The Checkout

Profiting from Bad Customer Service

For the first time in years, I recently flew on Northwest Airlines. I had been dreading it because my last trip on Northwest several years ago was so bad that I had vowed never to fly the airline again. You know: delayed, then cancelled, flights; surly employees; total disregard and downright rude treatment of passengers.

But I figured Northwest had to have changed; besides it offered the best schedule and, of course, the best price. Indeed, this trip was better this time around (anything had to be.) The flights actually left early, all connections were made and all arrived on time.

Even so, I'm still a disgruntled Northwest customer--the kind that consultant Fred Reichheld calls a "detractor" in his book "The Ultimate Question", a must-read for anyone concerned about customer service.

Here's my tale: After flying to Madison, Wis., we realized we needed to return home sooner than the flights we had booked. I called Northwest to see if we could change our flight and the flights we wanted were empty. Of course, I had to pay a rebooking fee, which I thought was outrageously high--$100 per ticket--but I realize that's pretty much the standard for the industry (unfortunately.)

What annoyed me though was the additional $10 per ticket fee Northwest said we had to pay because we had booked our original tickets through Expedia. The Northwest agent implied that the money went to Expedia.

I mulled that over on my flight home and decided to challenge Expedia about the $10 fee. After all, I hadn't used any of Expedia's network, systems or operators to rebook the flight, so why should Expedia benefit? Indeed, Expedia didn't benefit. When I contacted the company, officials told me it wasn't an Expedia fee but a Northwest fee.

Northwest spokesman Dean Breest acknowledged that in a subsequent conversation and explained that the $10 extra was because I had not originally booked my ticket through Northwest.

Which brings me to Reichheld's detractor theory. I'm certain the Director Emeritus of Bain & Company, would call this fee a "bad profit"--money made at the expense of customer relationships. "Whenever a customer feels misled, mistreated, ignored, or coerced, then profits from that customer are bad," Reichheld writes in his book.

Why? Because these fees create company critics (or detractors) who will eagerly tell friends, colleagues, anyone, about their bad experiences. "In the past, the accepted maxim was that every unhappy customer told 10 friends. Now, an unhappy customer can tell 10,000 'friends' through the Internet."

The problem of "getting hooked on bad profits" are disastrous, Reichheld said. "Bad profits choke off a company's best opportunities for true growth, the kind of growth that is both profitable and sustainable. They blacken its reputation. The pursuit of bad profits alienates customers and demoralizes employees."

Does that sound like any company we know?

Instead of trying to seek out that extra penny (or $10 per ticket in my case) companies should be trying to earn money by offering better service. Reichheld figures that a 5 percent increase in customer retention could yield a 25 to 100 percent improvement in profits. To achieve customer loyalty, and what Reichheld calls "good profits," companies need to ask their customers only this: "The Ultimate Question...How likely is it that you would recommend this company to a friend or a colleague?" In other words, companies and their employees need to treat their customers as they would like to be treated.

If you've got other examples of "good" or "bad" profits, please post them here or write me at thecheckout@carolinemayer.com.

By  |  August 4, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Customer Service
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Comments

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Does Northwest offer stand-by flights? I haven't flown Northwest in years, but I've had pleasant experiences flying stand-by on United. You don't even have to talk to anyone! You just sign up online when you check-in for any earlier flight the same day as your ticket, and if they have space on the flight, they'll call you at the gate. No fees, and no risk if you know ahead of time that the earlier flight will have space (e.g. not Friday or Sunday).

Posted by: Arlington | August 4, 2006 8:27 AM

I hate Northwest Airlines and I'll never fly them again either. I felt that way before reading this and I feel even moreso now. They are by far the worst airline in just about every category and I've never, ever had a satisfying experience with them. It is amazing how consistently bad they can be - and that given how bad they are, they do things like this to their customers, too.

Some airlines are better than others but Northwest is the only one that is so thoroughly bad that I actively avoid ever doing business with them.

Posted by: I Share Your Pain | August 4, 2006 8:33 AM

We recently flew on Northwest for our Asia trip. Our connecting flights on Detroit and Osaka, Japan were both delayed. After boarding the aircrafts, we were told that because of "minor" mechanic problems, the aircrafts needed to be fixed. Both were over an hour delay. Talked about sitting there and couldn't do anything, no water and no food was offered. Worst of all, no air conditioning. It was absolutely awful. Flight attendants were out of sights most of the time. I swear to avoid Northwest at all cost.

Posted by: Germantown | August 4, 2006 8:40 AM

*sigh* Thanks for bringing attention to this. Can't count how many $100's (0r $110's) my husband has had to tack on to his business travel when he has to change tickets.

We moved from DC to the general Minneapolis/St. Paul area, where NW pretty much rules the airport. We can get the occasional flight on other airlines, but mostly, we're stuck with "NorthWorst".

And they're getting ready to strike again. Brilliant...my poor husband and his colleagues who travel back and forth to DC are pretty much doomed this month.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | August 4, 2006 8:43 AM

Thank you for bringing this up, it has been given far too little attention for far too long. The problem of bad profits has always frustrated me as a customer, because it seems that the companies should really know better.

I have seen a decline in customer service in the past few years that has been downright frightening, and the worst of it is that the companies seem completely indifferent to it. I wish I could somehow let them know how easy it would be to gain my loyalty. All they would have to do is treat me as though they care if I ever give them any more of my money in the future (as long as the are getting my money NOW, nothing else seems to matter...).

Posted by: Commonwealth | August 4, 2006 8:53 AM

Here's my bad customer expense from Cingular. My son lost his phone and I immediately called Cingular to have it turned off. It was about a 5 hour difference. After I spoke with one CSR, I called again the next day because I know how crappy their service is, of course what I had asked hadn't been done. I was told it would be immediately turned off. What did I do next? Sent them an e-mail. Gues what? Still not done. Only after the e-mail did the phone get turned off.

On my next bill, I had a $90+ charge because someone had found the phone and "tried" to connect to the internet with it because, of course, Cingular could turn off use of the talk services, but not the access to the internet on the phone. I bet if I didn't pay my bill, I wouldn't still have internet access.

There is another huge problem with all this. My son had an "unlocked" phone he bought off ebay and you had to go through a series of keystrokes in order to connect to the internet and his screen was broke, so it was impossible to go through the keystrokes. Do you think Cingular cared? Nope. No way. My top 5 most horrific customer service experiences have been with Cingular.

Posted by: Oxon Hill, MD | August 4, 2006 8:53 AM

It's not just this obnoxious extra $10 from Northwest. It's fees all over the place. 'They' think we don't notice an extra $5 or $10 here or there. Isn't it 'bad' profiteering when you buy a concert ticket online and pick it up at the venue and are charged an extra $6 'fee' per ticket? Fee for what? You did the work online, the ticket printed out at an office and you picked it up there. What is the cost to the business? And don't get me started on bank fees and charge card fees and mortgage closing fees. As long as you and I personally suck it up, it will never change. As long as you and I allow business to gouge us, it will. Folks, start shouting a little -- business cannot hear you!

Posted by: Van Ness | August 4, 2006 8:54 AM

I suppose Northwest didn't see you coming, Caroline! Had they known you'd be writing about this nasty experience, they might have treated you differently. Now they have potentially lost every customer who reads your blog. I hope they think again before charging a fee for such a stupid reason: they never know exactly what it can cost them. I know I will be wary about flying with Northwest, should I choose that airline anyway - there are many others who offer better fares and schedules for where I usually travel.

Have a good weekend everyone! And stay cool :)

Posted by: driver guy | August 4, 2006 9:00 AM

In response to Oxen Hill,

I want to commisserate with you: I have had bad experiences with Cingular lately as well, so much so that I recently switched providers. The kicker is that when I joined Cingular two years ago, it was because of their good reputation for customer service, which bore out in a series of satisfying experiences early in my relationship with the company.

Unfortunately, that all changed when Cingular and AT&T mobile became one company. Suddenly, my phone service and my customer service began a steady decline that shows no signs of stopping.

Posted by: Commonwealth | August 4, 2006 9:02 AM

I've also vowed never to fly NW again - I was delayed overnight in tennessee one night, and not only did they not put me up in a hotel (I was a poor college student, I slept in a booth in an airport restaurant) but they told me there was no 1-800 customer service number, that I had to call Detroit long distance. There was no manager to talk to, no compensation at all for the overnight delay, and so I eventually complained to the FAA and they ended up giving me 1/4 of a free ticket's work of frequent flier miles, which I never used because I swore I'd never fly them again. And I do in fact tell everyone I know to avoid them as well.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 4, 2006 9:08 AM

re: Van Ness and Online Tickets...

My daugther has attended a handful of concerts at Nissan Pavillion this summer, purchasing them online with her own money. She complained a few times about the ticket costs which I simply attributed to youth, but I learned the evil of monopolies (TICKETMASTER) when I offered to purchase tickets for an upcoming show since she was without internet access at the beach.

Lawn seats were $35, but handling fees and ticket surcharges added another $15 PER TICKET and that does not include a delivery charge ($7 USPS)! This is insane and there is nothing that you can do about it. I am not sure that going to the Nissan box office saves all of this and it would still cost me three hours during the day.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | August 4, 2006 9:29 AM

I've had two experiences recently that were polar opposites: HomeDepot.com and Crutchfield.com. HomeDepot.com couldn't have been worse with respect to a product I bought and had trouble with -- their telephone support line has at most one person working it, and my three attempted calls averaged 2.5 hours on hold before actually speaking to a human. It took an email to the company president before getting resolution to my problem; and I must admit they did seem to want to make it right with me. It just shouldn't have taken that long, or need to have been elevated to that level. On the other hand, Crutchfield.com was fantastic. Their customer service support far exceeded expectations. Whereas I'm hesitant to ever buy from HD again, I'll definitely give Crutchfield my business and have already recommended them to friends.

Posted by: Ed | August 4, 2006 9:39 AM

My story about Verizon is even worse than the Cingular story. I went on study abroad to Puebla, Mexico, and my parents set up a plan with Verizon that would allow me to use my same phone in Mexico (called something like the "North America Plan") This was a Christmas present and I didn't leave for Mexico until January 3, but surprise surprise, when I landed in Mexico I could not place any calls whatsoever. I landed in the airport at night so the exchange booths were all closed, so I couldn't buy a phone card either. Eventually my mother, panicked, had to call the international affairs office at the university the next morning (who had no way of reaching me either) and then called Verizon, who called me (on a slowly dying phone, as I hadn't been able to charge my phone since I left the States). I wasn't able to place any calls until later that day, and was then charged for the 15 minute call Verizon made to ME to figure out what the problem was. I have vowed to switch to ANY other phone company as soon as I am able.

Posted by: Huggy | August 4, 2006 9:43 AM

Bad profits.

Reconnect/Set-up Fees:

Dominion Power: $15
Verizon: $38 (land line)
Activation Fees: for cell phones!
Washington Gas: $40

Posted by: Dawn | August 4, 2006 9:52 AM

Northwest lost my business forever 5 years ago--they have horrible customer service!!!!

I got stuck in Portland, Maine waiting for a Northwest flight for over 24 hours. After boarding the plane twice, sitting at the gate, and then being told that we needed to get back off the plane because of mechanical difficulties (over an 8-10 hour period of time), we finally were told that we would not be flying out that evening. They refused to pay for a hotel room for any of the passengers that were stranded by the mechanical difficulties (Portland's airport is not open 24 hours, so we all had to leave), and they refused to book me on another flight because I'd bought my ticket online through Orbitz, and thus wasn't eligible for changes. (Hopefully they've at least become more flexible about changes in the last couple of years, since they added extra fees.)

