SERVICE

Does this “disgusted” passenger deserve a full refund?

Anna/Shutterstock
Anna/Shutterstock
Airlines often speak from both sides of their mouth.

They say their seats are unique products, and loathe the idea of “commoditization” which says all seats are basically the same. At the same time, they’re unwilling to promise these amazing seats in writing. (In fact, most contracts won’t even guarantee your flight will run on schedule or even you’ll be offered transportation.) And they’re more than willing to overlook their uniqueness to sell you a codeshare ticket on another airline.

All of which brings us to Sandra Dekoj and her case against Hainan Airlines. She asserts that her travel agent sold her a seat on a spanking new Hainan 787, but that she ended up flying on a dilapidated Airbus instead. And that package, which included a one-night hotel stay in Beijing, did not meet her expectations.

She wants a full refund, and she wants me to help her get it.
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Secrets for getting the very best customer service

Life/Shutterstock
Life/Shutterstock
It’s the proverbial man-bites-dog story for consumer reporters: an over-the-top customer service experience in which an employee goes the extra mile.

It’s even more rare — on the order of man-bites-man — to find a proven way to extract the very best service from employees.

I won’t mince words. Men are not biting men.

But a series of recent stories and one reader’s experience give me hope that it’s possible. In other words, you could get superior service every time you go to the store or log on to your computer to go shopping.
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Decoding service-speak: 5 employee insults you need to know

Aaaron Amat/Shutterstock
Aaaron Amat/Shutterstock
Spend enough time around customer service agents and you understand that what they say and what they mean are often two very different things. That’s never more apparent than when they are talking directly to you.

Fortunately for these employees, they’ve developed a secret lexicon of words and phrases that can only be interpreted in one way by the general public, but that to them mean something quite specific and often insulting.

For example, let’s say you’ve just boarded a flight and you’re sending a message from your phone as the cabin doors close. Flight attendants are roaming the aisle to ensure all seatbelts are fastened and electronic devices are turned off.

Just as you hit “send” and start powering down your smartphone, you feel a hard tap on your shoulder and see a grimacing crewmember looming over you.
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5 warning signs you’re about to receive bad customer service

Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
Steve Cucrov/Shutterstock
It’s been decades and my father still hasn’t forgotten: Threatened with arrest, his wife in tears, their anniversary ruined. And to top it all off, he was still hungry.

Every time I hear the story, I ask him how it came to that. My father replies, “I never saw it coming.”

For their anniversary, my parents had gone to a well-known eatery north of Boston. Always a popular place, this night it was particularly crowded.

They waited a long time to be seated. They waited a long time for menus, and for a server. They waited a particularly long time for the meals.
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Good customer service from the TSA? It’s no joke

Tifon Images/Shutterstock
Tifon Images/Shutterstock

Like most Americans, Jim Davies believes the Transportation Security Administration might benefit from a top-to-bottom reform.

And like most Americans, he wasn’t surprised when a Government Accountability Office study revealed widespread employee misconduct, including screeners involved in theft and drug smuggling activities, as well as circumventing mandatory screening procedures for passengers and baggage.

All of which made his recent experience in Philadelphia so noteworthy. As he waited in line to have his ID checked, he saw three elderly men approach the checkpoint.

“One of the gentlemen had clearly not been on a commercial flight in some time,” he says. “He presented his Medicare card and then his library card as his ID.”
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When airlines go above and beyond

Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Vladimir Shurpenkov/Shutterstock
Airlines and bad service. The two kinda go together, right?

They do if the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) is to be believed. In its 2013 report card, the research company punished the airline industry with an overall score of 69 out of 100. That would be a high “D” if you were in grade school.

But this isn’t another story about airlines treating us like self-loading toxic cargo, which is apparently what some crewmembers now call us.
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5 phone tips for escalating your problem to someone who cares

Konstantin/Shutterstock
Konstantin/Shutterstock
The first rule of solving a customer-service problem may be to get everything in writing, but there are exceptions to every rule.

For some issues — a quick product question or a change in reservation — a phone call might still work fastest.

