I recently booked a ticket for a flight to Israel. A few days before the flight I decided to check the reservation and noticed to my amazement that the airline moved my seat from an aisle seat to a middle seat. Since there were a few seats available – I tried to change my seat (online) with no success. When I called the customer service center, the customer service representative told me (in a fairly rude manner) that nothing could be done and those seemingly available seats are just a system-glitch. Not convinced, I asked to speak with her supervisor. The supervisor was quite helpful in explaining that in the next 24 hours nothing can be done since this is probably due to a “freeze” put on seat assignment by Delta while they make changes to the plane-assignment. He also promised to monitor the situation in the next 24 hours and make the changes on my behalf. To my surprise I got a phone call on Christmas morning from the supervisor ( I guess he realized that if I book a flight to Israel, pretty likely I am not observing Christmas). He said that he checked the situation and that I got bumped from my aisle seat because of a group that booked the flight and the available seats are actually waiting for them. I protested and said that while I understand that seat assignments are never guaranteed, this is just not fair. The supervisor agreed and changed my seat to the exit row.
There are several interesting points that come out of this story:
First, when we teach lean operations, we discuss the importance of escalating problems so more senior people are aware of them and take part in solving them. This is usually done by allowing the line-workers (or those closer to the customers) to pull the legendary Andon-cord. In a service experience – you, the customer can pull the cord and escalate the case. Even though the supervisor agreed that some of the issues here require improvement (the fact that I was not notified for the seat change, the fact that the system shows available seats which are not available, and the fact that the service agent was rude) – my guess is that since I “pulled the cord” nothing will be done.
Second, I think that this is an interesting case of service recovery. Things happen. We all understand that. The question is how firms handle these cases. Whether it was a mistake to move me or not – the fact was that it happened and I was a dissatisfied customer. The customer service representative was just not willing to admit that I was mistreated and deserved to feel frustrated. Moreover, she exacerbated the issue by being rude. On the other side of the spectrum, the supervisor did above and beyond what I expected him to do. I am not sure what part of this experience was due to the personalities of the agents, and what was due to the service procedures of Delta. I would guess that the inability to solve matters at the low-level is very much attributable to the procedures.