right?  Well, not to this guy.  No sooner had I put my hand on the door handle to exit the cab, the cab driver locked the doors and yelled to me, “no, no, no, I’m not going to fall for this trick.”  Huh?  So I was literally locked inside the cab and couldn’t get out.  Perplexed, I tweeted, “I’m locked in a cab. My cab driver wont let me out because I gave him Discover Card.”  While tweeting, the driver told me that he’d be calling the cops.  I was getting more confused by the moment.  I once again reiterated my request that he let me out so that I could get his money from the ATM.  But, he ignored my commentary and proceeded with dialing 911.

Well, I guess not to be outdone, I tried calling the Yellow Cab customer service line from my cell phone 3 times.  However, each time, my call automatically was sent to voice mail.  There was no one, not one single person, actually manning the customer complaint/service line.  Well, so much for customer service.  15 minutes went by and I realized he had not turned the meeter off.  I pointed this out and was then cursed at and told that it was not my place to tell him how to use his cab.  WTF, right?  Ok, it gets better.  I then said to him, “look, just let me get out so I can get your money and we can then both put this behind us.”  At this point, the driver of Yellow Cab 159 went further into crazy town.  He, said that he was going to sue me for lost wages, because I was the one causing this situation.  Huh?  No, seriously, huh?

I continued to ask to be let out of the car and finally he agreed.  Great, I thought, I grabbed my bag and attempted to leave the cab.  I should point out, the cab was a mini-van with sliding doors on each side.  I attempted to exit from behind the driver’s side.  The driver then demanded I leave my bag with him.  Ummm, no.  The bag had an iPad, Mcbook Pro, a few expense checks and some other personal items.  I declined and that’s when he grabbed me and tried to pull the bag off of my shoulder.  I then slid back into the car and exited out of the door behind the passenger’s seat.  I made my way to the ATM, grabbed $40.00 in cash, brought it back over and asked for a receipt.  He refused to provide a receipt unless I gave him the money.  Again, strange, but at this point, nothing was phasing me.

This is when it got even stranger…the cops showed up.  Yes, I said cops.  See, he had apparently called 911 twice.  The first officer on the scene was alone.  He was quite helpful and very cordial. I wish I had taken down his info, because he deserves a medal.  He asked me what happened, I explained the situation and he apologized.  He then went over the cab driver, got his story, came back and agreed to procure the receipt from the cab driver in exchange for the money.  Not a problem.  I gave the officer $1.25 (I’d already given the cab driver the $40.00 from the ATM).  The officer provided the cab driver the $1.25, got me my receipt and again apologized.  This is when a police van showed up with 2 or 3 (I can’t recall) additional officers.  They were a bit late to the party 🙂

The officer advised me to call the cab company, talk to a supervisor and explain the situation.  I called again and again was dropped right into voicemail.  I’m sending a link to this post to the cab company and will let you know what happens.  Talk about a crazy Friday; and it wasn’t even Friday the 13th.

Face It, We’re Not All Created Equal

I love the book and the movie, Animal Farm. Early on in the story, right after the animals take over the farm they erect a sign that states, “All Animals Are Created Equal.” I love the sentiment. By, the near end of the story, after the pigs have taken over control of the other animals, that sign changes to “All Animals Are Created Equal, Some Are More Equal Than Others.”

As many of you know, I’m a huge Southwest Airlines fan. I often opt to fly them knowing a connection is needed, than take a direct flight. Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s how much of a believer I am in their brand. It’s been well documented that they’ve really nailed customer service in the age of the real-time web. I’ve always been impressed with how fast they’ve addressed feedback.

When the Kevin Smith situation popped up a few weeks ago, I took Southwest’s side. I genuinely felt they handled the situation appropriately. In the face of tough feedback from a very popular and influential traveler, the stood their ground and didn’t bend to Kevin Smith’s pressure. As the Kevin Smith situation was blowing up, I again, couldn’t believe how quickly they were addressing the situation. From tweets, to apologies, to phone calls, to even a blog post, they were Johnny on-the-spot.

Last Thursday, March 11th, I had a very uncharacteristically negative experience with Southwest. I was flying my seemingly weekly flight from Chicago to Minneapolis. The arriving airplane that we were to use was coming from Florida. Unfortunately for me and the other flyers it was more than 2 hours late because of weather, which I never hold an airline accountable for. Look, weather problems happen and you definitely want to be safe up there in the sky. The situation got worse though. After the flight landed in Chicago, there was a maintenance problem. Apparently the forward lavatory “spilled” or “over-flowed” (both terms were used) and maintenance would need to clean things up. Again, hey, mistakes happen. And I can completely understand the need to clean up something as unsanitary as bathroom “waste.”

Well, unbeknownst to many of us sitting in the first few rows, the spill/over-flow didn’t just stay contained to the galley; it went as far as the first few rows of the plane. The carpets underneath the seats were soaked. But, you couldn’t really tell this unless you looked very closely. Unfortunately, I looked closely, far later than I should have. I had put my Timbuk2 bag that contained my laptop and some documents under the seat in front of me. That makes sense right? You always put your smaller bag underneath the seat in front of you…at least that’s what the flight attendants encourage you to do.

When we arrived in Minneapolis, 3+ hours later than scheduled, I we pretty beat. When I reached down to grab my bag, I noticed the entire bottom was soaked. The spill/over-flow had soaked through my bag, thus ruining it and the documents it contained. Thankfully, the laptop was ok. To make matters worse, you can’t wash this Timbul2 bag and there was no way I was going to keep using a “waste” soaked bag. Sorry, but that’s just not very sanitary. So, for the first time ever, I tweeted something negative about Southwest. To their credit I instantly received a direct message stating “Uh oh! I’m so sorry! I hate hearing that…what happened? Anything I can do? Feel free to email me: xxxxxxx.xxx@wnco.com.” Literally within an hour of receiving it, I sent an email to the Southwest employee that explained a shortened version of the above. I proactively included my Rapid Rewards Number (I’m an A-List member) and my confirmation code for the flight. After I sent the email I sent a direct message back letting them know I sent the email, per their request.

It’s Sunday and I still haven’t received a response back. I’m bummed, but I’m not surprised. Where as Kevin Smith got a formal apology, a flight credit, a blog post and a whole lot more; I’ve gotten nothing. But, you know what? I’m ok with it. Why? Because, I’m not silly enough to think that I matter as much or more than Kevin Smith. It would be nice if I did, but I know that I don’t. Southwest has less to lose with me than they do with him. As they’re prioritizing who to respond to and how quickly, I’m sure that Adam Kmiec is further down the list than a celebrity like Kevin Smith.

If you will, “Some Animals Are More Equal.” As paying customers, we sorta need to remember that, even though it kinda sucks.