Is this Relationship Over?

Often companies realize a software application or web site they’ve developed for their customers’ is not what their customers would have designed for themselves.  In many cases this realization occurs after going to production.  As a result, customers are left to deal with cumbersome software or web site and unable to accomplish the tasks they need to complete.  In today’s competitive marketplace customers have many options. And when the alternative solution is easier to use a loyal customer can quickly become a former customer.

Tangible and intangible impacts of poorly designed systems can be profound for companies.  Trust between the customer and the company may be depleted while tarnishing of the company brand is likely to occur.  This type of damage can progress gradually. Until one day the company notices the cumulative results of what’s been happening, and the costly impacts.

An example of this common scenario happened to me the other night as I attempted to book a flight.  Both the online and over the phone ticket processing systems failed and as a result the ranking of my once preferred airline plummeted.  Currently I’m hovering in the category of former customer. 

Here’s what happened…

My first choice for air travel has been with an airline that I’ve flown since 2001.  Depending on my travel frequency, I’ve earned various levels of preferred status with the airline so I have been fairly loyal to them.  The other night was a different story.  Their online ticketing system timed out one step prior to me completing the single ticket purchase.  As a result I had to restart the flight booking process from square one.  This was a nuisance but having traveled with the airline for years my level of trust was fairly high with them.  Plus, I admit, I may have been a bit distracted by the season opener of ‘The Biggest Loser’.

So I entered in all the info for the second time:  flight choices, mailing address, credit card info and a few preferences.  After closing the window where I’d made my seat selections, a message displayed on the  screen telling me my session was about to expire. It asked if I needed more time to finish.  I was still actively working on the ticket purchase, and wondered why the session going to expire.  I clicked on Yes, I needed more time.  One more review of the ticket info and I was ready to buy it.

When I clicked on the PAY NOW button I expected the screen to display a ticket confirmation page.  But instead, nothing happened.  Having nearly been stung by the ‘don’t click again or else you’ll be purchasing a second ticket’ routine in the past, I was hesitant to click the PAY NOW button again.  I waited for a few minutes and decided it was safe to click PAY NOW, again.  Still no system response and no ticket confirmation page. 

At this point I was feeling a bit annoyed.  I had been working on this for over an hour.  My new friends on ‘The Biggest Loser’ had cumulatively shed 307 pounds, while I still didn’t have a single airline ticket to show for my efforts.  It was time for a different approach.  I decided to phone the airline to book the ticket instead.   

On the phone, the airline reservationist confirmed my online attempts did not result in a booked flight. Ironically, this was good news.  She was also quick to inform me it would cost me an additional $25 if she booked the flight for me.  If, however, I opted to talk to their Tech Support department about my issue, the $25 booking fee would be waived.  Despite feeling like the airlines Quality Assurance Department, I agreed to talk to Tech Support. By this time, I just wanted the flight to be booked and for this experience to be over. 

The Tech Support hold message was composed of two words – Please Wait – and they repeated every 10 seconds. After about 3 minutes on hold the two-word repetition stopped and I thought someone was coming on the line to help me.  Suddenly a loud noise erupted and the phone call was disconnected. Sigh.

Are you tired of reading about this less than optimal experience?  If so you can imagine how I was feeling at this point:  frustrated, to say the least.  But I’m persistent and decided to give it one more try.   I got the airline back on the phone, accelerated the conversation with the reservationist who again sent me to Tech Support.  Within two minutes of – Please Wait(s) – the familiar loud noise sounded and then call disconnection, again. 

At that point I realized I wasn’t going to be purchasing my ticket from my preferred company for this trip. Deep breath.  Calmly I moved on to Plan B.   

Plan B

I’d already started my online search for another airline to purchase my ticket.  I ended up at Delta only knowing they flew to where I needed to land.  This was my first test drive of their online ticketing system, and after the last experience, I didn’t know what to expect. 

At Delta, I easily found the dates and times I wanted to fly.  As soon as I had selected my destination and dates, the screen displayed an option to have a live chat with a reservationist who could answer any questions I had.  After my previous booking experience it was particularly reassuring to know that I had live support at the click of a button, if I needed it. 

I entered necessary information, selected my seats and clicked the button to purchase.  Voila!  In less than ten minutes I booked my travel and I had confirmation my ticket had been purchased. And believe it or not, this ticket cost $48 less than the original ticket I had attempted to purchase with my preferred airline.  Again, ironically, good news.