When I finally flew out of Portland, ME, I got stuck in Detroit for the same reason! Throughout the whole thing, customer service was horrible--usually if you're politely persistent, airlines try to fix the problem or appease you. But not Northwest--their employees simply don't seem to care, and they make that very clear.

At least I've told many people about my bad experience... : )

Posted by: LK | August 4, 2006 9:55 AM

I seem to find myself flying Northwest a lot (grew up in Maryland, went to college in Minnesota, relatives in Detroit, friends in Wisconsin, time in Japan) and have actually had very few bad experiences. It's not, on the whole, a pleasant experience - but what airline is, these days? I only have one Northwest horror story, and it was weather-related. And I actually slept very soundly on the floor of the Detroit airport. I think I'm a combination of supremely lucky and deeply unflappable.

Posted by: h3 | August 4, 2006 9:58 AM

Failing to honor rebates is a good example of "bad profits".

Symantec (security software) seems to work really hard at cheating customers out of their obviously-earned rebates. Last time, it took a formal complaint to my State Attorney General to get my rebate.

My Symantec subscriptions are about to expire, and I will be replacing their software with something else.

Posted by: John Johnson | August 4, 2006 9:59 AM

For the folks who mentioned Cingular, I empathize with you and could probably rant for hours on them.

My beef today, though, is with Comcast cable. Is there anything, I mean ANYTHING that they do that doesn't involve a foul-up of some kind? When I first signed up, they gave me a deal to include cable internet access... I think it was something like $29.99 for the whole year for internet, and a reduced fee for the first three months on the cable. Well, the person who signed me up claimed to have forgotton to enter it into the system with just enough time to let it expire, and they can't go back into the system to enter a promotion that doesnt exist anymore (BS). Then in the middle of trying to get this sorted out, I find out they've been charging me since May of that year (I hadn't moved into the house until August), which certainly helped to explain why I had an ever escalating bill of $200+ for cable and internet access. Then on top of that, after I settled everything as best as could be hoped for, they reneged on an agreement from the manager to add a $20 inconvenience credit to my account. Oh, and then stuck me with a $20 late fee for the money "owed" from before I moved in.

Their cable sucks, their internet reliability sucks, and their BS bait-and-switch customer service sucks.

Posted by: Five | August 4, 2006 10:05 AM

I have never flown Northwest, and now never will. I used to fly Independence Air a lot (may it rest in peace) and LOVED it! I loved thier customer serive, the fact that I could reserve my seat online, I loved the snacks (sun chips anyone?), and the flight attendants were always very nice and helpful. Not to mention you couldn't beat the prices! I was surprized to hear they went under because everyone I had talked to said they really liked them.
And I have to agree with all the anti-Cingular folks, they are horrible! When I was at school in Tennessee I would drive home to Maryland and the whole state of Virginia would be out of my service plan, even though I had nationwide coverage. And here I thought Virginia was part of the country, thank you for correcting my geography Cingular.

Posted by: Melissa | August 4, 2006 10:08 AM

I fly frequently from Milwaukee to DC and Milwaukee to San Jose. Northwest flights are the primary source of flights for these two routes. I consistently book through Midwest Airline to fly to DC, even if the rate averages $20-75 more a ticket, their service is far superior + the chocolate chip cookies are a nice touch. Midwest, if you are reading this, I do miss the champagne....

Unfortunately, I am stuck with Northwest when flying to San Jose. Not only is their customer service horrible, I have never once, in the last 5 years of flying Northwest come across a clean in-plane bathroom. When you are stuck on a cross-country flight, the last thing you want to contend with is a disgusting bathroom.

Posted by: TJ | August 4, 2006 10:09 AM

Sprint PCS has also moved to the another "bad profit" business model, particularly since buying Nextel.

My two month old (still under warranty) Sprint phone developed a problem where the sub-LCD stopped displaying the incoming caller's phone number. As directed by the Sprint phone rep, I took the phone to the store. After waiting nearly an hour in line and then waiting an hour for the technician to look at the phone, the Sprint store rep claimed that the phone had "liquid damage" and pointed to some imaginary corrosion near the charger connection. My eyesight is as good as can be, plus I have nearly 25 years experience in the electronics field (and an FCC issued certification) and I know that the phone was never exposed to any liquids, nor is there any corrosion.

Checking the web, I found that there are endless reports from other Sprint phone owners similar to mine, where Sprint claims that there is "liquid damage" to failing phones.

Sprint may think that they've blown me off, but they haven't.

Posted by: Louis | August 4, 2006 10:22 AM

I can relate with your bad customer service experience. I flew United Airlines before Christmas with a friend. I booked the tickets together, I assumed we would be seated together - stupid me! No, same row but opposite ends of the plane. When I tried to correct this problem, it was like trying to get a liver donated. The staff where indifferent and surly. I'll never fly the friendly skies again.

Posted by: JG | August 4, 2006 10:28 AM

Wow. I'm glad to find out I'm not alone in forswearing Northwest forever. I spent Christmast Eve two years ago in the Minneapolis airport thanks to Northwest overbooking -- and that is not my complaint. The problem isn't that I missed half my vacation. It is that Northwest was so rude to me, and not just once, during this experience. For instance, at the DC National ticket counter, "customer service" agents had failed to put up a rope indicating for customers where to stand in line, so many people were "cutting." When I pointed this problem out to an agent (after several fellow-passengers just helped themselves in front of me), she callously dismissed my concern without even looking up--this surpised and upset me. Moreover, when I complained to another agent about the first agent, the first agent left a customer to come over and defend herself and accused me of being racist toward Asians (she was Asian)...with my Chinese wife standing 6 inches away handing me my ID! That last part offended both me and wife, but also made us realize that we were getting this treatment not just because the first agent was rude, but also because she probably wasn't very smart. Lack of smarts may explain a lot of what goes on at Northwest. When asked for their names, both agents covered their badges and refused to tell us. Moreover, they refused to let me speak with a supervisor, going so far as to say that none worked there. Northwest: mean dumb people who won't be held accountable.

Posted by: PJ | August 4, 2006 10:30 AM

Here's a good example of bad profit.

I have flown the US Airways shuttle from DCA to Boston a number of times. If you have booked a ticket through Expedia, Travelocity, or another discount outlet, you have to pay a fee of $35 to fly standby -- even if there are seats available on the plane 15 minutes before the flight is scheduled to leave!

Posted by: Phil | August 4, 2006 10:31 AM

Several years ago I had a problem with a United Airlines flight that I had booked on Travelocity. At the time I was told by the United desk agent at Dulles that if I had booked the ticket on the Untied Web site, they would have been able to do something for me. However, as I booked on Travelocity, they would do NOTHING. They already had my money and could have cared less. I ended up taking the train...and was absolutely livid when I got home about how I had been treated. My significant other thought I was overreacting.

About a year after that, we were traveling in the U.K.--having learned my lesson (I thought), I booked all of our tickets on the individual airline Web sites. We were due to leave Glasgow on a BMI flight to London, where we would pick up a United flight back to the states. (NOTE: BMI is "Star Alliance partner" of United.) Because of bad weather, flights were delayed leaving Glasgow and we got to London too late for our original flight home (althought not by much as it had been delayed several hours by the same weather). While we were stuck in Glasgow I talked to the BMI agents several time...they couldn't help. I called United and was told that they couldn't do anything for us over the phone, but assured us that when we got to London someone there would help us. When we arrived in London (around 6:00 PM), there was no one at the United counter--it was dark, with just a telephone sitting on the counter that would connect us to a call center who knows where. After being on hold for ages we finally got a person who told us that because we had not booked our BMI flight on United's Web site (can you even do that???) they once again wouldn't help us. Now my significant other was livid (he should have listed to me after the first incident). We found a hotel room for the night and tried United again the next morning--nothing. We ended up going to the Virgin Travel Store to book flights home "on any airline other than United." $1,500 later British Airways delivered us back to Washington. Lessons learned: (1) never fly United and (2) the whole "Star Alliance" thing is worthless. I was really rooting for United to NOT come out of bankruptcy--I can't think of a more deserving company to go out of business.

Posted by: LB | August 4, 2006 10:34 AM

Add Dell to the list. There is a reason their stock price is 1/2 what it was a year ago. Their service personnel will say I'm sorry sir 1000 times in the conversation but never fix a thing. I recently ordered a computer and got nailed with hidden charges and an 8 hour ordering experience. I am deathly afraid of how they won't honor their warranty

Posted by: Chet | August 4, 2006 10:42 AM

The sad thing is that the companies mentioned here are hardly unique in their struggles to satisfy customers. A part of the problem is that they don't know how to measure customer satisfaction effectively and, thus, have little idea about how to improve it. Since Caroline mentions Fred Reichheld above, I wanted to recommend an interview with Fred in Episode 5 of the
HBR IdeaCast audio show ( http://www.hbrideacast.org ). In this piece, he talks specifically about the questionable value of many customer satisfaction surveys and how companies can improve their understanding of what matters to us -- their customers.

Posted by: Paul M | August 4, 2006 10:51 AM

Ditto for Five's complaint about Comcast's terrible customer service. I had a horrible experience with them earlier this summer.

I was trying to add channels to my subscription (i.e. GIVE THEM MORE MONEY) and I literally couldn't do it. I called them multiple times on their 1-800 and local numbers and kept getting looped back through touch-tone menus to dead-ends. Then it turns out their 24-hr customer service line is more like M-F 9-5. And when I finally got a hold of someone after about 10 tries over several days, I spent 20 minutes on the phone telling them what I wanted to do (which was upgrade my cable subscription package, nothing fancy here) before the service rep told me, "It turns out your service is listed as a commercial account, not a residential account. You need to talk to the commercial department. I can't help you." 1) It's my home service -- why is it listed as commercial to begin with? 2) Why did this only occur to her after 20 minutes of discussion? 3) Why can't a customer service rep handle both kinds of accounts? This rep wasted my time, then she told me she would forward my request to the commercial dept and they would contact me to follow up. Guess what? Never heard anything.

I can't wait for de-regulation to open up the cable industry. No competition = poor service

Posted by: Comcast stinks | August 4, 2006 10:55 AM

Like Ed in the post above, I have had very good experiences with Crutchfield. I hope this will send more customers their way because they make GOOD profit and treat customers right.

Posted by: JB | August 4, 2006 10:58 AM

Evil = cable/phone/internet service providers that tack on "regulatory fees" and "taxes," so that your original exciting promo rate of, say, $99.99/month becomes.....$150.00.

I read an article, I think in the NYT, saying that these fees are not imposed by the government, even though the companies describe them in a way to make you think that they are. They just feel like passing off more of the costs of doing business on to the customer, and in a sneaky way. Why don't they just say up front that the package will cost you $150/month? MAYBE b/c you wouldn't want to sign up for it at that rate. Even though you'll be paying it anyway.

Posted by: Cable/Phone/Internet Providers are 100% Evil | August 4, 2006 11:02 AM

Indeed, Verizon's wishing to charge me a "new customer" fee to connect service when I was moving seven blocks away was more than I would stand for. Oh, and they wouldn't let me keep my phone number, either.

I asked them if they would consider waiving the fee, seeing as I had had sevice for years and always paid on time. They refused.

They lost my business completely - I decided that I would go with my mobile phone for calls and a cable modem for internet. I have no use for a land line if it means I have to do business for Verizon. These days, if I ever want one again, I can go VOIP.

