Thursday, October 18, 2007

Another 'ignore bloggers, this is what you get' cautionary tale for companies

Alex recently blogged about the all-too-frequent tale of inadequate customer service, this time coming from Spirit Airlines. I'm not going to get into the details, you can check them out here. Where the story gets interesting is in how Spirit Airlines replied to complaints and concerns raised by its customers.

James and Christy flew Spirit for the first time to attend a concert in Atlanta. But due to numerous delays by Spirit, James and Christy didn't arrive in Atlanta in time to attend the concert, which was the only reason for their trip to Atlanta. They documented the problems they encountered with the airline in an email to Spirit CEO Ben Baldanza and a few other workers for the airline. The email is reprinted here.

Here's where the fun starts. Apparently, Baldanza meant to send an internal email to the other members of the airline that James and Christy CCed, but instead hit 'Reply to All' and send the following email to everyone, including James and Christy:

"Please respond, Pasquale, but we owe him nothing as far as I'm concerned. Let him tell the world how bad we are. He's never flown us before anyway and will be back when we save him a penny."

Oh man! Predictably, this story was already gaining steam as comments were flowing into Alex's blog from fellow Spirit customers that had also received less than stellar service. But this colossal email blunder simply lit the fuse. The Consumerist picked up on it. Then the Chicago Tribune referenced the episode in an article about customer complaints about the airline industry. And if you thought Baldanza's email blunder was bad, check out what Spirit spokeswoman Alison Russell told the paper when asked about James and Christy's complaint:

"We wouldn't respond to a blog post. This goes back to the larger question of the veracity of everything you read on Internet blogs. Our customer service is great."

No Allison, it goes back to the larger issue of when companies ignore their customers, especially their blogging customers, it always comes back to bite them. Baldanza flippantly quipped "Let him tell the world how bad we are". Well you got your wish buddy.

And as Dell found out with 'Dell Hell' refusing to respond to bloggers IS your response. And it's about the worst one you can make. No, scratch that, refusing to comment, and THEN implying that you can't trust what bloggers write is probably the worst reply possible.

And sure enough, Alex's original Do Not Fly Spirit Airlines is now the #2 Google search result for 'Spirit Airlines', behind only the company's website, and ahead of its Wikipedia entry.

Think about that for a moment. Anyone that searches for Spirit Airlines is going to have a post entitled 'Do Not Fly Spirit Airlines' staring them in the face. Now do some guessing at how much money Spirit is going to lose as a result of how they handled this episode.

So what would you tell Spirit that their next move should be to come back from this? Remember that as bad a blunder as Dell Hell was for Dell, 3 years later the company now has an excellent reputation for properly utilizing social media and sites. So if Dell can do it, so can Spirit.

But if you could sit Ben and Allison and the rest of the company's management down, what would you tell them about how they could salvage this situation and correct their actions here?

Hint for Spirit: Notice what I just did, instead of giving you a list of what *I* think you should do, I asked for my community's help. Because the community is ALWAYS smarter than you are. Understanding that is step one.

PS: Thanks to Josh for mentioning this story.

Bonus Link: For the other side of the coin, look what happened when Zappos went out of its way to give excellent customer service to a blogger. Hat tip to Kristen!

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Unknown said...

This is a great post Mack. I will write about it too.

Spirit should say they goofed with those responses, eat crow, and start listening.
B.L. Ochman

Anonymous said...

Mack -- At this point in time I cannot believe that a major corporation could be so shortsighted. It absolutely makes you wonder what else they are shortsighted on. To think they're this out of touch and vindictive towards customers is shocking. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Classic example of how airlines treat customers. Nice post! Isn't it great to see that blog media is becoming so mainstream?

Anonymous said...

"Your attention please, passengers.

"We are about to begin our descent into total obscurity and inevitable bankruptcy. We thank you for flying with Spirit Airlines, but in truth, we couldn't give a flying fart (get it?) about you.

If you have customer service issues, please address them on our website, where they will be ignored along with the rest of the rhetoric on that meaningless medium you so affectionately refer to as 'the internet.' I mean really, who reads the internet??"

When will they learn??

Mack Collier said...

LOL Too funny Jordan, and likely spot-on.

Uwe Hook said...

Looking at the airline landscape, only JetBlue, Southwest and maybe Virgin America have some idea of customer experiences and how to deal with dissatisfied customers.
Spirit joined my ever growing shit list.

gianandrea said...

The man, Baldanza I mean, is great.
But he represents what many managers around think of their customers and of Internet. For many of these board people, we as customers are only numbers on the way to get their goal and the bonuses linked to it. How many mails like this one have been sent internally? I'm afraid a lot.

Anonymous said...

I'm litereally cringing at Ben Baldanza's quote. How old is this guy??

Unknown said...

Wow great post. I always fly Spirit because of their prices and have never had a problem. However after reading this I may just rethink my future travel plans.

