Monday, April 16, 2012

The “world’s most rewarding loyalty program” suffers a meltdown.

Each day en route to my office in New York City I pass a bright blue billboard on the New Jersey Turnpike. It’s for the newly redesigned United Airlines MileagePlus® loyalty program and it makes the rather bold claim that it’s “The world’s most rewarding loyalty program”.

I’ve been curious as to how the Continental and United merger was working out, specifically in regards to the loyalty program. For several recent years I was a very frequent flier and Continental was my airline of choice. I had a Gold Elite card and have to say I had no complaints whatsoever, especially on those LA to NY flights where getting bumped up to first-class was a godsend.

So when I paid a visit to the now super-sized airline’s MileagePlus loyalty rewards page, I was surprised at what I found there. For there, right on the airline’s very own turf, the program and customer experience around the program were getting roundly and soundly thrashed.

On a page titled “The facts about MileagePlus account numbers, PINs and passwords”, there’s an open comment thread where frequent United fliers can “Post a Comment” and say pretty much whatever they want. As the page notes: At the United Hub we welcome lively and courteous discussion, so we do not screen comments before you post them.

Well, if MileagePlus was hoping for a “lively” discussion, they got it. I read all 18 online comments that were posted over a 7-day period from March 21-27, and the program scored a perfect 18 for 18. Every single one was negative, most in a scathing “I don’t care how long we’ve been together, I’m ready to get a divorce” kind of way.

Below you’ll find some of the messages posted by MileagePlus members. I’ve edited down the longer entries, but the content is 100% genuine.

Begin Comment Thread:

MARCIA FRIEDMAN 7:51 AM on March 21, 2012

I have been trying for 2 weeks every day to get my account set up. The phone disconnects me after holding on and the email is not answered. United service is nonexistent.

UNDEFINED 9:29 AM on March 22, 2012

United.... OMG. This new system is absolutely HORRIBLE!!!! You lost my mileage... All my flights this month have not been credited. Customer service is WORTHLESS. I have been flying United for the past 7 years but I am considering leaving and taking my tens of thousands of dollars that I spend elsewhere. Get it together United.

CONNIE SISKA 11:29 AM on March 23, 2012

United - really - what happened here? I loved the previous United website. this new one - you can keep - it is horrible, not user friendly, stuff goes missing and I can't tell if my reservation is waitlisted for upgrade or not. I am at GOLD Status, but you sent my mileage card for SILVER and I can't get anyone to respond back to me to see if my new one has been mailed. I have been a loyal United customer for the past 12 years and I am not happy about the change.

CHRIS SHAW 11:22 AM on March 24, 2012

This is now an airline that blows PR all over the place BUT does not answer or respond to whatever means me the PREMIER customer tries. How do you spell JET BLUE???

RISCILLA APPEL KENNEDY 1:26 PM on March 26, 2012

Since the switch from Continental to United my 6 years worth of miles are currently unretrievable in outer space. I have been on hold with United for over (6) hours since last Tuesday to get technical support to retrieve these miles. There is no urgency in their part...

CHRISTOF ABSOLUM 5:16 PM on March 26, 2012

Hello. I have been trying to connect but none of my Mileage number and password work anymore. My access in now blocked...I have been sending messages to the Mileage plus support as mentioned but after 5 messages sent over the last 3 weeks, no answer at all from United.

UNDEFINED 6:04 AM on March 27, 2012

Absolute worst service, ever. Took my over 90 minutes just to check in, with the rudest staff (in san francisco) that I have ever encountered. Their system is totally jacked. It's a joke that they actually have customer service, nobody was willing to offer service. It's a miracle that one worker was able to "break the system" so I could actually fly home. Why I would want their miles program is beyond me.

VYNESSA ALEXANDER 4:59 PM on March 27, 2012

I have been working with both United as premier exec and Continental as gold elite...... I have been unable to log on to the site. There is no web support. Ask alex is a farce. United service and support was always better than continental. I have been trying to get help for over a week. Sent emails for help on refunds no response. This is really annoying.

End Comment Thread.

You get the idea. There appears to be a major meltdown happening at the MileagePlus Web site, and it has obviously alienated a whole lot of United’s frequent flyer base. Yet, curiously, it seems like there’s no one minding the MileagePlus store with customer queries going unanswered for days and even weeks.

I see two valuable lessons to be gained from this situation, especially as it relates to opening a dialogue with customers:

1. Never, ever leave a comment system unmanned. Having an open, uncensored comment system is a bold and commendable move. But you absolutely have to have someone onboard ready to respond, answering questions and doing their best to assist program members. It’s an opportunity for a dialogue, not one-way customer diatribes.

2. When absolutely everything is going wrong, disable the comments. When you reach Three Mile Island meltdown stage, it’s time to shutdown the comment section and regroup. Sure, it goes against your “we do not screen comments” philosophy, but sometimes practicality is the better course when your good intentions have been turned into a weapon that’s being used against you.

Here’s hoping they get things straightened out before I start flying again.

Editor’s note: As of March 29, when this post appeared on Loyalty Truth, all the initial negative comments on the MileagePlus site were deleted. But as of today, April 16th, a new crop of negative comments has emerged--with no responses from anyone at United. Once again, someone appears to be asleep at the MileagePlus response desk.

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