Posted by: Susan | August 4, 2006 11:12 AM

I, too will not fly Northwest. Several years ago when I was in college I went to Vanderbilt for some medical tests. Orginally, my flight was booked on United. However, the United flight out of Nashville was delayed and I wasn't going to make my connecting flight so United moved me Northwest. Well, the Northwest flight ended up being delayed as well and actually left after the United flight. From there the whole trip went down hill. The flight to Minneapolis took over six hours. Our arrival into Minneapolis was delayed due to weather, then they told us we were being diverted to St. Louis. Then, oh wait, back to Minneapolis, but we'd have to circle for a while. When we finally landed in Minneapolis, we were stuck on the runway for over an hour because there wasn't an open gate.

After that bad experience I thought it couldn't get any worse, but of course I was wrong. Due to the bad weather I hadn't missed my connecting flight, so I thought things were looking up. Instead it was merely indefinitely delayed. Then it was announced the flight was canceled due to mechanical problems. We were directed to go to ticketing to get rebooked for a flight the next day and the airline would put us up in a hotel.

Wearily, I trekked to the long line and waited patiently for my turn. I'd undergone a number of medical tests that day was absolutely wiped out, but I'm nice person and things happen so I was trying to have a good attitude about the whole thing. After an hour of waiting in line, I finally got up to a customer service rep. I told her which flight I had been on and that it was canceled due to mechincal difficulties and that I needed a hotel room and to be rebooked. She argued with me that I my flight was canceled due to weather and therefore she didn't have to help me. I insisted that she look up my flight and verify that it was canceled due to mechnical difficulities. She pulled up my record and saw that I was telling the truth, but she also saw that I was originally booked on United. She then told me that since was originally a United customer there was nothing she could do for me. We argued about that for several minutes. That summer I was working as a customer service rep in a call center for a major hotel chain, so I knew what her job was like and was trying to be nice, but I wanted what I'd been promised. She did not appreciate my courtesy and was quite nasty. I asked for a supervisor, which she refused. I insisted, but she again refused and called the next people in line to come up. I tried to keep talking to her, but the other customers, who were also tired of waiting, pushed me out of the way.

By this time it was after 2:00 AM. The United ticket counter was closed. I looked at the long line at the Northwest counter and decided to grab some sleep and try the United counter at 5:30 AM when it opened. So after a day spent in the hospital being poked and prodded, I got to sleep on the floor of the Minneapolis airport.

When the United counter opened, I poured my story out to the ticket agent who was absolutely horrified. When I finally got home I called Northwest and filed a complaint and got absolutely no response. So that's why I refuse to fly Northwest.

Posted by: sarah | August 4, 2006 11:13 AM

Yes! Failing to honor rebates is a good example of "bad profits".

I had a coupon for a rebate on contact lenses from Johnson & Johnson and a connected Baucsh and Lomb rebate coupon. It was clear that both could be redeemed. I followed ALL of my many instructions on the coupons from both companies, sent off the copies of everything and the original UPC symbols from the boxes. Everything was postmarked Dec 30. The J&J rebates said everything had to purchased within six weeks of a visit to your eye doctor. Mine was. It said the rebate had to be postmarked by Dec 31. But due to conflicting information on the J&J coupon and the separate rebate form as to when their coupon expired and when the items had to be postmarked, I got a letter several weeks later explaining that I would not receive my $30 rebate. Since I could not prove that my rebate request was mailed on Dec 30 (I had mailed directly from the P.O.) and that according to ONE piece of their paperwork that was a valid date, I got annoyed and just decided to forget about it. But it left me with a very bad impression of J&J.

Bosch & Lomb honored their rebate, no problem. They also were very promt in sending me a coupon to replace my ReNu solution when they had that problem with it a few months ago.

Excellent customer service? 1-800-CONTACTS. They have amazed me with their responsiveness and professionalism.

Posted by: JB | August 4, 2006 11:16 AM

Sorry for this being long, but it's still frustrating.

I am a British Air Executive Club member and was looking forward to my family's trip from Dulles Airport to Heathrow. Accompanying me were my wife and our 17-year-old son. Upon arrival in Heathrow we dutifully waited for our luggage only to find that our son's bag was not on the flight. We immediately filed a notice onsite and were given a claim number. We were told that bags usually arrive within 24 hours. I was also given a telephone number to contact to check on the status. During the next two and a half days, I made 15 calls (at $1.49 per minute on our rental phone) of which I was only able to speak with a representative three times. On the other 12 calls, I was on hold and unsuccessful in making contact. The time I spent on hold totaled 123 minutes (at a cost of $183.27).

The initial person I talked with was polite, but unhelpful saying they had no way to immediately track the bag to see if it had even been shipped or was still in the U.S. On a second call I talked with a supervisor who was a bit more helpful, but was not able to provide any more substantive information. Information about the bag and its contents were provided, and he told me BA would provide a 35 pound voucher to allow me to buy my son needed clothing while his bag was missing. (That equaled about $17 US at the time). I was also told that I needed to go to customer service at Heathrow before my return flight home to pick up the reimbursement.

The bag was eventually found (it was placed on the wrong distribution cart at Dulles). We also discovered at that time that the bag had damage with a tear in the waterproof lining at the bottom.

Upon arrival at Heathrow for our return flight, I immediately went to customer service only to be told that such matters, and, it appears, all customer service is done via e-mail. Upon our return, I checked your website looking for a telephone number and was upset and frustrated to find there is no way to call and talk with a customer service representative to discuss this matter.

Not providing a representative is an insult to customers and is a poor way of ensuring customer loyalty. To show how it can be handled, on the same trip in England our Virgin train was delayed due to a murder on a train ahead of us, forcing us to sit on the train for nearly four hours. Just recently, we received a note from the company saying they want to offer us vouchers equivalent to the train fare. This is remarkable in that the delay was not in their control and they were not at fault. They wanted to make up for our inconvenience while BA only added to the aggravation.

Needles to say, our next trip will be on Virgin Air.

Posted by: Jim, Pennsylvania | August 4, 2006 11:21 AM

Can we say the banking industry as a whole? First ATM fees.

Overdraft fees - One incident I had was we made a checking account adding error which made us short by a few dollars a day before a direct deposit. Their method of deducting money from your account was to take out your biggest item first then on down. What this did was cover a $500 item then make the smaller ones bounce which were very small debit items that were done and approved days before. My argument was that the small already approved items should not show as bounced but the one larger item so that I would only have one overdraft fee instead of 4 which totaled $120 vs $30 for the one. After submitting a letter they reversed my fees and have since changed their method. They now take out small amounts then the larger amounts. But, thankfully I have never overdrawn since then since I don't feel like giving away my money.

Credit card fees. God forbid anyone loses a job and has to miss one payment. Last year CC companies made 1/2 of their profit from all the fees.

Posted by: Dlyn | August 4, 2006 11:22 AM

I really have to say this, and I know it's not "nice", but honestly, companies are hiring uneducated and uncaring workers to work on their "front lines". Then they put bad managers in charge and who gets the brunt of the workers' frustration? The customers.

I have friends who worked in customer service for Sprint many years ago. They told of working with people with only high school educations who barely knew how to navigate a keyboard and couldn't follow a logic sequence of thought, so how could they help customers solve problems?

We need better educated workers in this country and we need to pay people a decent wage and to train management properly. "Customer service" is a huge joke at many of our largest companies. Management pays lip service to improving it while cutting pay, making people work in bad conditions, and treating them poorly. Bottom line, many companies know they've got us (cell phones and cable/internet access) and simply don't care how poorly they treat us.

Posted by: Nance | August 4, 2006 11:28 AM

Oh, Comcast. How I loathe you. I think my favorite was when they "changed over" the billing system a few years ago. I had not received my monthly bill until about two days before it was due. On the bill itself there was a disclaimer about the system was changing blah, blah, blah and apologizing for the delay. I send off my check for this and wait for my next bill. Which has a late fee of $3.50. I called them up and screamed at them for charging me a fee for something that was their fault to begin with. They credited my account, but I wonder how many thousands of customers didn't call to complain?

Posted by: Phan | August 4, 2006 11:30 AM

Bad profits:

Hotel overcharges. Telephone calls, breakfast, and laundry are outrageously expensive; if they were cheaper I might actually use those services.

Nearly everything associated with the purchase of a home: Junk lender fees, title insurance, settlement fees. These fees are all tolerated because there's no real competition in this industry.

Digital cable box rental fee: If I'm already paying extra for the digital tier of cable channels, why are they charging me an extra fee for the box that encodes those channels?

Posted by: Tom T. | August 4, 2006 11:32 AM

I agree with Nance. Companies don't want to spend time or money on employees with salary or training then they threaten us with sending those jobs overseas. Then the overseas people are working night shift to accommodate our hours so they are not exactly at their brightest and best and they tend to be overworked and overstressed. So basically who can blame a worker when they are just trying to get a paycheck from a company who doesn't care about them or us.

Posted by: Dlyn | August 4, 2006 11:33 AM

Good point, Phan. You have to be so vigilant today because companies DO try to slip in strange little fees and extra charges here and there, KNOWING that about 85% of their customers will never notice or question them.

One friend told me that a couple of years ago he had a Bank of America-issued credit card. He paid the bill about two weeks before it was due, but he noticed that his account was not be credited until the day AFTER the due date. So he had a late fee the next month. Then it happened again the next month. He called to complain, but they told him that he needed to mail his checks earlier. Earlier than two weeks! So he cancelled the card. A few months later, he received a check in the mail from BNA equivalent to the two late fees he'd had to pay. They had been caught and convicted of entering payments after the due date, even though they had received the checks far earlier!

Posted by: Rachel | August 4, 2006 11:37 AM

This column is making me realize how many "services" I choose not to have or use(digital cable and TicketMaster, for example) because I think the added fees are bullcrap and I just won't deal with them. I haven't bought tickets through TicketMaster in years because the fees are outrageous. I just don't bother going to the event if I can't find another way to purchase a ticket (direct from box office, etc.). I clearly have "voted with my feet" on many things.

I complained to USAirways because they charged me a $10 fee to book over the telephone. I had tried making the reservation online. I got all the way to the end and the usual (yes, it happens to me almost every single time I use their crap website) glitch happened and I got an error message and would have had to start all over again. I took the info I had jotted down and called the reservation line. We set it all up and I was told I'd be charged $10. So I said, "Nope, I'm not paying it. I tried using your website and it NEVER works well, so you are not going to charge me for having to call you after I wasted my time on the website." The agent was very nice, apologized, spoke to a manager, and said I would not be charged the $10, and I wasn't. Supposedly USAirways has a new website, but I haven't been forced to try it yet. If you do and you can't make your reservation online, do not let them charge you for making it over the phone. Once I got the "error" screen very near the end of my online booking, and when I called the reservations agent, she was actually able to pull up the entire reservation I had made. So why couldn't the website process it?

A final note: I thought USAir was bad until I flew United in that summer when all the pilots were calling in sick as a work stoppage to protest wage negotiations and the airline blamed all delays on "the weather". My first time with them, they totally cancelled a Thursday afternoon flight to Chicago and couldn't rebook me until SUNDAY! There went my weekend vacation. After standing in line for an hour and having an agent tell most of us we wouldn't be able to rebook, I walked up to the 1st class counter. No one was there and two agents were leisurely chatting. I asked for a refund. They at first glared at me and said, "You don't belong here." I stood my ground and said, "My flight has been cancelled. It can't be rebooked until Sunday, when I was supposed to RETURN to DC, so I have missed my vacation and I'm cancelling the trip. I want my charges refunded now. I'm standing here and you can handle this. I will not spend hours on the telephone trying to straighten this out." So they shrugged their shoulders and in five minutes gave me a refund. I vowed never to even try to fly United again and never have.

USAir has always treated me pretty well. They have a lot of late flights but I've learned to avoid short layovers.