I think that Spirit needs to realize the power of the internet and truly needs people blogging about the positives.

I look forward to seeing how they handle this one so thanks for bringing it to my attention!!

Mack Collier said...

Lisa not sure, but I'm thinking he's getting a few gray hairs over this slip-up!

"I think that Spirit needs to realize the power of the internet and truly needs people blogging about the positives."

I think Spirit needs to find a way to CREATE something positive to blog about.

I think that starts with taking the time to listen to and learn from the very people they are so blithely dismissing.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Apparently, they also don’t know their way around email either. NEVER hit ‘Reply all’ without first checking.


Funny too how Drudge not too long ago was given no cred by the mainstream media, and now the NYT is singing their praises.

Yep, us bloggers=dumb, right?

Daniel B Stern said...

Now I am going to take a risk here by speaking somewhat at odds to the community.

But before I start ruffling feathers, I would like to make these two disclaimers:

1. I generally feel that customer service at major corporations is frequently less than adequate.

2. I generally feel that major corporations should pay more attention, and lend more credence to, the blog community... although not because the blog community is a prodigal brainchild, but merely because it is good business.

That being said, I cannot fully empathize with the "victims" in this situation. Everyone should fully internalize that airports are subject to delays, which is something entirely different than airlines. Airlines cannot control what how airports are organized. (perhaps this comment ignores some of the realities of this example, but people frequently confuse the two). Thus, if someone does not plan appropriately, there is a good chance that your engagement will be missed. Plan accordingly! Furthermore, the couple ended up taking the flight, when they should have been aware that they were going to miss the concert, and asked for the refund (or credit), at the counter before they boarded the plane.

Now, Baldanza's response is certainly less than admirable for many reasons; but I do not think one of those reasons is the heart of what he is saying. Sure, I do would not appreciate his tone, but should the couple really receive a refund? I personally do not think so. While I used to love to hate big corporations, if you think about it as two people dealing with one another, some of the biases against big corporations might be removed... and you might be able to empathize with Baldanza's response. Refunding a ticket every time someone misses something is bad business, and unjustifiably prohibitive. Nevertheless, Baldanza could have expressed it in a lighter tone. Would people have been as outraged if he had? I don't think so. But then again, he didnt realize he was in the public eye (his own stupid mistake) and all of us bloggers often express ourselves differently when we are aware that we are being watched.

I'm sure this will be received coolly, but I felt an alternate perspective should be expressed.

Mack Collier said...

"I'm sure this will be received coolly, but I felt an alternate perspective should be expressed."{

Daniel I think you make a lot of sense. And to be fair, there are plenty of CEOs that have sent emails internally just like the one Baldanza accidentally sent to 2 customers.

But the kicker for me is Baldanza's email and THEN Allison's comment. Speaking as a spokesperson for the company, she said that Spirit doesn't read blogs, and implied that you cannot trust bloggers.

This type of massive blunder could be somewhat understandable back in 2004 when Dell made an almost identical mistake in unleashing Dell Hell. But to take the same stance in 2007 is completely unforgivable.

Daniel B Stern said...

Mack... like I said, I generally agree; and I particularly agree with the notion that blogs can be an important source of information, that, when paid their proper heed, can help guide a corporation's public relations and marketing strategies. I simply want to temper the typical knee jerk anti-corporation sentiment that is so typical in these situations. In that light, I particularly admire how you keep that even keel, by inviting companies like Spirit, that have erred, to come and participate.

Mack Collier said...

"I simply want to temper the typical knee jerk anti-corporation sentiment that is so typical in these situations. In that light, I particularly admire how you keep that even keel, by inviting companies like Spirit, that have erred, to come and participate."

I can't speak for anyone else, but I want to bring attention to stories like this with the hope that the company involved will wake up and realize that they need to educate themselves on what exactly social media is, and how we are using it. Allison's comments on behalf of Spirit show that the company has absolutely no clue what social media and the blogosphere is, or how embracing both could help their company.

It's a shame to see a company totally ignore people and tools that could benefit them so greatly. And that's exactly why we need to point out these blunders, but also invite the companies to come tell their sides of the story. If we can somehow get them involved in any way, they might begin to see what the 'big deal' really is.

Anonymous said...

Once apon a time, we as employees at spirit were able to give great customer service. But that was before Mr Baldanza came along. Now were are told by our wonderul CEO and other high up people in the company that, "you get what you pay for." Mr Baldanza has taken all the tools away from us that we need to provide customer service. He has even treatned to fire the Flight Attendants if they give a can of coke or a bottle of water away with out charging the customer for it. Mr Baldanza has quoted that if a customer does not have a credit card then i guess they wont be able to get a drink onboard. Not even a glass of water is free anymore. NO CREDIT CARD means NO DRINK, NO MATTER WHAT.

Anonymous said...