Unicorns, leprechauns, EL AL customer-friendly UX, & other mythical creatures

ELAL Israel Airlines For months, I’ve been trying/failing/procrastinating/trying again/failing again/sighing/punching walls in disbelief/trying again to log in to my EL AL Matmid Frequent Flyer account and handle some points issues. I’ve tried online, I’ve called, I’ve tweeted, my travel agent has tried for me, but nothing helped, and yet on every log in attempt, I’ve gotten an assortment of unclear red error messages, sighed, and moved on.

Apparently, it turns out, despite the depths of my wild imagination, I’m just not creative enough to have figured this one out on my own.

I tried calling again today. After 15 minutes of Hold jingle and Hold lady telling me to Hold, I finally got through to a nice phone rep, and told her my issue. She entered my details and responded that the account looked great. “I’ll send you your password via SMS,” said she, and I merrily hung up and went back to the computer.

It didn’t work.

I called back. Another 15 minute-hold brought me to another lovely rep, who again accessed my account.

“Looks great!” she said.

“I wish I could see,” I said.

“Oh, dear -” she said, in an I’m so sorry you’re kinda clueless voice, “you’re forgetting to enter a number on your account ID; that’s why it doesn’t recognize  it online.”

“What? A number? I’ve entered what it says on all my emails, notifications, etc…”

“You’re missing the mispar bikoret. There’s a 1 at the end.”

0_0

Oooooooooooh. A ONE at the end. Of course! Please hold while I feed my pet unicorn the tears of a hypochondriac dragon, bred on the lush farms of 16th century Icelandic garden gnomes.

A ONE at the end! You know, I had searched every coat pocket, and still couldn’t locate it.

Dear family and friends and readers abroad, allow me to introduce you to the elusive, surreal, magical creature, the mispar bikoret. I don’t even know how to properly translate it into English, and after polling, am still unsure between ‘verification number’ ‘CRC’ ‘prefix’ ‘security number’ and of course, ‘unicorn.’

In Israel, it shows up here and there. Most commonly, it’s on your teudat zehut (though it’s 99% of the time written out as part of a complete nine-digit sequence; I’ve never not had to include it…).

It might be any digit on the numeral palette, but let me tell you now that if you’re missing it from your EL AL frequent flyer account ID, it will put you through absolute airline frustration for MONTHS.

For how was I to know my account number even contained one, when my log in errors and email messages never included it or its necessity in the sequence?

Example 1: Signing in with the right password.

Example 2: Signing in with the right password, and then clicking Forgot Password.

Example 3: The member number written out at the bottom of an ELAL email; I promise that under the blur are six digits, missing the final one.

 

 

 

While it’s true the EL AL website won’t win any design awards post-1996, I do think it’s possible to get a passing grade in usability even if the design isn’t appealing. The website is a major UI/UX fail. It should not have taken a high-functioning internet literate person like myself this long to figure out the login problem.

Another failing grade for accessibility: It’s wonderful to have multiple (and updated!) Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, but what’s the good in social media investment if there is no flood of two-way conversation? Or even a functional  EMAIL ADDRESS for contacting customer support with quick questions?

[When I have been able to email EL AL, I’d get an auto-reply that they’d get back to you within ten business days. Ten? Really? Still using AOL dial up?]

I would like to say though, that I did actively choose EL AL over Delta and United for two reasons, despite the fact that Delta was cheaper, and United was the same exact price. Confidence in their security is one, and the second – I appreciate the way the EL AL staff, from start to finish, handles parents traveling with children. They are the only airline I’ve been on that really gets it. Truly ‘your home away from home.’ Despite some glaring service setbacks, it’s heimish. And as we know, United failed at that the last time I flew with them.

I’m a no-frills kind of gal, so lacking certain perks (or, manners) doesn’t phase me. But I travel alone with kids enough to require the security in knowing I’ll have supportive flight attendants.

So I actively choose EL AL.

Is it too much to ask for a pleasant customer experience before the flight as well?

Flight service feedback for United Airlines.

