As a loyal fan of Air France, we are sad to say goodbye to the French airline that has left us with no choice but to sever our relationship of 11 years.
It is through mistakes that we learn and gain precious knowledge we previously did not have. However, it is unfortunate that some companies prefer to ignore their mistakes than addressing it appropriately, thinking the problem itself would go away.
This article is about how good companies can avoid making the same mistakes an airlines made.
Our experience with Air France used to be a stellar one hence year after year we have remained a loyal customer to the airline which in our opinion held a spotless track record for departing on time and arriving earlier at the destinations.
On 30 January 2015, that changed. Half an hour after boarding completion, we were still exactly where we were, waiting aimlessly as we looked around a plane full of tired passengers way past 1.05am which was the flight departure time. Finally, an announcement over the PA system from the captain said that they were experiencing air traffic clearance issues from a middle-eastern country.
We were taken back as never once has our flight with Air France been delayed for more than 15 minutes. This time, flight AF259 which was destined to arrive at 8.05am landed at 9.30am.
As a result, our baggage was delayed, we missed the next two connecting flights and had to purchase flight tickets that cost more than our original flight ticket with Air France.
Dealing with Air France Customer Service
We visited the Air France office in Paris in person and were told that they were unable to handle our situation in Paris despite the disputed flight delay destination was Paris.
The staff handed us a scrap of paper with the Air France URL printed on it and told us to lodge our request online.
On the week we arrived back in Singapore, we wrote to them. After hearing no response for two weeks, we decided to call them.
Un-contactable Customer Service
We were shocked to find that the customer service centre was opened for a mere 3 hours a day on weekdays only. Air France Contact centre opening hours: Monday to Friday from 9.30 AM - 11.00 AM and from 1.00 PM - 2.30 PM
When we finally called them, they said no one had been looking into our case. We expressed discontent and they finally said they would look into it as soon as possible.
The next day, Air France e-mailed us saying they were unable to accept any liability for any loss due to the "unexpected nature" of this incident. However, this was nothing "unexpected" for a routine daily flight preparation.
Dissatisfied with the answer we got, we filed another request and posted a summary on Facebook in hopes of getting a quicker response.
Inadequate Social Media Community Management
A French lady wrote back to us on Facebook. However, unable to understand her English, we requested to be referred to another colleague. We received a call at 12.30am that night from Air France. They asked us to submit a new request.
One week later, Air France had written back to us saying "No" to our claims. They simply copied and pasted the same legalities onto the e-mail thinking it would suffice as an explanation.
What Could Have Been Done
1) Responded quicker
The airline's customer service team took two weeks even before they start to respond to a simple issue - flight delay resulting in passengers missing connecting flights which we are asking to be compensated for.
For a faster response rate, the team should have a standard procedure in place.
2) Social media staff was inept
A French staff who did not understand English well was put in charge of mending the international Facebook page communications. She was unable to retrieve our case records even after we had provided her a reference number.
Because of poor internal co-ordination and unavailability of shared information, our experience was frustrating and there was a delayed response time. We also had to request to speak to someone else.
3) Each incident should be evaluated differently
Even after expressing concern that we have been loyal customers of Air France for 11 years in a row and it was our first bad experience, it did not matter.
It made no difference whether a customer service officer or manager wrote back to us. The response was the same - denying any responsibility for the inconvenience caused and shoving European Union legalities which were of no interest to any upset customer.
Each incident should be handled on a case by case basis. Putting into consideration a customer's experience with the product, loyalty, purchase patterns, evaluate the value of the relationship and the impact that could happen if no satisfactory or fair offer were to be provided to the customer. In other words, make a calculated, wise decision.
Empowering different levels of staff to make decisions and provide options to a customer in distress would be much better than offering none.
The lack of logical analysis, customer service skills and inability to empathise with a customer demonstrated that Air France is inept in handling customer complaints, does not care about the customer and has appalling standards of after-sales service.
In choosing to indemnify itself away from all liabilities, instead of offering some form of compensation for it's mistakes, Air France appears to be a fair-weather friend and selfish company that will only continue to alienate itself away from loyal customers.
Since Air France standards have dropped sharply and they prefer to treat their customers unfairly to improve their bottom-line in the short-term, we are left with no other option but to pledge our loyalty with another airline.