“It wasn’t enough,” says Plott, a director at a Lubbock, Tex., software firm. His family couldn’t return home early without incurring an airline change fee. And the shortened cruise skipped their favorite ports of call and the offer meant that they’d have to take another Carnival cruise — something they were reluctant to do.
Travelers are faced with decisions like Plott’s every day. Something goes wrong — a flight is delayed, a hotel room is flooded or a rental car breaks down — and they’re made an offer that they have to accept or reject on the spot.
Increasingly, those offers are being generated with the help of technology, either directly or indirectly. Carnival relied on external technologies such as its Twitter account to keep passengers updated, as well as internal systems to proactively deliver a set of identical offers to every passenger on Plott’s cruise before they boarded, according to Aly Bello, a company spokeswoman. “Most of the guests chose the option of sailing on the modified voyage,” she says.
Another new way in which technology is used to preemptively offer compensation is during an airline mechanical delay. Some carriers now e-mail apologies to customers before they land at their destination, hoping to avert a lengthy post-flight negotiation.
That happened to Candice Sabatini, whose American Airlines flight from New York to Paris was delayed because of a mechanical problem with her aircraft. The six-hour delay meant she would miss an important meeting in Paris.
“My plan was to write to American and ask for fair compensation,” she says. “They beat me to the punch and sent me an e-mail apologizing and saying that they’re giving me 5,000 bonus miles for my troubles.”
Like Plott, Sabatini wasn’t happy with the initial offer. Although American wasn’t contractually required to offer any more than it had, she felt that as a gold-level frequent flier, she was owed more.
An optimist might see these automated compensation offers as a genuine effort by companies to improve their customer service. After all, what could be better than touching down at your destination, firing up your iPhone and finding a letter of apology from your airline before you have to ask for anything? Or boarding a ship and finding that the cruise line had already tried to remedy your problem?
But a cynic might view this as just the latest in a long series of initiatives to streamline and automate functions that used to be handled by a real person, in an attempt to offer customers the least possible compensation when something goes wrong.
At a time like this, say experts, it’s more important than ever to evaluate the merits of your grievance and to appeal your case to the right person.