Posted by: Mark Ashley

nuclear explosion Customer service: the nuclear option

CondeNast Traveler consumer news editor Wendy Perrin asked for advice a couple weeks ago, to help a friend of hers get Delta SkyMiles properly credited. The friend’s husband had unfortunately passed away, and according to Delta’s rules, the deceased’s miles could be transferred to the spouse. Over a year passed, but Delta didn’t budge.

My advice to Wendy was to go nuclear: Don’t just write or call customer service. Don’t just ask to speak to the manager. Write to the executive in charge of SkyMiles itself.

I’m happy to say it worked. The miles were credited within days.

The nuclear option isn’t for every instance of customer service gone wrong. It’s for those times when you’ve exhausted all options, and you’re not getting the results you know you deserve.

Doing this involves a tiny amount of research, a little guesswork, and a short but pointed letter. You need to:

    Determine whom to contact. Go to the company website and click on the “About” page. Browse the executive biographies. Try to find the executive in charge of the division you’re having trouble with.

    Find or guess their e-mail address. Google their names first, to see if they have an address available. Most executives won’t publicize their e-mails, but corporate systems are amazingly standardized, making it easy to guess. First.Last@company.com is a good bet. Maybe make it @corp.company.com. If it fails, call the company and ask. If that fails, write a snail-mail letter instead.

    Make your case, briefly. If you need other documentation, attach copies of earlier e-mails. Wendy appropriately advises that the letter to the executive be short. Five sentences is the goal, and this is your template:

    1. I apologize for interrupting your day, but I’ve received unacceptable treatment by your airline and so far your customer service department has been unable to resolve the problem.
    2. Here is what your airline promised me.
    3. Here is what your airline delivered instead.
    4. Here is what I believe I am owed as compensation.
    5. Thank you for your help.

    The template works for companies other than airlines, too.

    Again: Don’t abuse this. This is not for small inquiries. This is for resolving major gaffes.

I’ve only gone nuclear once, with United. I stupidly wrote way more than 5 sentences, alas, but I got a phone call response within 24 hours. The “executive services” agent I spoke to was the most helpful person I’ve ever spoken to. She researched and answered my question, made the fix that I had requested, and offered me generous compensation — which I had not requested. I even turned down the compensation, but she literally insisted.

It’s sad that it’s necessary to resort to the nuclear option, but it’s good to know it’s there. Just use it sparingly, or it won’t be an option much longer.

pixel Customer service: the nuclear option

4 Responses to “Customer service: the nuclear option”

  1. ech Says:

    A family member worked at a major city cable TV company. Someone used the nuclear option after a long series of frustrating customer service gaffes. The local exec in charge of the area wrote a letter of apology, made sure the problems were worked out, and generous bill credits were made.

    He then called a staff meeting, read the letter aloud – it was several pages long- and said that if he ever got a letter like that again, heads would roll. The entire local staff got a copy of the customer letter, the manager’s response and his directive to the staff. Everyone got the message, and they have been much better at customer service since.

  2. Mike Maddaloni Says:

    Another option – say you are a shareholder, and file your complaint with investor relations. Of course it also helps to be a shareholder…!


  3. Flight Mitosis: Delta splits your nonstops into two » Upgrade: Travel Better Says:

    [...] If this ever happens to you, complain. If that doesn’t work, then escalate. [...]

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