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Is Your Customer Service in it for the Long U-Haul?

By DOM Team| 16 Min Read | August 27, 2008

This past couple of weeks has been the best of times, but it’s also been the worst of times. I foolhardily coordinated our move back up round Cleveland the same weekend I left for England to go and surprise my Gran for her 90th. Yet it takes somebody who bleeds idiot or has serious luck issues to rent a 24 foot U-Haul truck that has a zombie battery, locks their keys in the trunk, misses flights, spends an exorbitant amount one way to get to their connecting flight only for it to be canceled on arrival, and has their laptop screen broken.

I get a little bit peeved at my lifelong insistence on jazzing up the mundane to heart attack proportions, but all in all I’m quite Zen about stuff going wrong or right. Fists pummeling dashboards is nothing more than a meditative chi release.

It seemed like an exceptional idea to finish work on the Friday, have the movers turn up to load the truck at 8.30pm, and drive the three hours it takes to get to Avon that evening. It didn’t seem quite as good an idea once the truck’s battery had died on Main St. after only spending a few minutes with the hazard warning lights on. Thankfully, the lovely moving chaps had the mother of all jump leads so it wasn’t an issue. Me locking the car keys in the trunk of the car was slightly more problematic. But our mover chappies came up trumps again. Although the only thing we had at hand was an old fishing rod that I had to snap the individual eyelets off so they could access the door release with it. First time it’s actually caught something – har de har – and the last as it sacrificed itself snapping in two.

So, at approximately 11.30pm we embarked on our move, to arrive at 3.30am. We were tired. We’d planned to have packed a mattress, or at least blankets last thing so we could just whip something out to sleep on. But of course they’d been packed first thing (our fault, of course). The floor was cold and hard and afforded us no more than a couple of hours of interrupted kip. After spending the day unloading without incident, Steph, her Dad and brother went to take the truck back leaving me to gaily spin around on my leather executive chair on the patio.

Three hours later and my head had spun about its axis and left orbit after coordinating with the mechanics, U-Haul and Steph over the plight of the truck which had packed up again at the gas station. They’d done nothing more than leave the key in the ignition to ensure they put the required 5/8ths of a tank of fuel in the tank prior to returning it. Instead it’d given up the ghost and was taking up two gas pumps, much to the slight dismay of the gas station manager.

U-Haul: You Can’t Crash ‘Em if You Can’t Start ‘Em!

There are plenty of questions to be asked on the where and why front of this Saturday afternoon escapade, but the bottom line was that I had the contact cell phone and the Steph party only had a pay phone at their disposal. I kept explaining how I didn’t rightly know what was wrong with the truck or where they were exactly, which obviously didn’t cheer the mechanic chap up, but U-Haul had had it all explained to them by Steph and they only had to relay that information to the mechanic. Three hours later after a gesundheit of phone calls to and fro and fro and to, I was guiding the mechanic to his ultimate destination as he sounded on the verge of tears not being able to find. It transpired that he’d been given a slightly wrong address and his GPS was therefore leading him a merry dance. It was my suggestion of actually stopping and asking somebody that happened to save the day. What a quaint concept.

I was already feeling a bit jet-lagged from the lack of sleep and general weekend trauma when the alarm went at 4am on Monday morning as I was catching a 6.24am flight to New York from Akron/Canton. I’d cannily checked in online the night previously outside our local Panera Bread and noticed I only had to arrive ten minutes prior to take-off. This is the sort of information that leads to all manner of bother as I wasn’t requiring too much of an invitation to spend an extra half hour in the land of nod as I hadn’t managed double figures shut-eye in three whole nights. Before we left the garage the Garmin was telling us we were barely going to make the airport before the plane took off let alone make the departure gate ten minutes beforehand. But, like all delusional goons we held out for some form of divine intervention or wormhole to tickle the tatties of time. For the record, Steph will never make it in NASCAR.

After being laughed at by the Air Trannie at the check-in for suggesting meekly whether the plane could hold on for a minute, I had to tear back up to Cleveland Hopkins as the next flight to La Guardia from Canton/Akron wasn’t until 2.30pm or so and my flight to Chicago left at 2.55pm, and with it being the first leg of an international escapade I had to be there two hours before. I knew they flew more regularly from Cleveland, but that it was a tad more expensive, but I wasn’t blowing my Gran’s birthday, only money. Although, she had no idea I was going so what difference would it make?

