How not to do customer service

I’ve been trying to buy a flight from Dublin to London for next Thursday. It’s not been easy. First, I want to avoid Ryanair, because their website sucks and they’re just plain unpleasant. Then, there’s a really simple thing about Aer Lingus that winds me up massively – they’re called ‘’, but usually doesn’t work, requiring ‘www.’. Ugh. So… British Airways, right? And, as it turned out, last Thursday they were quite cheap too. Great.

Ah, but then their website refused to take either of my payment cards, claiming that the payment card type selected didn’t match the payment card number. I double- and triple-checked, and finally rang the telephone bookings line. ‘Oh, the website’s gone crazy, it’s all a bit mad – try again in an hour or so, I know they’re trying to fix it. Terribly sorry.’ OK, fair enough, it happens.

Friday: same story. Hmm.

Today: tickets have more than doubled in price. Merde. Worse, however: the same thing happens. I call again. ‘That’s odd,’ they say this time. ‘I’ll put you through to our web support department.’ And this is where the customer service took a nose-dive.

See, I have a particular problem with groups called ‘technical support.’ Or rather, I don’t have a problem, I just don’t see why I should ever have to talk to them. I’m not a technical resource, I’m a user and/or customer. ‘Tech Support’ is entirely the wrong approach. Make it easy for me, not the systems, thanks. So ‘web support’ isn’t a great start. And the chap I spoke to seemed to consider it his job to defend his system against my charges of lack of clarity. Which is apparently what they were.

It turns out that there wasn’t a problem on Thursday, or at least, not one that was affecting me. No, the problem is that I’m trying to buy a journey starting outwith the UK, and I can’t use a VISA debit card for that. Only a credit card. When I suggested that ‘VISA Payment Card’, as written on the site, didn’t exactly make that distinction clear, the chap went a bit ballistic.

“It’s a perfectly clear error message – the card type you’ve selected doesn’t match the number. VISA isn’t the same as VISA Debit at all. Completely different. That’s one of the most clear error messages on the site, nobody has a problem with it.”

“I have a problem with it. It doesn’t tell me what’s wrong.”

“Yes it does, it tells you exactly what’s wrong.”

“No, it gives me a partial diagnosis that doesn’t help me fix the problem. It omits the crucial detail that you can’t process the card at all. It suggests an error on my part, rather than a lack of capability on your part.”

“It is an error on your part.”

My pointing out that the cards just say ‘VISA’ on them, and that ‘payment card’ isn’t a synonym for ‘credit card’, simply added an octave to the man’s invective. As did my observation that he was questioning my reading comprehension skills, and I didn’t particularly appreciate that.

Ultimately, we agreed to disagree on the appropriateness of the error message. That is, I agreed that he thought it was fine… and then I bought a ticket with Aer Lingus.

I haven’t flown BA for ages. I was rather looking forward to it. Oh, well.

1 Comment

  1. Ian had the self same problem with Avis car rental in Amsterdam. The paperwork said VISA was acceptable, but then didn’t explain that it meant VISA credit card, not debit.
    Of course, had he got this BEFORE the trip, he’d been able to sort something out. As it was, he was old this whilst at the Avis rental desk, in Amsterdam. Suffice to say, the drive holiday became more a holiday and less a drive…
    Simple lack of explaination, which it always then appears is your fault as a customer, and not their fault as a supplier who can’t explain things properly.

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