Posted by: Nance | August 4, 2006 11:56 AM

We tried to get DSL service from Verizon because dialup access to the Internet is sooo slow. We were always getting DSL promotion materials from Verizon. My wife kept getting contradictory excuses from Verizon as to why we couldn't get DSL service. We were too far from the central office, was one excuse, even though other folks on our block got DSL service from them. The customer service reps she talked to weren't even aware we had two phone lines (don't they have customer info on their computers?). None of their excuses made sense; I spent 5 years in the telecom business, I know the technology. Finally I called and tried to get them to transfer me to one of their network technicians (a phone co. technician once told me never talk to their marketing/customer service folks, they know nothing about their technology or services). They refused to do it. Their marketing person finally admitted they had no cable pairs available for DSL service in our neighborhood but wouldn't put in new ones as they planned to replace them with fiber-optic lines. When would that happen? They didn't know.

Posted by: H'town | August 4, 2006 11:59 AM

I hate to add that I hate NW to all the other posters who hate NW, but I really do hate NW. I live in MN and so NW rules except for a few AA flights (which I relish and always take when possible). The flight attendants on NW are the grouchiest and Asian friends are convinced there is systemic discrimination against Asians on NW flights.

Posted by: Mike | August 4, 2006 11:59 AM

In separate incidents, my sister, my husband, a colleague, and I have all had our luggage lost by Northwest Airlines. Earlier this week, they lost my brother-in-law's bags. He is a lawyer, and was on an early flight that came in shortly before he was scheduled to present in court. He had to show up in his jeans and a polo.

These separate incidents cannot be merely a coincidence, so be warned! If you must fly Northwest, pack your essentials in your carry-on luggage!

I too have had struggles with Cingular and Comcast. I do need to compliment Circuit City, however. They are the first company that issued rebates to me in a timely manner and without a fight. I have had such harrowing rebate experiences that I typically refuse to purchase anything that comes with a rebate. Kudos to Circuit City for getting this one right!

Posted by: Stephanie | August 4, 2006 12:24 PM

Cingular is awful...I'll be dropping their service shortly. I had been trying to connect to the net (trying being the key word) over various times for a given month. Well those nasty fees for a failed connection were never removed....$150 cell phone bill for a $50 plan including bogus extra and gov't fees that are not explained. Customer service said tough luck so I told them I'd cancel my subscription after 5 yrs of service.

Posted by: Mike | August 4, 2006 12:28 PM

Reply to PJ4: I think I've also met the rude Northworst check-in clerk you tell us about. About 18 months ago, my girlfriend and I were in line to check-in when the rude clerk cut us off, saying the flight had closed. I lost $400 because our tickets were non-refundable. At least I had oporunity to tell her to her face how rude and unprofessional she was. I challenged the charge on my credit card (US Bank -- Northwest affinity card). They ruled against me.

Since then I'm somehow lost my US Bank Northwest card several times, while not charging a dime on it. And the only times I have flown Northworst have been to burn frequent flier miles. Even then it's been horrid.

Northworst attendants treat customers like dirt. They (barely) edge out United for worst attitude towards customers. Even though I have more than a quarter million frequent flier miles on these two carriers, I'd hoist a cold one if either went Chapter 7. Anyone who willingly pays money to fly these carriers is a masochist.

As for the flight ground attendants who would lose their jobs.... I hear Home Despot has openings for rude, do-nothing customer service personnel.

Posted by: Mister Methane | August 4, 2006 12:31 PM

Can I note one thing: Amid all the moaning and groaning on this blog -- and I agree completely, by the way. I avoid Delta like the plague -- there is one observation to make: All these airlines are running full flights, even overbooking them.

So, lousy service equals full flights???

Someone, please, and perhaps even Ms. Mayer, tell me why any airline should give a crud how we feel if we, apparently, are willing to fly on their planes anyway? Seems to me the business model would argue that they should make service even worse, not better.

Time to bring back trains -- if they got the same federal subsidies as airlines (mail contracts, free traffic control and government subsidized/owned terminals) they'd offer a real alternative.

Posted by: ogden, utah | August 4, 2006 12:53 PM

I've got another bad profits affront from the banking industry (specifically Wells Fargo, Bank Of America, etc.) in the fee category. If you cash a check written to you by a business or personal friend at their bank, the bank will charge you (the named recipient of said check) with a $5.00 check cashing fee. Never mind that the bank already charges the holder of the account a litany of service fees, per check fees, teller fees, emotional outburst fees and because we can fees for having the checking account with the bank in the first place. But, to add insult to injury, they then charge the recipient of said check for the privilege of cashing out what is rightfully theirs, using a service which the bank customer pays the bank for the privilege of having as a convenience and secure method of transferring funds from one individual to another. In essence, the banks are double dipping. They don't waive the account holder's fees and per check charges when a check recipient pays the bank's additional fee for cashing the check do they. If there ever was a practice that I think borders on outright racketeering on the part of banks, this practice is it. I don't have a bank account any longer and while it took some adjusting to, you'd be amazed how much money no longer gets siphoned off of my income every month. While my solution isn't for everyone, I'm saving somewhere between $50 to $100 dollars per month that would otherwise be skimmed off by the bank.

Posted by: Robert In West Hollywood | August 4, 2006 12:59 PM

Ummm, Stephanie, no offense but who flies on a business trip at the last minute without carrying important items with their person. (Such as a suit for a lawyer going to trial.) I feel more sorry for whoever your brother-in-law was representing. Bad, bad lawyer!

Posted by: Bad Lawyer | August 4, 2006 12:59 PM

Ogden, we have reached a point that with the shutdown of many air carriers that demand is beginning to outstrip supply as far as seats go. As it was in the early eighties in the car industry, you buy their product or are left with much less desirable alternatives. The airlines know this and have the same mentality that the car dealerships did then. Customers are nothing but a source of revenues, period. They can treat us like cattle and we'd have no alternatives but to moo more loudly.

Yes, the rail industry has gotten the crappy end of the stick when it comes to federal funds. No rail industry was provided any support following 9/11, yet all the airlines did. Amtrak on the east coast still has to hold out its hat to beg the feds for money because while the government supports air carriers left and right, they are also setting those air carriers up to take passengers away from Amtrak. We should all be letting our elected officials know that this isn't fair and that rail companies, especially those that handle passenger traffic should be supported with the same verve as air carriers have been in the past.

Posted by: Michael | August 4, 2006 1:03 PM

People fly because they have to. (So many of us live too far from parents or relatives to drive it within one day.) And airlines know that they make most of their money on business travelers but even the business travelers get treated badly now.

I have chosen to stop flying except when necessary -- a vacation to the west coast from DC for example. Otherwise, I try to drive shorter distances because the airline experience is so bad.

I regret that Independence Air failed before I even had a chance to try it. I heard so many good things, and it flew to cities I visit. I wonder if somehow the larger airlines managed to "off" Indie Air.

In general, customer service experiences point out another increasing gap between the rich, the middle class, and the poor. The rich get bank accounts with no fees and interest. The middle and lower classes get stuck with fees and interest. Lower class people tend to be the ones who don't question fees and aren't always able to pay bills on time, so they get the punishment of late fees and higher interest. Rich people used to fly 1st class for a better experience. Now they have moved up to private jets to avoid much of the crap of lost luggage and delayed flights. No wonder everyone is dying to be a celebrity. You give up some anonymity but you get to avoid so much bad service. I wonder if some of the celebrities who haven't been "common people" in a couple of decades even understand what life is like for the resto of us? George Bush certainly doesn't.

Posted by: Nance | August 4, 2006 1:20 PM

Customer service is a joke - most major companies don't care about the customer, but they DO care, enormously, about their stock price and, therefore, their stockholders. So, if (when) the usual cutomer service route doesn't work, here's what my husband and I do:

Contact Investor Relations.

Somewhere on the website of every major company is a page called "Investor Relations," "Stockholder Relations," "Financial Information," or some such thing. There will be an email address on it, or at the very least a street address. Use it - tell your story, cite the account/problem number, list the names of each agent you've dealt with, list the number and dates of your calls. And if you're actually an investor - whether in the company stock directly or through a mutual fund - SAY SO. (Write to IR even if you aren't an investor, but be sure to tell them when you are.)

No, IR can't solve your problem directly, but they will forward it on. So far, every time we've gone this route, we've gotten a satisfactory resolution. And, as an added bonus, we get the satisfaction of knowing someone high in the dysfunctional customer service org has gotten an earful from the corporate IR office, and it will almost certainly roll downhill.

It's worked for us with a moving company, a long-distance phone company, and a computer company.

The best one was with HP over a laptop. We ordered directly from HP and got a laptop that simply didn't work - it locked up, it quit applications unexpectedly, dropped the modem out without warning, it was just a dud. Several calls to HP led to reinstalling this and that but nothing worked. We wanted a replacement - and that word sent everyone scurrying for any excuse to not send us one. We finally got transferred to a third-level supervisor. At first, we got her voicemail (saying she was "away on break, leave a message"), but then she called us back. She told us we weren't going to get a replacement, ever. We asked for her boss and she told us: "I don't have a boss," all customer service issues end with her decision.

Off went a message to Investor Relations. It included our problem, the dates of all our calls, the names of all the people we'd spoken with (including one particular person's voicemail message and boss-less status), and our demand for a replacement laptop.

In two business days, we had the first email from customer service, apologizing for the problem and saying they were looking into it. In another day, we had a phone message from our boss-less supervisor, asking us to call her back to verify a few things. After a couple exchanges ("no, we're not reinstalling Windows again") she said a new PC would be shipped and we'd have a return label for the dud.

And it arrived. It even worked!

When you've finally lost all patience with customer service, try Investor Relations. All it'll cost you is another email.

Posted by: Lee | August 4, 2006 1:27 PM

Oh - I forgot the best part: When we called the boss-less supervisor back, the first time we got her voicemail.

It had been changed. She was now "sorry to have missed your call but I'm away from my desk, please leave a message."

That felt VERY good.

Posted by: Lee | August 4, 2006 1:35 PM

Starbuck's, on the other hand does a pretty good job on the "Good Profits" side. Their policy is that if they are brewing coffee, when you ask for it and you have to wait, its free. A friend started working there and told me that, for example, giving somebody a free cup of coffee doesn't require a manager's approval. One of their corporate mantras is that customers should be "enthusiastically satisfied", which sounds like an oxymoron to me (like passionately indifferent). I realize that you better be satisfied if you are paying 4 bucks for a cup of coffe and I'm sure many have anecdotes about bad experiences at 'bucks. My point is simply that there is a corporate focus on keeping customers happy, and employees are empowered to make it happen. I doubt such things are ever discussed at Northwest employee training sessions.

Posted by: Good Profits | August 4, 2006 1:38 PM

Whine, whine, whine. Many people here have legit complaints, but the author of the original post got EXACTLY what she agreed to. She bought mega-restriction tickets to be cheap, so she was charged to change them, just like the agreement says. You want versatility, pay more! Similarly, you went to an online travel site to save money, and Northworst charged you $10 when you changed. Exactly like the agreeement says. Yes, you got BSed as to who gets the money, but it was right in front of you if you bothered to read it.

You tried to fly cheap, you tried to get treated like you paid more, and you got charged for it. Deal with it.

Posted by: Bingo | August 4, 2006 1:46 PM

I'll support anyone who knows how to get rid of the Ticketmaster monopoly. Adding $10-15 to the price of an already expensive ticket has prevented me from going to many events. And when I have made the effort to go to the box office to avoid the ticketmaster charges, I found out it's impossible. Ticketmaster owns the computer software that many venues use, so no matter where you buy your ticket, you'll pay those surcharges.

