Saturday, February 14, 2009

United Resourcefulness

So you'll remember that I took a little trip back in August to present my research at the 2008 AEJMC convention. I even made a video about my trip to Chicago.

Well, needless to say probably, the trip was relatively expensive for a graduate student. The registration fee for a graduate student for the conference was $105, and I found an airfare/hotel package through United for $535.55 (Roanoke to O'Hare round trip and one night in the Hyatt at Rosemont). So, of course, I wanted to try to get some of that reimbursed. A student organization I belong to covered the registration fee, and I applied for a travel fund program through the university-wide graduate student organization to try to get some of the travel money reimbursed.

I was awarded $150 toward my costs, which would be a pretty big help. Then I found out that in addition to all of the paperwork I had already done (submitting receipts, forms, etc.) to get the award, I also needed to provide my department with additional documentation to receive it. They wanted an itemized breakdown of the travel costs. That is, the cost for the airfare and the hotel separately instead of the total package included on my receipt. Here's where the story gets interesting...

...I am on the phone with a lady at United (think she's in Hawaii), and when I ask her for the breakdown, she tells me $111.55 for the hotel and $424 for the flight. OK, cool. Of course, my department, it seems, needs this in writing. So, I call United again and get someone else who tells me she has no access to such information and that she can't give me the breakdown I was previously given in an e-mail that refers to my confirmation number. Of course, I think (read: know) she's full of crap, so I eventually ask her to speak to someone who can send me what I need in writing. Apparently, accounting now handles customer relations because she said that's the department I needed to speak with.

Here's the catch: when I asked to be transfered to accounting, she told me she couldn't do that. So I asked for their number. She said she didn't have the direct number for them. After a few minutes of trying to get her to explain to me (A) how she doesn't know how to use the transfering feature on her phone and (B) how accounting operates without any phones in their offices, she finally told me I would need to submit my request via e-mail. She did not know to what person I should address my request, and she just said to send a message with what I need to an obscure e-mail address. So, I did, and I got a reply saying I would receive a repsonse within 30 days. Here's where it gets even more interesting, and where the resourcefulness part comes in...

...I call the same number I had called before.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I don't lie to people. I am very honest. That being said, I also don't let organizations with poor communication skills push me around until I get what is rightfully mine. I mean, c'mon, I already paid them for this trip months ago, so why the heck can't I know how much I paid for what services and get it in writing immediately? If the first lady I spoke with was able to give me the breakdown so quickly, she could've copied and pasted that info in an e-mail in less than a minute I'm sure.

So the next lady who answers asks me what she can do for me. I tell her that I was told to call that number and ask for John in accounting. (Every accounting department must have a John, right?) She seems a bit thrown off, and she asks me to hold for a few seconds. When she comes back on the line, she asks for my confirmation number, and then asks me who told me to call her.

My response was something along the line of, "Uh, I don't know, I've already talked to so many people, but they said they were going to put me through to this department and that I should ask for John in accounting. I think that was his name, anyway..."

The lady says she can't find an extension for John, but that she'll just have to put me through to what I think she called the revenue department and I could ask for him there. Bingo! The first person who answers the phone after that pulls up my file, finds the breakdown and e-mails me a PDF of all the information I need within five minutes. I felt pretty good about being able to finally get the information, but I felt pretty bad that customer relations at United Airlines is that poor. Really? We have to lie to you to get information about a purchase for which we already paid you? Give me a break.


Beamer said...

Nice job buddy. You have to game customer service if you want anything done. I learned a few tricks while I temped in a position like that. I always try hitting 0 when the options start because it usually leads directly to a real person.

JD said...

Ha, yeah I was doing the zero thing quite a bit too.

I felt bad about my deception for a couple of seconds until I realized that they were the ones jerking me around.