The fastest way to cut customer complaints is to make it so hard or pointless to complain that they don’t bother. Research studies published several years ago suggested that only one person in 26 with a reason to complain would do so. Despite the expression “I would rather you complained to me than about me,” many companies still work hard to keep you from complaining. Not by doing an exemplary job, but rather by making it hard to complain.
You’ve probably all seen the sticky note pad that consists of Post It notes that are about 1/8″ by 1/8″ with a note above it that says, “If you have a complaint, write it clearly on the note pad below.” As funny as that is supposed to be, the airlines have pretty much taken it to heart. Well at least two of them.
More than a year ago, American Airlines eliminated your ability to lodge a complaint (other than about an existing flight that had not left the ground) via phone. All complaints had to be written, either snail mail or e-mail. I learned this by having a complaint and being told I had to e-mail it. I did and about 2 months later I got a reply. Useful, but not at all timely. I responded by saying thank you and mentioning the length of time it took to get a response. To which I got no response. (BTW, as you might expect I have logged 2M miles with American Airlines, so I probably get better attention paid to me than most. So go figure what happens if you are an infrequent traveler with an issue.)
This program must be working pretty well from the airlines’ viewpoint because United Airlines just announced a similar policy. This will undoubtedly lower their overhead since they can reduce the telephone staff taking complaints. Maybe not a bad idea, actually.
Why do I say that? The primary purpose for getting complaints is to use those complaints to improve you offering and potentially to convert “assassins” into “advocates.” Since the airlines clearly don’t use complaints for either of those purposes, then there probably is no point in pretending to deal with them.
There is a small benefit to me. I had stopped flying American very much due to their policy, despite the fact that I like their planes better (they consistently have seat power that I can use to extend the useful life of my laptop on long flights and the other airlines do not usually have seat power on domestic flights). Now that United, the other airline I fly a lot, has instituted the same policy, there is no reason for me to boycott American.
Make it hard to complain and people just complain about you, and you have no ability to get better. But, as Tom Peters said in 1982, “If you raise your level of customer service to mediocre, you can stand out in the crowd.” Still true today in the airline industry.