As to Northwest - I haven't really flown them. But I bought a KLM/NW ticket, using the NW website for a trip to Amsterdam and Barcelona. I had no trouble with the NW transaction, and KLM was absolutely amazing. Smaller and older planes than many transatlantic airlines, but great service. They had a self-service snack cart available the entire flight, and 2 meals on the flight to Amsterdam. On the return from Barcelona to Amsterdam, my brother's bag ended up in England, and was delivered to our hotel the next morning. And when there was a weather delay leaving Barcelona, they gave everyone 10 euro vouchers for a 2 hour weather delay. I wish more US airlines would follow this lead. I will look for KLM flights on all future international travel - it was the best experience I've had with an airline in decades.

Posted by: JB | August 4, 2006 1:52 PM

Before I can comment on the $10 fee, I would need to know what that $10 fee was to cover? lso,I'm not aware is the industry requires airlines to notify the agencies that orginally booked the ticket of any changes and, since this would require additional effort that normally would not have been needed if the ticket was purchased directly from Northwest. Or maybe Northwest pays a $10 fees to agencies that book NorthWest flights and by having to book your change rather that the orginally agency, maybe they were trying to recoup the fee the paid.

As for charging $100 to change your flights, I know some airlines use the number of passengers / flight to determine what aircraft that would be needed. I passengers were allowed to change flights without penalty, then the airline could end up using planes that have empty seats rather than using the right size aircraft. Also, the cost of flights to the same destination vary depending what time the plane departs (the most preferred times get higher fares, early and late flights get lower in an attempt to book as many people as possible on those flights). By changing flights to another, perhaps more desired departure time, you were preventing the airline from making a higher profit on that flight. Then the $100 fee would be understandable. It's like buying an item and then returning it to the store for a more expensive version where you would expect to pay the difference.

Posted by: ABH | August 4, 2006 1:56 PM

I just don't understand why people even bother with Comcast. I had Comcast for several years before switching to DirecTV last fall and I have found their customer service to be the best of any company I've dealt with in memory. If something is wrong, they fix it - no questions asked, and I've rarely been put on hold longer than a few minutes. When we got an HD TV a couple of months ago, we upgraded to their high-definition service, and payed $400 for a HD receiver/DVR. A couple of weeks later, we got a flyer in the mail with an offer of a free upgrade to a High-Def DVR. Upset, I called them and they gladly (no really, their customer service people actually sound happy to talk with you) refunded our money for the DVR and gave us the free offer, no haggles whatsoever. I can't imagine anything like that happening with Comcast from the unhappy hours I spent on the phone with them over the years. And for sports fans, you get all of the Nationals games with DirecTV, and they are currently the only ones that offer NFL Sunday Ticket. We have their all inclusive package and our bill is actually less than what I paid with Comcast for less channels, not to mention the fact that Tivo will change your TV viewing life forever.

My most recent absurd charge: I ordered Nationals tickets back in the spring where you can just print them off from your computer. They tacked on a $2.50 delivery fee in the charge! Maybe I wouldn't have minded so much if they sent Alfonso Soriano to my house to pick the page up off of my printer and hand it to me, but give me a break!!!

Posted by: Somebody up there loves you...DirecTV | August 4, 2006 2:06 PM

Jet Blue, baby!

I have had the best flying experiences of my life while on this airling. If they are flying where I need to go (or within a 1 hour drive of where I need to go) I will fly with JetBlue, even if I have to pay extra for the ticket. I have never had such great customer service in any industry, and they are quick to resolve any issues that come up.

Posted by: Just Sayin' | August 4, 2006 2:15 PM

Oops, in my second line, I meant to say "airline". I gotta' start spell checking!

Posted by: Just Sayin' | August 4, 2006 2:17 PM

And just to clarify - I ordered the tickets from the team website, not a 3rd party vendor (though either way it's a ridiculous charge).

Posted by: Somebody up there loves you...DirecTV | August 4, 2006 2:18 PM

I have many "bad profit" stories I could tell, but here's a "good profit" example": (1) We live in a small town in Louisiana. Three years ago my husband decided to upgrade his very battered van to a newer pickup truck. He hunted for many months, and then decided on a truck from a very small privately-owned dealership in a neighboring town. The truck needed brake pads, but rather than "knock some" off the price of the truck, the dealer sent the truck to his personal mechanic & had the breaks fixed at his own expense (ie: the price of the truck did not change). The truck has been a joy, with nothing but oil changes & tires required for the past 4 years.
(2) When my 15-yr-old Honda Accord was recently murdered in a smashup, guess where I went for a replacement? The same dealership had exactly what I was looking for at a very reasonable price. The windshield was cracked, and was repaired, again at the dealer's expense.
(3) While I was signing the paperwork for my Accord, I spotted a Honda Civic on the lot, asked the price, & recommended that a coworker who was in dire straights for a vehicle go look. She's now also a very satisfied customer of the same dealership.

These people know how to both retain existing customers and make new ones in the most cost-effective way: word-of-mouth!

Posted by: LisaB | August 4, 2006 2:21 PM

Well, im glad to see Im not the only one who feels this way about Northwest. I haven't flown them for 6 years. And thats at least 15 times a year they have lost my business. I got stuck in Pittsburgh when the pilot decided not to fly to Baltimore one day. Basically they put us all out and told us to fend for ourselves. They were rude, gave no help finding flights on other airlines, no vouchers for food, no where to stay. And there were no rental cars. And i was only 3 hours from home! So I ended up calling a cousin to come pick me up and slept on her couch till the next day when i purchased another flight on another airline to go home. I will never fly them again and have told at LEAST 10,000!

Posted by: liz C in Mt Airy | August 4, 2006 2:24 PM

...or how about...

The Ebay Sellers that double, triple and even quadruple the US Mail costs to send an item.

One woman wanted a $50 "flat rate" to send anything due to her "aggravating inconvenience waiting in line to mail things".

Posted by: Bob Anderson | August 4, 2006 2:30 PM

Do you ever send compliments or commendations whey you get good service? I do. I think it's necessary to show that we do appreciate customer service reps and companies that treat us right and solve problems effectively. It also can mark you as a valued customer.

I sent a few commendations to a certain hotel chain over a couple of years because I was impressed with their service and the hotels themselves. And then I had a problem at one hotel. It was nothing major, but when they sent me a "customer satisfaction survey" via e-mail, and kept sending it until I responded, I gave them a good rating but made mention of the small problem and said that it just wasn't up to the Westin standard I had seen. A manager quickly responded and offered to make things right on my next visit and I received a wonderful free upgrade.

I'm not going to list the chain because I know that some people out there make a habit of complaining just to take advantage of the few good customer service situations that we have. That -- along with people who begin by acting rude and demanding things they don't deserve -- is the ugly flip side to getting good customer service.

Posted by: Kim | August 4, 2006 2:31 PM

Ms. Mayers appears to have fallen into the columnist's trap - she tends to focus on what happens to HER. This happens to lazy and or self-centered columnists who have weak editors. I counted 22 ueses of I, me, my or we in her column. To some this might seem a bit excessive.

Perhaps if she were given another job with the paper she might develop a slightly larger world view rather than focusing on what has annoyed her.

Posted by: Steve Huse | August 4, 2006 2:33 PM

At least with eBay you don't have to buy the items that have ridiculous "shipping and handling" charges. Those folks have already shown they simply want your money. Half the time I think they throw your unwrapped item in a box and send it at the slowest rate. I purposely undercharge about $.50 for shipping just to have good karma. It sure makes a difference when you're selling the same CD as 10 other people.

Posted by: Kim | August 4, 2006 2:37 PM

I'd be the last one to defend Northworst service. But I bet Ms. Mayer picked one of the cheaper tickets off Orbitz. There is a way to avoid this issue; it's called a full fare ticket. If you buy a cheap ticket and have to change it then suck it up and pay the fee. Why should some one who bargain shopped get the same service as someone who pays more? If you book through Orbitz to save a few bucks then when there is a problem call them. Orbitz took a cut of the ticket price before passing it on to NW. If NW has to fix your problem then they should get Orbitz's cut. Good grief I can't believe I'm defending NW, but the only thing I hate worse than bad customer service is bad customers.

Posted by: JJ DC | August 4, 2006 2:56 PM

I found this article interesting not only as a former Flight Attendant but as a current Travel Consultant.

Your expectation of receiving good customer service from Northwest, when you used Expedia to book in the first place is almost laughable. What kind of customer service does Expedia provide? (None) that's why you needed to contact Northwest. I do find the matter of receiving erroneous information bothersome. If you are truly looking for customer service you should have booked through a Travel Agent to begin with. We are experts in our field and pride ourselves on providing fantastic customer service.

Posted by: L.A. | August 4, 2006 3:09 PM

To LisaB: That's why when my car was murdered this spring, I had my parents in Illinois buy me a new one. The new one cost less than the old one (which I had only owned for six months *sniff*), was a year newer, was in better shape, and was the exact same make model and colour. Other than mine that was murdered, all cars, new and used, in our family came from dealerships in small towns in Central Illinois because those people are still willing and able to work with customers.

And I've had good experience with United in the past - I had a flight cancelled in Chicago due to weather and when I asked at the desk, in the middle of a huge line (since it was just a puddle-jumper to get me to my parents' town 150 miles south) if it were possible to get a refund for the unused flight segment so that we could take other transportation home, the woman got immediately on the phone with a supervisor and refunded not at the rate paid intially but at what that flight segment would have cost if purchased that day. I got back over $100 on my next Visa statement and took the bus home for $20.

Now, they apparently caught on to what was available because people further back in the line merely got a voucher to take the bus home, but the women working that customer service desk were polite to everyone who was polite with them and worked to solve problems as best they could, including taking the time to check with supervisors on how to do things rather than push the customer off because they didn't know how to process a refund for just one segment of a flight. When I started working in customer service later that year, that's how I wanted to be with all my nice callers (the insulting ones, however, get what they deserve, at least in the office I worked in).

Posted by: MmeB | August 4, 2006 3:09 PM

I have to comment on my polar opposite experience with Jetblue. They are very easy to change (a max fee of $25), up until gate time. When I once rescheduled to a lower cost flight they refunded the difference without me asking. When the recent sale started, they even refunded me the difference in price from a ticket I bought 2 weeks ago -- no haggling or arguing. As a result of all these positive experiences I tell everyone I know to fly jetblue, and will often pay $50 or more on a fare to know I won't have to deal with crappy service if a problem comes up.

Posted by: Dustin | August 4, 2006 3:11 PM

Another "bad profit" example is the $15 Northwest now tries to charge to reserve aisle seats on many of its flights.

I book weeks in advance, request an aisle seat, and am told there are none available. Then, when I get to the airport it turns out there are plenty--for another large fee!

I'm glad I moved away from their hub and never have to fly Northwest again.

Posted by: More Ridiculous Fees! | August 4, 2006 3:25 PM

"Ms. Mayers appears to have fallen into the columnist's trap - she tends to focus on what happens to HER."

Uh...yeah. That's pretty much the point of a blog. Did you miss that?

"Why should some one who bargain shopped get the same service as someone who pays more?"

She's not talking about that. She had already paid the $100 rebooking fee. She was addressing Northwest's misleading her, indicating that the fee was an Orbitz fee when it wasn't--it was basically an addition to the rebooking fee.

Please read carefully, people!

Posted by: Anonymous | August 4, 2006 3:34 PM

Back in April, I purchased tickets on USAirways for me and my two children to fly from DCA to Manchester, NH in July.

Because I wanted to cash in miles to pay for my ticket and charge my childrens' tickets on my credit card, I elected to call the reservation line rather than try to book the tickets myself.