So Plan B worked. I’m excited to have found an alternative airline that’s easy to do business with.  But let’s take a moment and look at a few elements influencing this customer experience. 

Lesson One:  The Relationship

What’s really standing out for me are the factors that combined to influence the customer relationship.  Until now I had perceived my relationship with my preferred airlines as give and take.  I needed a service, at a fair price and the airline delivered.  After a decade of being their customer, I felt like we had more than just a contract.  I thought they appreciated me as a customer, at least that’s what all of their marketing materials tell me.  But their responses to my situation demonstrated a lack of desired customer engagement with no back-up plan.  This experience shifted the scales from a mutually beneficial relationship to a one-sided relationship and ‘my’ side was positioned to seek an alternative.   

Lesson Two:  Value Decisions

I had enjoyed doing business with my preferred airline and booking my own travel online.  But the fact that customers must pay a premium to make a purchase when the remaining purchase options are less than usable displayed a lack of awareness about their customers’ values. This experience demonstrated once again that the basis of the optimal customer experience rests not only in understanding how your customers think. The customer experience is also a reflection of the level of respect a company has for their customers, including their time and their sense of values.  

Lesson Three:   Is this relationship over?

I’ll share this experience with my preferred airline privately, because they need to know about it and to have the opportunity to improve their systems and processes.  They served me well for 10 years and deserve that respect from a loyal customer. 

Will I use my preferred airline again?  I’m likely to however, I’ll go into the purchase process feeling less confident it will be successful and ready to quickly execute on Plan B.


There were numerous system and process design factors in play during this scenario impacting my overall buying experience.  They’re ripe for evaluation and their resolution will easily improve the attempted ticket purchase both online and via the telephone.  I’ll discuss those opportunities within the framework of  ‘what Delta did right’ in an upcoming post. 

Share your experiences…

Have you interacted with a company whose website or software is really easy to use? Or maybe one that’s not so easy to use?  If so, feel free to post thoughts and your comments. 

About Brain Logic, LLC

Brain Logic helps companies understand how their customers think in order to design their technology, products and processes to deliver optimal customer experiences and boost the ROI of their investments. For more information visit or email
This entry was posted in Customer Experience, Customer Service, Customer Trust, Deliver, Design for Optimal Experiences, Expectations, Recommend and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Is this Relationship Over?

  1. Geoff Snyder says:

    Very cool post, Jill.

    I was just reading an article about certain industries and websites they are looking at ways to resolve traffic surges and such. Recently, a panel discussion with Tony Hsieh of Zappos and Susan Lyne of the Gilt Group were talking about Gilt’s lunch hour spike and demand for resources. I’m wondering is your preferred airline is in need of the same evaluation?

    Something that I’ve recently learned about social technologies, is that there are always people out their looking to help others with any problems they are directly influenced by. Interestingly, I am in appalled that the additional $25.00 was even brought up to you and that they had the audacity to “waive” that such fee if you took the time to be placed on hold to talk with their tech support… to only get disconnected.

    Anyways, I’m happy to see that you’ve taken the higher road with this and are offering to help your preferred airline resolve the issue.

    Thank you for sharing this with us… it was a great read and very insightful.


    • Geoff, thank you for sharing a highlight from Hsieh and Lyne’s discussion. It’s an important observation and in practice will help to maintain of consistent levels of service to customers. I will share it with my preferred airline.

      As for taking the high road, my preferred mode is to be present and move toward resolution. I often think back to Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’ when he describes responses to situations as either fuel or water. Where fuel escalates and water diffuses the situation. I tend to be a diffuser because I like to make progress!

      Your comments are greatly appreciated, thank you.


  2. Valary says:

    I’ve had similar airline woes but let’s keep this positive so I’ll say that as far as airlines go I’ve had great experience with JetBlue’s website and telephone support in instances where I got snowed in or out of my destinations. They have also been very good about seeking timely feedback by sending surveys right after flights, while it’s still fresh in your mind. And their surveys give you an out so you can complete a short version or longer version should you choose to.

    But I think probably my easiest website experience, which could do some serious damage to my credit card 😉 is Amazon and those all-to-convenient Kindle books. One click shopping and the poof the ebook is available for my PC netbook, home laptop and/or blackberry at a blink.

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