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Did THAT Just Happen? Up Close and Personal with United Customer Service

“There is a huge misconception in the multichannel world that the personal connection is no longer necessary,” says Mariann McDonagh, CMO for inContact. “WRONG! Just because you give a customer every channel they want, doesn’t mean that they also don’t want to talk to a real person now and again.”

Getting Personal

Surprise, surprise; I was checking in online for another flight. This time a long-haul to LHR to attend the Call Centre conference in London. Although I had a decent seat in Economy Plus, I was admittedly a tad dismayed to fly coach for that distance. My disappointment was compounded by the knowledge that my husband would be wining and dining without me in First class (he was flying with frequent flyer miles and I with a corporate-paid coach ticket).  So during the check-in process I decided to spring for the upgrade to BusinessFirst, and at least get within a cabin of him. Unfortunately I  found myself thwarted yet again. No seats available. Full cabin. Sad girl.

There had been plenty of seats when I’d peeked the evening before, so I took a gamble and called customer service to see if they could assist. No luck there either. “You know the drill,” the very apologetic agent said. “They might release seats tomorrow. In the meantime I’ll add you to the waitlist and hopefully something clears.”

Not feeling very optimistic, I went back to my day and plotted ways to punish my husband for our soon-to-be cabin and flight experience disparity.

Then something unexpected happened. Things got personal.

Speechless, Just Call Me Speechless

Later that afternoon United called me. To be more specific, it was the same agent I had spoken to less than 2 hours before.

“Your upgrade cleared!” she excitedly proclaimed. “I just saw it come through and I wanted to call and let you know right away!”

I was speechless.

“I really didn’t want you going to bed tonight thinking that you were flying economy. Even though it would have been a nice surprise for you at the airport tomorrow, I thought you’d rather know you were upgraded now instead of later. Now you can really enjoy your evening.”

Still speechless.

Did that just happen? Did the United agent actually just call me? Her job was officially done the second she processed my upgrade request and hung up the phone with me. There was no reason to personally call me. Except…

“One personalized proactive experience can completely transform your perception. It transforms the relationship between a brand and the consumer,” says McDonagh.

Karmic Service Points

In an interview I conducted last week with McDonagh at the inContact Customer User Conference (ICUC13), she elaborated a little further on the need for a more personalized customer  experience. “ Think of personalization and unexpected proactivity as karmic service points. A customer is banking that karmic goodwill. And so when you as the brand mess up, and you will mess up, all those good karmic service points will help negate the bad ones.”

Bingo. That bit of proactivity by the customer service agent just bought United a jarful of “Sarah as a more patient and understanding flyer” karmic service points. And trust me, everyone wants that.

My only frustration in this whole experience? I was so taken aback by the call that I literally was speechless and neglected to ask the agent’s name. Hopefully her good karma comes back to reward.

To learn more about the recent research conducted by ICMI and inContact, check out  the soon-to-be published whitepaper “Overcoming Productivity and Efficiency Challenges in the Multichannel Contact Center” and  “The Multichannel Agent: A 2014 Contact Center Roadmap, Research Report and Best Practices Guide”.