I’ve never felt a wave of relief, horror and helplessness until the Continental guy swiped my debit card for a one-way ticket from Cleveland to La Guardia leaving approximately half an hour from time of swipe. Never has $434 seemed so right and so wrong. At least the ticket was refundable. Anyway, I bid my wife a fond farewell and was ushered through expedited security by the kind Continental chap who’d saved my life/fleeced me rotten. My giving up smoking and intermittent bouts of Tai Chi were really paying dividends as I power walked/jogged my way to the gate. I felt a certain smugness arriving with ten minutes to spare and boarded the plane having not even broken a sweat – only the skin on the side of my hands from bouncing them off the dashboard on the hour drive up to Cleveland.

No sooner were we all aboard and raring to go than we were off again; the blooming cart thingy that pushes the plane backwards had packed up and the time it took for a new one to arrive had caused us to lose our turn in the lift-off line. We disembarked and had to wait another hour. Thankfully, Gate C14 at Cleveland Hopkins manages to pick up some free wifi, so I managed to occupy myself. By ten we were back on and jockeying for take-off with the Captain telling us that Continental HQ had informed him there was a slot, but that air traffic control at Cleveland telling him there wasn’t. I’m kinda glad that air traffic control won the day even if it meant taxiing all the way back to the gate and getting off again. Apparently La Guardia was shut down due to thunderstorms and was still organizing flights from the previous night’s delays.


We didn’t finally take off until around 12.30. Still plenty of time to catch the 2.55pm to Chicago. On landing at La Guardia and finding my check-in there seemed to be quite a bit of confusion and general irate tension hanging in the air. But, that’s what I associate New York with. How did they ever manage to create a city that simply brings the worst out in everyone? Still, they’re grumpily efficient I suppose. On attempting to perform an electronic check-in my machine went blank and demanded that I see an attendant. The long and short of it was that my flight had been canceled. I also received a telling off from the attendant for not shouting at her. More fool me for attempting to wait my turn. So off I went to join the snaking queue of travelers ranging from the mildly miffed to the disgustingly disgruntled with the odd teary breakdown and threat of violence thrown in just to keep the adrenalin flowing through the veins. I have only ever sworn at two people just doing their job in my life, and both of those have been in New York. It’s safe to say I hate the place. The abrupt rudeness of the woman whose job it was to usher those who were flying soon through the queue was staggering. As stupid as I may be, nobody has the right to make me feel like an idiot for answering in the affirmative to a question involving those flying at 3pm of which I supposed to be one.

All I had on me to contact the outside world was my laptop and my iPod Touch. Wifi was the way. So I whipped out my touch to check for signals and Boingo leapt into my browser informing me that I had the option of 15 mins free service. Who could fault that? At least I could fire off a couple of emails to Steph and my Mum to let them know that whatever was going on I knew my chances of arriving on English soil at the allotted time were slim to none. Thankfully, Steph had emailed me to tell me that my flights had changed. Thanks for pointing out the obvious! Of course, 15 mins is great for getting the word out, but maybe not as clever for getting the word back, but I was fairly confident that I could sort it all out later once I knew my new flight itinerary. It would only cost me $4.95 or so for an hour of Boingo service and that would be enough.

After shuffling down the line I was told by the check-in lass that I could fly the same time the following day or fly to Manchester via London from JFK. I plumped for the same day from JFK as I wasn’t holding out for full reimbursement rights on the flights and I had already delved too far into overdraft land paying for last minute flights. And besides, I really hate New York. So, off I traipsed to catch the shuttle to JFK only to be met by hoards of punters trying to get refunds from the ticket chaps. La Guardia was hardly showing the human condition at its finest.

The new-ish American Airlines terminal at JFK seems rather nice. Quite plush. Almost swish in that post-industrial whiteness type of way. At least it made me feel like plonking my buttocks down and firing off a few emails. With my positive La Guardia Boingo experience still ringing in my intertubes, I didn’t hesitate to seek another play with it. I was quite happy to pay for a bit longer this time, but if I could fire off any responses in another free 15 minute trial on my laptop then hunky dory. My luck was out at JFK, so I just stumped up for the hour. It all started fairly well with me firing off a few emails, but then it all seemed to turn into the Internet on molasses. It was slow; it was breaking connections; it was causing Gmail errors that I’d never seen before. So, I fired off a Tweet in frustration as it appears is par for every other twittering fool when traveling. I am not above the mass of idiots to add to noise levels.

Within ten mins I’d unexpectedly received a tweet back from somebody at Boingo. While I didn’t want to waste too much of my intermittent wifi time tweeting with Boingo representatives slap bang in the middle of a poor customer experience, I was fairly impressed that somebody was monitoring the specific online space that is Twitter.