I spent 1/2 hour on the phone with the agent and booked the tickets. Before I ended the call I asked the final cost of the tickets; they were about $450. When I got my AmEx bill, I discovered that an extra $25 or so had been tacked on because I didn't book the trip myself through the USAirways website. In essence, I paid extra for the privilege of talking to a reservations agent.

I complained to USAirways and demanded the extra charge be refunded because the agent neglected to tell me about the fee. Customer relations told me that the tickets had been charged properly so while they wouldn't refund the fee, they'd send me a $25 voucher to use on my next flight. Small consolation.

Posted by: Corinne | August 4, 2006 3:38 PM

To add to the few defenses of airlines: I recently had a surprisingly good experience with United. My return flight from Seattle to DC was cancelled because there was no flight crew for the flight (great). My return home involved waiting in several long and slow lines, without any United reps monitoring lines and directing people to the correct ones. However, the first representative who helped me was very apologetic, investigated all of the possibilities for getting me back to DC, and took into account all possible factors (example: not sending me to their hub in Chicago because she thought there was a strong possibility that there would be no hotel rooms available if I couldn't get a flight out). She offered to provide me with an official statement from the airline about what had occurred in case I needed to justify an absence from work, and guaranteed a hotel room if I needed one. Etc. I will never fly on Northwest after reading the comments here, but I will continue to fly on United.

Posted by: aqbailey | August 4, 2006 3:46 PM

Corinne, I would write to USAir and explain that since it's so difficult to use their website, and because it's basically impossible to use their website for what you needed, you were forced to use the reservations line and then you were not informed that it "cost" you $25 to do that. I had a really bad experience once after I booked on the website using miles -- return flight reservation got lost because of a glitch (they later admitted) on the website and ticket agent at the counter told me I was "trying to put one over" USAir -- and I wrote a clear and coherent letter describing the entire situation and included all my documentation. A head customer service rep called me and ended up giving me a free flight because he had to admit they were totally wrong.

Save all your paperwork, folks! You will probably need it.

I don't agree that it's wrong to use flight-booking websites. I never use them (mostly because I'm trying to use up mileage awards) but the airlines have set themselves up for this because they price every seat differently every d*^$ hour of the day. I hate that you never know what you will pay. That's why I love Southwest, at least you can understand their pricing system.

Posted by: Rachel | August 4, 2006 3:52 PM

RE ebay sellers' fees - yes, most sellers do "triple or quadruple" the shipping charges. Time is money, folks, and "waiting in line" takes times, as does packaging the item. It's a free marketplace, and you certainly don't have to pay those fees if you don't want - just don't bid on the item.

RE bad profits - how about $25.00 as a late charge for a Sam's Club Discover Card payment that was one day late - and the amount due was $60.00!

Posted by: C-Ville | August 4, 2006 4:01 PM


From LA

"Your expectation of receiving good customer service from Northwest, when you used Expedia to book in the first place is almost laughable. What kind of customer service does Expedia provide? (None) that's why you needed to contact Northwest."

What an absurd notion. No matter how you bought the ticket, NW got the payment for a flight and you are Northwest's customer. You are entitled to honest, polite service. You are not to be misled, deceived, or treated rudely. By your logic, if I bought a car at a used car lot, then took it to the local Ford dealer for service, the Ford dealer would be entitled to treat me rudely and lie to me because I did not buy the car from them.

Travel websites are a tool to foster competition. They get a cut of the $, but you are still purchasing an airline ticket. But as this blog attests, there are other reasons besides price to chose an airline. We as consumers have the power to force change, either by vociferous complains or by shunning a company - though only after a bad or costly experience. My main concern is that in some areas - Ticketmaster for example - there is a monopoly and you have no choice. Airlines are headed that way with consolidation, etc. (Independence you are missed!.) Or take the case of banks - they rip you off with their fees, etc. and I got so fed up that I moved to a credit union. The banks' response to the trend - to try and get Congress to change the rules to prevent many people from joining credit unions. At least in the DC area they finally got the message - now they advertise "no ATM fees." So despite my fears of monopolies, in most cases we the consumer can made the changes.

I echo the oft made point that these business don't seem to understand that treating customers fairly pays off in the long run.

Finally, I have my airline nightmare story, but I will only say that I will not go near US Airways ever again. And Direct TV is great.

Posted by: EAR | August 4, 2006 4:23 PM

"And Direct TV is great."

Except when it rains or we have heavy snow.

Posted by: Midwest Girl | August 4, 2006 4:31 PM

Thanks for the heads up!
I WILL AVOID using Northwest Airlines at any cost.

Posted by: RR | August 4, 2006 4:31 PM

To Midwest Girl: I can't vouch for anyone but myself, but we have only lost our signal once - during the heavy wet snow we had in February - and only for a few hours. We have never lost a signal due to rain. With Tivo it doesn't matter anyway b/c we always have stuff recorded to watch. Losing a signal at a rate of once per year is way less than the number of times our cable would go out in a year when I had Comcast!

Posted by: Somebody up there loves you...DirecTV | August 4, 2006 4:37 PM

I'll add my endorsement of DirecTV. I'm paying lots less than I used to pay Comcast, for service that is far better and far more reliable. And, no, contrary to Comcast's old TV commercials, my satellite signal does NOT go out whenever it rains or snows, or when the wind blows, etc. It goes out LESS frequently than my Comcast signal used to.

We also signed with Cavalier Telephone to replace our Comcast internet service. Our DSL service is just as good and fast as our reboot-every-day Comcast -- plus we get a landline, all for LESS than we were paying for Comcast internet access.

Posted by: eyeonbooks | August 4, 2006 4:38 PM

Well, C-Ville, you could have paid your Sam's Club Card on time.

People are just griping about eBay sellers who try to rip you off in the shipping charges. Of course we know we don't have to buy from them, just like you know you will be charged a late fee if you pay your bills late. It's a free market!

Posted by: Tom Joad | August 4, 2006 4:41 PM

Our Firm uses a travel service to make travel arrangements for our lawyers. They charge a $45 'service fee' for every single transaction. If plane or hotel reservations are changed, each action involving change gets a $45 fee tacked on. It's actually an 'aggravation fee' but it doesn't discourage lawyers from changing their travel plans at all. Our clients are the ones paying for this.

You wouldn't expect anyone else to work for free, and changing plane reservations and tickets means work for SOMEBODY. If your freshly cleaned suit gets a stain on it the first time you wear it, you'd have to pay to clean it again, right? Why should changes in travel reservations be any different?

However -- the delays, surly employees, and delays you describe on Northwest would keep me from patronizing the airline.

Posted by: Northwest DC -- no pun intended... | August 4, 2006 4:42 PM

When we had Direct TV every time we had a heavy rain which is quite often in the Midwest springtime and severe storm season it would go out just when the severe warning signal would come on. Same with heavy snow. We switched to Insight cable because it was cheaper AND we got Internet which we would have had to pay $120 extra for satellite AND we got a DVR (similar to Tivo). But we moved and now we have the rabbit ears to save money for now.

Posted by: Midwest Girl | August 4, 2006 4:49 PM

Umm, Tom Joad, I sent the Sam's Club bill in two weeks before it was due, yet mysteriously it wasn't processed until the day after it was due. The point of my post wasn't to shirk responsibility for the bill, but to point out that a $25.00 late payment on a $60.00 bill is usurious. period. Yes, as I said, it is a free market, but a free market has nothing to do with companies not processing bills on time.

Posted by: C-Ville | August 4, 2006 4:53 PM

C-ville, you should have made clear in your post that you mailed the payment in plenty of time but somehow the company didn't post the payment until it was "late". Another poster above wrote about Bank of America being caught doing that on purpose. If this happens to you again, you might suspect a pattern.

So are you saying that a shipping charge of $50 is NOT unreasonable when it really only costs the sender $5 to $10 for packaging and postage? According to that logic, and there is some logic to this, then yes, a $25 late fee is perfectly fine when the bill is truly paid late. The company loses money when you don't pay your bill on time, and it costs them to deal with late payments, so they think a flat $25 is reasonable, just as the "$50 flat" shipper thinks her time is that valuable.

Posted by: Tom Joad | August 4, 2006 5:11 PM

United Propane -- don't ever rent a tank from them. We were charged a hookup fee, of course, and then around $6 a month rental fee for the tank -- considering that we only used our fireplace a couple of months out of the year, this was pretty annoying. But what really set us off was when we cancelled our account and asked them to pick up the tank, they charged us a $50 fee and then charged us for the propane we had supposedly used since the last time they filled it up. Given that we had literally only turned on the fireplace two times all winter, for not more than 15 minutes each, there was no way we would have used up that much propane. If we wouldn't have been renting the house, we would have just bought a tank. We spent many hundreds of dollars in rental fees over the years for that tank and hardly used it -- we could have bought two tanks for the price of renting one!

Posted by: CS | August 4, 2006 6:18 PM

Here's a postive story for you about Amazon. I was a loyal customer for years because of this until the started shifting their political contributions in a direction I didn't like.

I sent a book as a gift through Amazon.com for someone and realized two days later that I had used the incorrect address. I called Amazon and they volunteered to send another book to the correct address for FREE--even though it was my fault. They just politely asked that I return the one sent to the wrong address if it every appeared.

That experience, one of my first with Amazon, not only made me a loyal customer for years, but since I told the story to countless people over the years, probably brought them many other customers.

Posted by: Ignatius | August 4, 2006 6:56 PM

Keeping the change, losing the faith in Bank of America Savings Account.

I recently saw that my Money Market Savings account with Bank of America got dinged a $10 monthly maintence fee - because at one point in time during the month, I dropped below $2500. After calling Bank of America to ask/complain/inquire of the fee, they replied that I was earning a whole tenth of a percent more than with the regular savings, which had a minumum of $300 before being assessed a $3 fee. I found out that the fees that I had been assessed all year long equated to much more than the interest I had earned on the account in 6 months.

Now wonder Americans don't save money.

Posted by: Mary | August 4, 2006 7:11 PM

This is one of my favorite topics.

Bad profits:
-- America Online's "retention department" (which, due in part to publicity from angry consumers, was abolished just a couple days ago). Employees who answered the phone when you called to cancel were under quotas to get you to not cancel. The quotas produced all manner of disrespect, and a hefty dose of fraud. (See www.consumerist.com.)
-- Extended service plans -- most notoriously from Best Buy (which, along with AOL, I'd nominate for the Hall of Fame/Shame for bad profits). These plans signify that the company doesn't stand by its products, and it's a way of taking more money from consumers (by scaring them, essentially) with very little corresponding benefit (to consumers).
-- "Promotional" prices that are part of long-term commitments, which are apparently effective at hooking in some people. SBC/AT&T, for example, does this. They advertise that the service will cost some relatively low figure for the first three months, but you are committing for six months (or longer), and the fees from the fourth month on are high. It's insulting. I so wish companies didn't try to play games with consumers like this. I am happy to pay a fair, honest price -- rather than try to get a "steal." I mistrust any company that plays pricing games. That mistrust translates to real loss: I don't want to buy anything else from them.
-- Grocery store club cards. (See www.nocards.org.) Apparently grocery stores make money (short-term, at least) through those programs which continually jack prices up and down all over the price (with no average cost savings to consumers) and effectively force customers into having the whens and wheres and whats of their grocery purchases kept in a running database. The card programs are expected to build "loyalty," but it's a serf-like, no-choice loyalty. It's one huge game of manipulation. These bad profits engender resentment, mistrust, and out-and-out avoidance. The best the grocery stores with club cards hope for is that customers don't think too much -- don't actually evaluate their bottom line grocery prices, and don't think about the supreme creepiness of the grocery store knowing exactly when, exactly where, and exactly how often you buy tampons. Or what sales you are a sucker for.

