Customer Service – How Not to Do It.

For a moment, imagine that interacting with a company’s web site is the same as having a conversation with an employee in customer service. It is a good test of how effective the online communications channel is.

A few days ago I had this conversation with an airline that we will call JetAway to protect the – well – guilty.

“I see you are offering return flights to Nice for £24.99.”

“We certainly are. My name is James.”

“Hello James. Excellent, in that case I’ll book it now.”

“Good, so let’s go through this short process.”


“First, what dates are you looking at?”

“Out on 12th of May, back on 19th.” (You will notice the sheer teeth gritting bravery of going to TM World for the whole week.)

“Let me see. Yes, those are available but I’m afraid that will be £54.99.”


“Well, it’s to do with demand, you see.”

“Not really, but I thought it wouldn’t be straightforward.”

“Sorry sir?”

“Not really. I don’t see. But let’s get on.”

“So you want to go ahead and book anyway?”


“Excellent. Now, let me take your details. (Imagine typing in the background.) Right, so we have all that done, will you check in online or will you check in at the airport?”

“Does it matter?”

“Well, no but to check in online is cheaper.”

“What do you mean cheaper?”

“If you check in online it costs £12, but if you check in at the airport it costs £24.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I said….”

“No, I heard you. I was momentarily stunned by the stupidity of what you just said. What if I said I don’t want to check in?”

“Um, you can’t do that.”

“But that means your fare is not £54.99, it is actually £66.99.”

“Well, it’s just the way we do it. It’s company policy.”

“Well it is a nasty little company policy. Fine, well, I will check in online.”

“OK. Added that. Now would you like a seat?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Did you not hear me or are you apologizing Sir?”

“I’m speechless. Well, obviously not totally. You are charging me for a seat. Actually I don’t want a seat, I will stand.”

“You can’t do that.”

“Company policy?”

“No, sir, air safety policy.”

Here, I will pause in the story so that you can imagine me banging my head quite hard against the desk.

“So. You. Are. Charging. Me. For. A. Seat? On an airplane? When I cannot say no.”

“Er, yes sir.”

“Does that make any kind of sense to you? Charging people a price to fly to Nice and then charging them to sit down? Except they actually do not have the option of standing up. So the price is actually…no, it doesn’t matter.”

“Well, sir, I do not make the rules. Would like a seat?”

“How much is a seat?”

“Would you like a premium seat?”

“No. Thank you.”


“So actually your basic fare is £91.99.”

“No sir, it was £54.99.”

“But it isn’t because I cannot actually travel to Nice for less than £91.99.”

“Would you like a seat sir?”

“Fine, yes. Obviously.”

“Premium or standard?”


“Would you like travel insurance?”


“Do you have any bags?”

“Yes. Oh Oh.” (Even I cannot go to Nice for a working week with carry on luggage.)

“One bag sir?”

“Yes. One.”

“How much will it weigh?”

“How on earth do I know. I don’t know what I will pack two months out.” I might have added some spicy adjectives at this point, I can’t remember.

“Will it be less than 20 Kilos?”

“Let’s just say yes, shall we?”

“Are you sure? If you get to the airport and it is more we will have to charge you an extra fee.”

“I’ll make sure it is under 20 kilos. Out of interest, how much are the charges?”

“Um, well, they are £20 per kilo.”



“Sir? Are you still there?”

“Sorry, you stunned me for a moment. In fact I think my brain tried to crawl out through my ear. Please carry on.”

“Would you like me to book you a hotel or a car?”

“Would my hotel come with a bed? Or would that be extra?”

“Sorry sir, that is not very polite.”

“Sorry about that. And would my car come with wheels, or a steering wheel? Sorry. I’ll stop. It’s not your fault, I assume. It is your company policy.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ then sir. Are you ready for me to process the payment?”

“Absolutely. Can I pay by credit card?”

“Certainly sir. I must advise you that there is a charge for using a credit card.”

“What a surprise. And how much would that be?”

“That is £4.95 sir.”

“So that is almost five percent of the total price, when a credit card company only charges you 2 percent at the most.”

“Again, sir, that is company policy.”

“Again, your company policy is deeply flawed. I would imagine that very soon your customers will stop being your customers.”

“Would you like to proceed?”

“What if I said no?”

“Then I would have to cancel the whole transaction sir.”

“And we would both have wasted 30 minutes of our lives.”

“Would you like to proceed, sir?”

“Fine. Yes. Of course. Absolutely. Why would I not want to pay £100 for a £24.99 ticket?”

“Do you need a reply to that question sir?”

“No, I think the best thing is for me to hang up. Oh, and will you send me an email to confirm?”

“Yes sir.”

“Excellent. And how much is that?”

“Actually sir, the email is free.”

“Amazing. That is outstanding. I will tell all my friends.”

“Thank you sir.”

Web sites (called James) clearly do not understand irony. However there is a moral to the story.

As operators move towards component based pricing models, please do not go down the murky route of surprising customers with new and hidden charges at every turn. Instead, lay out a menu of options clearly – and as customers select components, offer them better bundles and deals as they do. And discounts at the end.

That way your customers will have clear, simple offers and also be surprised. In a nice way.






Share this:
Linkedin Twitter Email
About Alex Leslie 400 Articles
Alex was Founder and CEO of the Global Billing Association (GBA), a trade body focused on the communications sector. He is a sought after speaker and chairman at leading industry conferences, and is widely published in communications magazines around the world. Until it closed, he was Contributing Editor, OSS/BSS for Connected Planet.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.