Dear United Airlines customer service department,

I never write letters like this, and I’m usually very easy going, but this experience left me pretty upset, and I figured the customer feedback will be valuable for United Airlines.

I was on flight UA84 from Newark to Tel Aviv which departed on Wednesday, August 22, 2012. I was at the back of the plane, row 35, the JKL side. One of the flight attendants was servicing this section and from the start, was fairly rude. I gave her the benefit of the doubt; maybe she was working overtime or was having a bad day.

But as the flight continued, it only got worse… She snapped at passengers with a tone of frustration after being addressed the first time. She seemed constantly on the defensive, even if no one started with her first. Or as if she was constantly being purposely annoyed, even when people made modest requests or had questions.

After a kosher meal mix up between my son and the young woman in our row, which she didn’t seem interested in pointing out while it was happening, I went back to clarify the mistake and got a curt ‘yes’ and her back instead of an offer to try and work it out. When my row-mate tried to ask for another kosher meal, she got a quick ‘there are no more.’ I found it all odd that there was no proactive offer to accommodate until a different flit attendant stepped in.

Other points throughout the flight displayed the same sour attitude. But what made me realize it was more disdain than frustration was when I heard her speaking with a passenger near my seat. To the best of my memory, I heard her answer him with, “They pay more to work this route.” The man answered, “Surely because of the long distance.” Her reply was, “Hong Kong is also a long distance. But *that* flight is just so different.”

It was difficult to hear a blatant insult, (spoken in the tone of an insult) delivered so casually to a customer. Is that acceptable practice?

Whether the assertion is true or not, I don’t care. I’m an American expat living in Israel. I completely understand cultural differences, and challenges for a flight staff. But it was inappropriate to speak to a customer about seemingly internal company matters, and loud enough for other patrons to hear it. If this route is so problematic for this flight attendant to the point where she is continuously rude and disdainful the entire flight, she should probably not be working on it.

I chose United this time, when I usually prefer to fly El Al (I find it more child-friendly and appreciate the staff’s service efforts) because the schedule was more convenient. I even paid slightly more to do so. While the flight got me where I needed to go, I can’t say I felt it was as pleasant from the staff treatment point of view (though other attendants were, in fact, helpful and even borderline friendly).

I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but as a marketing professional I do believe strongly in quality customer service making all the difference. I hope this helps improve your US/Israel program.

Thanks,

Me

 

Why I’m not an Apple fangirl.

It’s been over ten years since I was first converted to the fruity side. I remember it well; after my embarrassing use of an old Compaq desktop PC my entire freshman year of college, a good friend pulled me aside and told me it was time to buy an Apple.

“Apple? the computer my dad bought in the 80s?”

“No, Apple: the brand new iBook line that will help you pursue your graphic designer dreams.”

It went something like that, anyway. I bought the steeply-priced iBook G3 and began living my new Mac life.

And then, something went wrong. The iBook line I had purchased from had an inherent flaw that only became apparent around the time the warranty ran out. It was a universal issue – I think the graphics card – and Apple had to add to the warranty and offered to fix it for free within the time frame.

Except the damage kept coming back (blank screen) and the laptop was essentially fucked. The customer service channel wasn’t very sympathetic and it was a pain to keep sending in the broken computer. I scoured internet forums to figure out ways to get around it, or find out how others were dealing with it, but everyone was complaining into a cyber black hole. These were the years before social media, my friends. The years before companies had no choice but to pay attention. Incidentally, also the years before Steve Jobs became a tech celebrity. (Yes, I’m a bit old).

By 2004 it was so bad I was operating in a tech-ghetto, and I finally broke down and gave up in 2005.

Why did it take me so long? Why am I still angry about it?

