This has nothing to do with photography, or Photoshop, so you can just skip it if you’d like, but it has everything to do with how not to treat your customers, and how US Airways, whom I didn’t think could afford to lose another customer, just lost me as one.

An offer that’s easy to refuse
It started when I got an email from US Airways letting me know that the 81,000+ miles I had accrued as part of their “Dividend Miles” frequent flyer program had expired because I hadn’t flown US Airways since 2008.

In the email, they offered me three ways to get my miles back:

(1) Pay $300
(2) Get a US Airways VISA card
(3) Pay for a First Class Ticket on US Airways

Basically, they gave me three options—which all favor US Airways—for me to get my miles back.

The problem is: I flew US Airways twice last year, and I had the email confirms and receipts to prove it.

This should be an easy fix, right?
I logged in to my account on the US Airways Website, and this is what came up:

So I called US Airways, referenced my two missing flights from 2009, and asked if they would reinstate my miles. They said a resounding “No!” The customer service rep said I hadn’t supplied my Dividend Miles number when booking the trips, so those US Airways flights (even though they can see on my account that I took them), don’t count, and they’re keeping my miles.

A travel agent actually books my flights, and they apparently didn’t give US Airways my number. Well, I asked “couldn’t we just add those in now? You see them right there on your computer?”The less than helpful US Air Customer Service rep told me that they couldn’t just add my number now, because it’s outside their time limit to do so. I would have had to catch the mistake last year.

Certainly there’s some reasonable way to fix this, right?
I asked her what she could do to help get my miles back and keep me as a US Airways customer, and she said my only options still were:

(1) Pay $300
(2) Get a US Air VISA card
(3) Pay for a First Class Ticket on US Airways

And now she’s starting to get kind of snippy with me.

It takes a lot to get me upset
But I’m starting to get there. We argued each others point back and forth, totally going nowhere, and finally I said this:

“Look, I’ve obviously flown at least 81,000 miles with your airline, not including the two flights that I didn’t get credited for (I know, it’s my fault), but you’re still totally willing to lose me as a customer forever rather than give me those 81,000 miles that I earned back, right?”

She didn’t answer. She just irritatedly repeated the three options with which I can “buy” my miles back. All three of which benefit US Airways, and not me, their customer.

I wasn’t ready to give up
I mentioned to her that in each issue of US Airways in-flight magazine is a letter from Doug Parker, US Airways Chairman and CEO, and I had remembered reading his letter on one of my US Airways flights where he talked about his customer service group’s “Commitment to excellence,” and about creating a truly great airline, and I asked her if this was an example of that commitment to US Airways customers he was talking about? She paused, then told me (I am not making this up), his letter had nothing to do with my situation.

I went on to tell her that if we couldn’t work this out, my next call would be to my travel agent—not to yell at them for not providing my frequent flyer number, but to tell them to never, ever, under any circumstances to book me on a US Airways flight.

She said, “It’s the customer’s responsibility to monitor their Dividend Miles account; to contact US Airways if the dividend miles weren’t credited properly.” She then nastily reiterated the three ways I could benefit US Airways by paying them to reinstate the miles I had already earned.”

I assured that I wasn’t going to take one of those options, and I let her know that not only was she absolutely no help to me whatsoever in resolving my problem, but that she was not help to US Airways that day either, but apparently US Airways has so much business, that losing another customer just doesn’t matter.

She didn’t argue the point, and I hung up with steam coming out of my ears.

But I just don’t represent one passenger. My company flies literally hundreds of people around the world all year long. We fly over 100 staff and instructors just to our two Photoshop World conferences alone, plus we fly an entire team to our 80+ seminars around the world each year, plus all the conferences, workshops, and events we hold and/or attend each year. How many of those do you think we’ll be booking on US Airways going forward?

They “Got Me” on a technicality
They were right. I didn’t provide the number. I didn’t catch it in time. It’s 100% my fault. And when I talked to the US Airways customer service rep, she let me know in no uncertain terms that I was in the wrong, and therefore she didn’t feel the least bit compelled to help me. She didn’t get a supervisor. She didn’t offer an alternative. She didn’t offer anything but a nasty attitude and blame. So, they “got me” on a technicality. Congratulations US Airways—-you won. You got my 81,000 miles back. But you lost another customer who had flown nearly 100,000 miles on your airline. Way to go!

Why this stuff matters
Bad customer service particularly grates me, because in my own company we work so hard to provide exceptional customer service. A week doesn’t go by when I don’t get a personal email, or even a handwritten letter from one of our customers telling me about how someone in our customer services dept. went out of their way, or above and beyond the call, to help them out. I hear it all the time. I’ve had people wait in line between sessions at my one-day seminars—not to ask a question, but to congratulate me on our company’s customer service, and to acknowledge how much our team truly cares. It totally makes my day.

We’re not perfect, and we make mistakes like every other company, but where we really shine is when we have screwed up. We admit it, then we bend over backwards to make things more than right. We’re still a small company—and we’re not in a position like US Airways clearly must be, where customers are expendable. Every one matters to us.

It’s not all airlines
I had an issue with a Delta flight earlier this year in Atlanta so I sent an email letting them know what happened. I also told them I wasn’t look for any compensation whatsoever, but I thought they had done something that kind of messed up our trip a bit, and thought they should know. They immediately wrote back, had looked into the problem, offered a detailed and sincere apology, and had already credited all nine of us back $200 each for our inconvenience (that was above and beyond service). It wasn’t just that they gave us the credit. It was how they handled it. It was clear, they cared.

So, although US Airways just lost another customer, Delta just gained a new one.

By the way, how have your experiences with US Airways been?

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About The Author

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for Photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books.