Good profits:
-- Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's hauls in tons of dough entirely deservedly. They offer superb value, a happy environment for all, high levels of thinking and innovation. The profits Trader Joe's make are associated with customers who obtained significant value and satisfaction from the money they gave up. This is what business should be all about. A win-win-win-win.... No losers. No one gets screwed.
-- Target. I admit that sometimes I prefer Wal-Mart (a whole topic onto itself) because it's the cheapest. But Target does a lot of things very well. They give customers good products while also giving them good experiences in their stores (squeakless carts, great lighting, clean, neat, good signage). Target makes tons of profit...while customers are pleased, satisfied, and occasionally delighted -- and consequently loyal. (Two areas for improvement at Target: (1) Their employees rarely seem especially happy (cf. Trader Joe's). (2) Their snack bar offerings are extraordinary unhealthful. They reverse "giving back to the community" if they sell people crap food that leads to obesity, hypertension, heart disease, etc.)

Posted by: Consumer X | August 4, 2006 11:51 PM

Oh, I'd like to add that any rebate situation I've ever encountered is an example of bad profits. Rebates are notoriously not honored for one excuse or another...and, if they are honored, they require WORK from the customer (e.g., documentation, mailing), and, of top of it, YOU GET PUT ON A MARKETING (a.k.a. SUCKER) LIST as a result. When you send in a rebate form, you are telling a company:
(1) I fall for rebates.
(2) I am willing to *work* to be your *paying* customer. I am likely to not think very deeply about things. As such, I am likely to fall for coupons and the like.
(3) I am willing to compromise privacy to let you and who knows what other companies know that I bought this certain product.

And if you buy the product without sending in the rebate form, that just means the non-rebated money into the company's pocket. It's a "good deal" for the company -- but in a bad profit sense.

It's bad profits because no customer in the world would prefer a rebated over a non-rebated price if the prices are identical. No customer "likes" rebates -- we all would prefer the same ultimate price without having to mess with a rebate. As with grocery store club cards (which must be kept on one's person, and fished out at checkout), there is no ultimate value to the consumer to rebates.

I'd also like to add $9.99 type pricing as an example of bad profits. How much money do stores lose from the mistrust of consumers of companies that play perceptual pricing games? Even my aforementioned heroes Trader Joe's and Target do this -- and I sure wish they didn't. Interestingly enough, Wal-Mart has moved away from this kind of gimmickry. Their 1-liter diet soda bottles are a fantastic, appealing value at $.50 -- not $.49. Wal-Mart does many things in the bad profits category, but this is not one of them.

Posted by: Consumer X continued | August 5, 2006 12:05 AM

There is a huge difference between the usurious nature of a $25.00 late fee, for which the bank does nothing to earn, and the manpower and time that a seller on ebay spends packaging and shipping an item. Please, "company loses money?" That is laughable, when talking about a $60.00 transaction.

Posted by: C-Ville | August 5, 2006 11:40 AM

I think most Americans are too eager to patronise the cheapest company, even at the expense of putting out of business another company that may have had better service/selection/etc. I remember in the Massachusetts when Home Depot moved into town, they set up shop next to a competing supply superstore. Home Depot would consistently advertise lower prices. Gradually, they would draw away all the customers until the competition shut down. Then Home Depot gradually raised their prices and reduced staff until you couldn't find anyone to help you in their vast ailses.

I think that we need to stop this insanity where we punish good businesses because it costs a few more dollars at their shop. I have always believed that the lowest prices doesn't always benefit me, the consumer, in the end. That's why I will happily pay more for a plane ticket from an airline that I believe has better service and/or customer service. To this day I have never flown Southwest ever again.

Posted by: Karter | August 6, 2006 12:39 PM

My wife flew from Grand Rapids, Michigan to Charlotte, NC on NorthWest which, unfortunately is a major carrier out of Grand Rapids. Since their website was not working, I had to call their toll-free number to make the reservation which cost an additional $10.00. This was the first thing that got to me.

Second, since NWA apparently out-sources its customer relatiosn to India, I ended up speaking with a woman whose first language clearly was not English and who required virtually everything I said to be repeated several times. I really got my $10.00 worth on that call.

Third, my wife took our miniature dacbshund with her. He travels well in a small carrier that fits under the seat. For all they knew, he could have been a regular carry on bag. But because he is a pet, there was an $80.00 charge each way -- a total of $160.00. I was upset at Delta for charging $50.00 per flight, now that doesn't seem that bad.

Then, when we checked in, we had to use their electronic kiosks. This is not too bad, but they only had three people handling the "passengers" (as they used to be called. Now we are "customers"), who had checked in on the six kiosks, so it was taking forever to get through the check in so we could carry our bags to the security screening.

Finally, the woman at the counter said we needed a health certificate for the dog. He had just been to the vet, so we could have brought one had we been told we needed one. When I told the customer "service" woman I was not told we would need one, she said I was told. I said I would remember being told -- she basically called me a liar, and said with a wonderful attitude that I WAS told. Finally, she let my wife board with the dog, but only after telling us, in a very snotty tone, that if "they" checked and demanded a certificate (Whoever "they" were) we would have to pay the fine, not NWA.

It made for a great start to my wife's trip to visit her family. I still think NWA should have as it's slogan: NorthWest Airlines -- Busses with Wings!

Posted by: Paul | August 7, 2006 9:43 AM

A large percentage of the profits of 24 Hour Fitness are bad profits. They are notorious for upselling and treating people as walking ATMs -- ruthlessly trying to extract as much money as they can. They are notoriously poor about cancelling automatic credit card billing. Their business model is very far away from that of Trader Joe's.

Posted by: Reader | August 7, 2006 10:05 AM

Wow, I'm the lucky one, I suppose. I've had great experiences this year with Delta, US Airways, Continental and United. All my flights were on time, flight attendants were friendly, planes clean, etc. That said, it seems like everybody in or from Memphis, TN (including me) hates NWA and dreads flying them, though we always do for convenience, etc. It's never a terribly pleasant experience, though, even when everything goes well. I'm flying NWA this Labor Day weekend, and any anti-NWA sentiments I may have were countered by the idea of flying nonstop on a very busy holiday weekend. Now we'll see what happens with their labor situation...

-

Posted by: Phillip | August 7, 2006 12:06 PM

*book alert and apropos*

Before I elaborate on my recent poor experiences with Woodscape Apartments in Newport News, VA. I think it's necessary to point out that I appreciate good customer service reps and companies that treat me/us correctly and solve problems effectively. I appreciate good service to the point where I will take the time to write a good service rep's manager/company with a positive experience. This is my first negative experience I felt documenting because the overall service was so poor, in my opinion. I will tell as many people as I can for as long as my memory holds about these horrible experiences with Woodscape Apartments.

My personal memoirs:
I rented an apartment last year in anticipation of selling my DC-area home and purchasing a new home in Virginia Beach. Below are some of the issues I had with the apartment management.

2005 November:

On November 16th when I first moved in I documented dozens of problems with the apartment, took pictures, and shared these in person with Woodscape management. Management said she would submit a work order for the documented issues and made a note of this on the documentation. So far the only thing fixed from the list of 50+ items I submitted was the phone line. For this repair item above, someone from Woodscape apartments entered my apartment without my knowledge or without my consent in violation of my current contract. I know this because the phone jack faceplate was changed from a double to a single jack. I took before and after pictures. Since this unauthorized entry, I installed cameras watching the doors of the apartment so I could have physical evidence of an unauthorized entry. Since the installation of these cameras, I have recorded 3 unauthorized entries (see below).

December: (the dead of winter)
Mid-to-late December, on a Thursday, Woodscape management decided to paint the front door of the apartments even though the temperature outside was barely above freezing (35 degrees). Notices were sent 24 hours in advance stating that the front doors will have to remain open while the paint dries, to secure any pets inside, and that a security guard will be posted outside the apartments. I had an issue with this because of the following:

Paint does not dry under 50 degrees. What was management thinking?
Leaving my door open in the middle of winter will cause me to loose all my heat inside the apartment. What was management thinking? It was freezing that day. Am I going to be reimbursed for heating the outside world BECAUSE THE FRONT DOOR HAD TO REMAIN OPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER WHILE THE PAINT DRIED. I had just returned from an overnight business trip to discover that notice. If management had decided to paint the door 1 day earlier, I would not have had any advanced warning. Therefore, my cats would have run away BECAUSE THE FRONT DOOR HAD TO REMAIN OPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER WHILE THE PAINT DRIED.

The security in place while the apartment doors were left opened was a joke. This security guard did not know who the tenants were because he does not live there. Also, I saw he was guarding dozens of buildings and could not watch all buildings at the same time. Anyone could have walked into my apartment and helped themselves to all of my possessions BECAUSE THE FRONT DOOR HAD TO REMAIN OPEN IN THE MIDDLE OF WINTER WHILE THE PAINT DRIED.
I called management the day I received this 24 hour notice. No one answered so I left a message and asked for a return call so someone could explain their reasoning for this decision and see if it couldn't be done when the outside temperatures were more moderate. No one bothered to call me.

January:
January 21st Woodscape decided to exchange the mailboxes for the tenants
with newer and larger boxes. Good idea except the new mail boxes cannot
be locked. The new boxes stay OPEN for the entire world to help themselves to my mail. Since this period of time when my mail was left in an unsecured open area, I have received my paycheck, several 2005 1099s, several bank statements, a credit card, 2 DMV titles for my vehicles, 3 credit card solicitations, and more. From just this documented sampling of just my mail (not the other tenants) I am at risk of identity theft because the apartment management decided a broken mailbox will suffice regardless of the risk to the tenants. I have called every day expressing my dissatisfaction over the unsecured mail and have not received a satisfactory response - or any response for that matter. No one bothered to call me back. What ever happened to customer service?

January 25th - This one takes the prize - ANOTHER UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY INTO MY APARTMENT OCCURRED TODAY. I caught on tape that a skinny Caucasian male wearing a ballcap, white jacket, jeans, holding a ring of keys, and had a goatee entered my apartment to apparently check the A/C since he opened that door. I did not authorize this entry, nor was I aware of it. When I checked with other tenants in 102, 201, and 202, they all reported the same. They had no prior knowledge of this in direct violation of our contracts. This makes the third unauthorized entry. I called the office to complain. No one answered the phone so I left a message stating my dissatisfaction and requested someone call me back. No one called me back.

Mid-January - Management decided to pull up some bushes behind my building. Without doing any investigation, they uprooted the bushes including power and phone lines servicing the apartments. How stupid was that? Some were without power ALL DAY!!!

And here is the kicker ... I vacated the apartment 1 week early because I had a home that I just purchased ready for me to move in to. I had the carpet's professionally cleaned, and the apartment deep cleaned before I moved out. I used the same professional cleaning service that I used every week cleaning the apartment and have 8 months of receipts to prove it. Then, 5 weeks after vacating the apartment the property manager sends me an invoice for $750 for replacing the entire carpet and padding within the entire apartment, as well as resealing the apartment twice because of pet odors (Yes, I have cats as pets.) What is strange here is I demanded to be present for any final inspection as my contract states. I was not notified of any final inspection. Also, the professional cleaners have also stated that the apartment NEVER smelled of any animal and never did because of their thoroughness (the pro cleaners) in weekly cleanings. My cats are clean, fixed, and used their cat boxes. Her statement stating my cats unrinated on the apartment rugs is simply not true. When I tried to talk to her about it, she became rude, defensive, and obnoxious.