Or not. Phone agents can waste your time with scripts and long hold times. That’s when you need to know how to escalate your call to someone who can help you.

Here are a few tips to help you get that decision-maker on the phone:
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Help, my Honda radio is on the blink

Dubassy/Shutterstock
Dubassy/Shutterstock

Question: A few days ago, the display on the radio of my 2003 Honda Accord went on the blink. The radio still works, but I can’t see any of the stations.

I called Honda customer service and mentioned that I’d done some research and found that the radios on the 2003 Honda Accords had this problem. She looked into your corporate records and told me that there was a class-action suit and Honda would repair the defective radios for seven years or 110,000 miles. She told me that since that time has elapsed, Honda could not take care of the problem.
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“I was so touched I almost cried”

GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.com
GuoZhongHua / Shutterstock.com

LuAnn Ezeonu’s son is a United States Marine deployed in Afghanistan. A year ago, before he left the country, he bought a laptop computer and an iPod from the Apple Store at the Flatiron Crossing Mall in Broomfield, Colo.

By the time he returned to the States, his electronics were in bad shape. Which is where today’s story of unbelievable customer service picks up: with Ezeonu’s son bringing the dented equipment back to Apple after his deployment.

“He returned from his first deployment with a computer and iPod that were dusty, sandy, beat up and the disk drive in the computer wasn’t working,” she remembers. “We took it to this same Apple store.”
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To the caring employees at Vons in Chatsworth, Calif. — thank you!

Falling bullets/Flickr
Falling bullets/Flickr

Mimi Rosenblatt lives in Los Angeles. She’s unemployed and disabled, having suffered from lung cancer that metastasized to her brain. Even a seemingly simple task like grocery shopping can be a challenge for her.

“I often stand there, looking for something,” she says.

Rosenblatt contacted me recently to let me know about the extraordinarily helpful workers at Vons, a local grocery store chain.

“An employee is always there, not only to tell me where the item is, but to actually take me there,” she says.
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3 reasons you should love a customer service meltdown

Marco Prati/Shutterstock
Marco Prati/Shutterstock
Spectacular customer service failures are the grist of my consumer advocacy mill.

But some of the loudest implosions are off limits to me. Like the young blogger who was reportedly booted from a United Airlines flight. His crime? Taking pictures of his seat in apparent violation of the airline’s photography policy.

Even though colleagues urged me to come to his assistance, I couldn’t. He didn’t ask me for help, and I have a strict policy of staying away from cases where I’m not invited.
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“There were angels all around me on that JetBlue flight”

Christopher Parypa / Shutterstock.com
Christopher Parypa / Shutterstock.com
Early boarding privileges are typically reserved for frequent fliers and passengers with obvious disabilities. But on a recent JetBlue Airways flight from Boston to Los Angeles, gate agents granted special access to a passenger whose need wasn’t that apparent, and perhaps even in violation of their own airline’s policy.

Elaine Regienus-Gravbelle, who was recovering from a double mastectomy and two other minor surgeries, was on her way to way home to Redondo Beach, Calif. She asked a ticket agent if she could get on the plane first.
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It’s great to have Bank of America in my corner — seriously

Oksix/Shutterstock
Oksix/Shutterstock

Bank of America gets more than its fair share of complaints. But Ann Rieke just had a terrific experience with her B of A credit card, and wanted me to know about it.

Hers is a familiar story. She’d paid $1 to get her “free” credit score through a fly-by-night company online. “When we called, a representative said it was ‘plain as day’ I was signing up for a monthly report.”

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Will government cutbacks hurt travelers?

Tratong/Shutterstock
Tratong/Shutterstock
Although it may be weeks before the full effects of the government sequester are felt, many travelers say that they’re prepared for whatever’s coming down the road.

A mandatory 3 percent cut in the federal budget, which would translate into a 9 percent reduction in the nation’s non-defense discretionary budget for the rest of 2013, could see cutbacks in a wide range of government services, from air traffic controllers to airport security screening.

“The sequester will have a very serious impact on the transportation services that are critical to the traveling public and to the nation’s economy,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared before the sequester took effect on March 1.
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