  1. I’m that freakin loyal of a customer. It’s not even funny how loyal of a customer I am. I have bought more expensive flights because I felt loyal to one particular airline (it’s El Al, whatever, don’t judge until you travel with kids). I have bought four consecutive Canon cameras because that’s just how I feel about the company. I’m a marketing professional, I like to help people, and I talk about things I love. A lot. So don’t cross me, brand.
  2. I expected more from Apple. Back then, Apple was making a comeback. And it was going for artsy designer types and students. And I was both. I thought I’d be taken care of – you invest me, I’ll invest you.
  3. Apple messed up. Why did I have to pay? Not literally; I bought a flawed product before they knew it was flawed. They were trying to make that better by extending the warranty a little and sending me boxes to ship it back and forth. But that’s not the kind of product experience I signed up for. Wouldn’t a supplemental voucher for a better model have done more?
  4. I don’t care for the snobbishness. As Apple rode the success of its iPod genius, one couldn’t help but notice – especially if you didn’t care much for iPod genius – the marketing voice of the company. Apple seemed to want to attract the people I hated. And I hated everybody, to be sure, but yuppie, hipstery, elitist, well, Apple fanboys, were not who I identified with. Ok, so everyone in my world owns an iPod or Mac or iPhone, but whatever.

Disclaimer: I do own an iPad that was a gift. And a gifted iPod Shuffle that I broke down and chose this year since I recognized it’s truly the most convenient for what I needed.

Yes, Apple, you are a creative marketing and product genius. There. Happy? I never thought otherwise, but it’s time to let go of the anger. Maybe your customer service has improved. Maybe all the people with MacBooks at cafes wanted them because they are high quality computers and not because they are cool factor.

Maybe Apple fanboys and girls have independent brainpower and the hivemind is all my own crazy skepticism.

Maybe not.

My next phone will still be an Android though. And my next laptop… we’ll see. I’m currently taking recommendations.

UPDATE: I’m a huge Louis CK fan. Turns out he’s not a big iPhone fan either. h/t @simonyag

This just made my aliyah.

I swear to the power that makes this universe run, this telephone conversation just happened (in Hebrew).

Note: This was the first time in nearly 7 years of aliyah that I have ever used the word מעולה on the phone to someone in a feedback survey of their customer service experience. 

“Hi! I’m calling from מרכז שירות נתן אקספרס. You recently had a tipul done for your Ford Focus.”

“Yes…”

“We just wanted to know how the car is doing. Is it driving well? Is everything to your satisfaction?”

“Yes… you guys were great…”

“Good to hear. We’d like to hear your feedback on the experience.”

“Oh… sure. It went well. My husband was the one at the shop, and he said dealing with you guys was great. All in all, we were very pleased.”

“So glad to hear!”

“Actually, you were the first service we’ve used ever, since our last car was an Eldan lease. So, it was all really wonderful. Thanks.”

“Excellent. Be in touch if you have any questions or needs in the future.”

Yes, ma’am.

By the way, they gave us a free car wash with the bill for new brakes. Hey, if you’re gonna get ripped off, why not get a free car wash, too?

[Merkaz Natan Express specializes in Ford/Mazda, and is located on Derch Beit Lechem. Phone ’em at 02-6733538]

Ok, Bezeq Parrot. You win.

Well, the Bezeq Parrot had earned his keep methinks. And an Israeli company has proven it is capable of providing not only quality, but creative, customer service.

Lots of companies have Twitter accounts for so-called support. Some of them actually keep up with that premise. But @bezeqbenleumi really has it down. We recently switched our home internet from HOT to Bezeq. Before the switch, I had noticed from the corner of my eye that peeps were @-replying to this Bezeq handle. I kinda ignored it until I became a customer and thought, huh, isn’t that nice.

Then today, I needed some service myself. I tweeted about my sloppy internet connection today and they wrote back instantly. We actually had a conversation over Twitter that ended with me DMing my details and them passing it along to a rep who would call me promptly. Which, they did. The issue (a non-emergency) was fixed over the phone a couple hours later.

This is in sharp contrast to @htc, which has yet to reply to one of my frustrated tweets concerning my shitty 14-month-old HTC Desire which, in the last week, has conked out its camera, microphone and speaker (so what’s left, exactly?).

Funny, that. Excellent Israeli customer service, poor international company service.

Kol hakavod, Bezeq parrot. You done good.