As customer service goes this is proactive. It’s trying to solve problems that you’re experiencing there and then, and can only be applauded. Unfortunately, I was struggling to engage in any form of dialog due to the service being a bit funky. I’ve no idea what was causing it, and I had similar problems in Chicago O’Hare on the way back, so by a process of elimination it’s either my laptop (RIP) or Boingo. Or perhaps some homeland security nonsense. But the proactive customer service continued when I returned to the UK to find a direct twitter message from Jeremy Pepper at Boingo asking me to email him directly. Now I didn’t email him until things funked out in Chicago as well, but I felt as if they were at least trying to help you out, and for that reason alone I feel they deserved my attention in trying to iron out any problems if I could. You see, while I didn’t exactly have the best of experiences with Boingo wifi, I want to have a good wifi experience with Boingo in the future.

U-Haul, on the other hand, I would like to see wither up, shrivel and die. Like painfully. Thankfully, I only had to deal with them on the Saturday trying to convey simple messages explaining that although I was answering the phone number that had been given at the time of renting, I wasn’t with the truck, nor was I entirely sure what the problem with the truck was or where Steph and her family were. And while I may not have had to explain this into double figures, I went through it more than five times. While I don’t doubt they were trying their best, or perhaps they were too stupid to have a ‘best’, their customer service when required was reactive and was causing more problems than the one it was there to solve. It shouldn’t take over three hours to get somebody out to fix a truck.

That’s poor.

And to compound that, when Steph started the ball rolling on obtaining a refund of some description, we then went into corporate customer service buck passing. Hoping you lose the will to live has been the corporate norm for customer service for quite some time. Customer service for these companies is Orwellian double speak. It’s nothing less than a barrier between customer and corporate. Heaven forbid they should be out there listening and reacting and solving customer complaints and problems on the fly a la Boingo.

But the biscuit gets taken when they leave you a voicemail message telling you that you’re “not going to get nothing” because you put the wrong fuel in the tank causing the battery to die. Not only that, but they should be charging us a $300 fee to clear the fuel lines. Thankfully, I have the full message in glorious Technicolor on my cell phone, and am more than happy to share with you the full idiocy if you’d like me to upload it. After all, we understand the contempt and derision most corporations have for its customers. If it weren’t for customers their share price would skyrocket – or so their oxymoronic thinking goes.

By all means hate us, but don’t make us out to be idiots. And don’t lie about the situation. And don’t get caught lying about the situation by leaving a voicemail message. Really, even a toddler understands it’s extremely difficult to put the wrong fuel in a tank in America with the way you size your nozzles – it’s genius. Don’t backtrack on your lies when you’re presented with a receipt for the fuel by claiming it’s unreadable. These are the days of the Internet my corporate halfwit friends, where these tales of nefarious idiocy can be splurged unabated and a throng of other customers you treated like idiots (for it will be part of your corporate culture) can vent. All the search engine reputation management in the world ain’t going to paper over these widening cracks.

I almost prefer the La Guardia/America Airlines/ New York unabashed rudeness. After all, as much as you might hate it, they at least sorted the problem on the fly. Granted, they didn’t pretend like they cared, but I didn’t want a shoulder to cry on, just the problem solving. They had no other option to go into mini-crisis mode and organize everybody as fairly as possible. Although I’m sure you didn’t have too many thinking they were the bees’ knees at the time. But, if the airlines can turn flexibility on like a tap and become this dynamic entity rescheduling flights at the drop of a hat, then why on earth can’t they put a system in place that encompasses that flexibility when the fan isn’t covered in poop.

Why did they ask for an extra $700 dollars after I booked my flight that went from La Guardia to Chicago to Manchester and I asked if I could simply get on at Chicago? Without thinking they managed to send me to Manchester from JFK via London Heathrow. I also had no problems jumping off at Chicago on my way back from Manchester. Imagine a flying culture that bent as and when rather than only when it had to.

However, none of this would’ve been an issue were it not for me being an utter dolt. No amount of new online marketing theory can account for not getting one’s backside into gear in the first place.

Oh, and the customer service award of the past two weeks goes to?

The guy from Chris Miller furniture in Wheeling, his son, and his brother-in-law who not only did a fantastic job packing all our stuff into the back of the wonky truck, but also didn’t even raise a grumble having to jump start the truck and were stars breaking into our car to get our keys out. And they weren’t even obliged to do either. Wheeling, West Virginia wins the day!

  • If you remember to combine that kind of customer service with AI or proactive monitoring online, you’ll go a long, long way my friends.

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