BUT WHAT AM I GOING TO DO? I suspect sabotage but can't prove it. Why? Because I turned in my keys 1 week early giving a saboteur plenty of opportunity AND because I was a vocal tenant whenever my rights were violated or ignored. I have talked to legal counsel and he convinced me even though I have a good case, legal fees will cost more than the $750 carpet invoice.

I'll pay it so there will not be any negative credit reporting. I will also tell as many people as I can about my personal experiences with this apartment complex.


Posted by: Hate Woodscape Apartments | August 7, 2006 1:02 PM

Northwest is the new US Air in terms of the passenger be damned. Get used to it and fly someone else.

Posted by: Steve | August 7, 2006 2:07 PM

December 20th, 2000. While stuck in MSP because Northwest cancelled the flight (mechanical reasons, natch) several hours later they decided to CHARTER A BUS to get us to North Dakota.

There was a woman who had a cane with 3 children also waiting for the bus. Due to a mix up of having given her paper ticket to an attendent (another plus for E-tickets!) she was barred from boarding the bus. An altercation ensued, and the next thing I knew they took her children off the plane and a security officer carted the woman away.

That's just Northwests way of saying "Merry Christmas!"

Posted by: Anonymous | August 7, 2006 2:36 PM

Lots of picking on NWA here today. Gosh, business travellers especially would know that NWA has its own particualr set of customer relations issues, but common folks, let's be fair. It is tacky and does a disservice to readers of this blog to ascribe the totality of airline evils to NWA. As other posters have noted, USAir and Delta have had their own issues.

So-called "bad profit" charges are not soley within the dominion of NWA. Keep up with Keith L. Alexander's column in the WaPo business section (or an airline indsutry blog that I read religiously on that site belonging to the Gannet-owned national "McPaper" headquartered in Rosslyn) and you'll quickly discover that almost all airlines charge exactly the kinds of fees that this blog protests - an industry problem vs. an airline problem. Yes, NWA was the first to charge extra for certain aisle seats. But did you know that many airlines are implementing checked baggage fees? That almost all airlines charge fees for interacting with actual people when booking whether by phone or in person? That the fine print - and there is a considerable amount (hint: it's in the fare rules) - spells out most of these fees? I might actually sympathize if you were charged for a pillow, blanket, or even one of those pathetic airline "meals" when you had documentation that plainly showed that these "extras" (and isn't it amazing what the industry now considers to be an extra?) were included in the original cost of your ticket.

Fact is that this is a troubled industry. NWA is a very troubled airline in a troubled industry. United is another very troubled airline in a troubled industry, as is Delta. American has been experiencing its own troubles and USAir is just started to make its crawl out from the depths, but it too is still struggling. Each of them have at least once common problem - their labor costs and pension costs weigh signifcantly on their bottom-lines, and the steps these airlines have taken to reduce these costs have in turned spurred labor strife, litigation, and in part bankruptcies and liquidations.

I can't say that I agree 100% with the cost-cutting and, ahem, "creative revenue" measures, but NWA is far from the only generator of ill-will.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 7, 2006 3:19 PM

Hate Woodscape, why not go to small claims court? Seems to me your case is perfect for that. You have documents and photos as evidence, and Woodscape probably has nothing. You should, however, have insisted on being present for an inspection before you vacated. Knowing Woodscape, it would have protected you. Still, I'll bet if you take it to court, you'll win. They probably won't even show up, in which case you win. Why not at least try?

Posted by: Kerry | August 7, 2006 3:34 PM

Bankrupt NWA loses $285M (after paying stock dividends) between 2006Apr30 and 2006Jun30.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/08/07/AR2006080700326.html

Is it any wonder why these fees keep coming?

Posted by: Northwest Airlines 2Q Loss Widens | August 7, 2006 3:35 PM

A "good profit" story for Linksys customer support. I like to do things for myself on the computer -- I've lived alone for most of my adult life, so I have to. I'd been meaning to try to secure my wireless network (which I'd had for 2-1/2 years) and decided to just do it after I bought a 2nd computer. Suffice it to say I really screwed it up--so much so that I couldn't get online to get help. I have a Linksys router, and I called my grandson and asked him to go online and get Linksys' tech support phone number so I could call them. (The dumb thing I did was try to use the Linksys CDROM that came with the router instead of using Windows.) After a fairly long wait, I got a young woman tech rep who was polite and pleasant, and who patiently took me through the many steps necessary to undo my mess and get my wireless network secured. She also told me not to use the Linksys software again. I was quite pleased and spoke to her supervisor afterwards to express my satisfaction. I was also happy that they had their phone number listed on the web site so prominently because many companies don't. Of course my next router will be a Linksys.

Posted by: Oma | August 7, 2006 3:47 PM

I don't fault Northwest for the little charges that add up quickly any more than I fault the other airlines -- but, there is no excuse for the horrid customer service at the airline.

It amuses me that NWA's flight attendants might start striking next week, because, let me tell you, they haven't been working for years. If you're lucky enough to get the attention of one of them, you'll be greeted with a "who-are-you-and-why-are-you-on-MY-plane" attitude. I'm sorry that you work in an industry that historicaly has been poorly run; but you really don't need to take it out on me.

Worse yet, the flight attendants look like saints compared to the ticket/gate agents. Seriously, they pluck those people straight out of the lower levels of Dante's Inferno.

Of course, as a St. Paul resident, I am continually subjected to this terrible service -- and yet I still root for NWA's survival, as I can fly nonstop to nearly any city in the country from MSP.

Horrible, horrible airline staffed with horrible, horrible people.

Posted by: Dave | August 7, 2006 4:08 PM

"Good profit" story for British Airways. I took my grandson to Italy in 2000. As the "responsible adult," I was carrying both passports. We were to leave Rome for the U.S. early on Easter Sunday morning. We left Florence early on Saturday to make our way to the airport in Rome; we had to change trains in Rome to get to the airport (which isn't *really* in Rome but in a small town some distance beyond). We finally arrived at our destination where we had hotel reservations for the night. The entire trip had been quite an adventure, with lots of little things going wrong, but we were able to laugh it all off. It wasn't easy getting from the airport to our hotel, but we finally made it about 7 p.m., and while checking in, I discovered my grandson's passport was missing.

Long story short, the responsible adult had lost it, I think at the Rome train depot. The clerk said I had to report it to the police, which necessitated another round trip to the airport (where they had a small police station). We had to take the hotel bus, which ran whenever, and had to wait about 45 mins for the one policeman who spoke a few words of English. I completed a simple form and we headed back to the hotel. I still didn't know what to do, and asked the hotel clerk for the American Embassy's phone number.

When I called, I *finally* got the duty officer (a US Army officer) who explained that the Embassy was closed until Wednesday due to the Easter holiday, and he would see what he could do, but that we might possibly have to stay until Wed. I was quite upset for a number of reasons, not least of which was $$, plus my grandson needed to get back to school. I made several calls to the States to get my grandson's SSN (he was 11 then and didn't know his SSN). The duty officer and I had several phone conversations that evening and he mentioned talking to a British Airline rep named Fabio. So he would call Fabio, Fabio would call me, I'd call the duty officer, then I faxed paperwork to BA, etc., etc. The duty officer also asked for my daughter's phone number (grandson's mom), and called her. Fortunately, I ALWAYS make a copy of our passports and put one in each suitcase, so I was able to provide info from it.

Finally the duty officer called to say that he and Fabio had worked it out, and we would definitely be able to get on the early a.m. flight, but that he couldn't guarantee that British immigration at Heathrow would let us travel to the U.S. based on the paperwork he provided to BA. I said we'd take our chances and thanked him profusely.

We were dependent on the hotel bus to get to the hotel in the a.m. and we made it with just a little time to spare. We went to the only BA window that was open and the man there was expecting us. He handed us our paperwork and wished us a pleasant journey. When we got to the gate, they'd been calling our names as we were the last to board, but when I apologized they gave us friendly smiles and said they were expecting us. The paperwork from the Embassy worked at British immigration and we arrived safely.

I've traveled overseas R/T three times with BA and had a good experience all 3 times (especially when compared with American, Air France and Alitalia).

I did write a letter to the Embassy on behalf of the duty officer who worked so diligently, but could never find an address for BA to write for Fabio, but I'll never forget his name!

Posted by: Oma | August 7, 2006 4:33 PM

"Good profit" story for British Airways. I took my grandson to Italy in 2000. As the "responsible adult," I was carrying both passports. We were to leave Rome for the U.S. early on Easter Sunday morning. We left Florence early on Saturday to make our way to the airport in Rome; we had to change trains in Rome to get to the airport (which isn't *really* in Rome but in a small town some distance beyond). We finally arrived at our destination where we had hotel reservations for the night. The entire trip had been quite an adventure, with lots of little things going wrong, but we were able to laugh it all off. It wasn't easy getting from the airport to our hotel, but we finally made it about 7 p.m., and while checking in, I discovered my grandson's passport was missing.

Long story short, the responsible adult had lost it, I think at the Rome train depot. The clerk said I had to report it to the police, which necessitated another round trip to the airport (where they had a small police station). We had to take the hotel bus, which ran whenever, and had to wait about 45 mins for the one policeman who spoke a few words of English. I completed a simple form and we headed back to the hotel. I still didn't know what to do, and asked the hotel clerk for the American Embassy's phone number.

When I called, I *finally* got the duty officer (a US Army officer) who explained that the Embassy was closed until Wednesday due to the Easter holiday, and he would see what he could do, but that we might possibly have to stay until Wed. I was quite upset for a number of reasons, not least of which was $$, plus my grandson needed to get back to school. I made several calls to the States to get my grandson's SSN (he was 11 then and didn't know his SSN). The duty officer and I had several phone conversations that evening and he mentioned talking to a British Airline rep named Fabio. So he would call Fabio, Fabio would call me, I'd call the duty officer, then I faxed paperwork to BA, etc., etc. The duty officer also asked for my daughter's phone number (grandson's mom), and called her. Fortunately, I ALWAYS make a copy of our passports and put one in each suitcase, so I was able to provide info from it.

Finally the duty officer called to say that he and Fabio had worked it out, and we would definitely be able to get on the early a.m. flight, but that he couldn't guarantee that British immigration at Heathrow would let us travel to the U.S. based on the paperwork he provided to BA. I said we'd take our chances and thanked him profusely.

We were dependent on the hotel bus to get to the hotel in the a.m. and we made it with just a little time to spare. We went to the only BA window that was open and the man there was expecting us. He handed us our paperwork and wished us a pleasant journey. When we got to the gate, they'd been calling our names as we were the last to board, but when I apologized they gave us friendly smiles and said they were expecting us. The paperwork from the Embassy worked at British immigration and we arrived safely.

I've traveled overseas R/T three times with BA and had a good experience all 3 times (especially when compared with American, Air France and Alitalia).

I did write a letter to the Embassy on behalf of the duty officer who worked so diligently, but could never find an address for BA to write for Fabio, but I'll never forget his name!

Posted by: Oma | August 7, 2006 5:00 PM

I am from Detroit so unfortunately, am pretty much stuck with Northwest. I have had bagggage lost twice and have lost count of how many times I've been delayed.
I flew last year during the mechanic's strike and now have vacation scheduled during the flight atttendant's reported strike...should be interesting!

Posted by: DC | August 9, 2006 9:57 AM

I can't comment enough about the bad customer service of Comcast and US Air. I had a similar experience to "Five" with my Comcast internet service. I was given an initial sign-up deal for 12 months. After 7 months the price suddenly skyrocketed. When I called to complain, the CSR claimed to correct the problem and told me I would get the 5 more months Comcast owed me at the discounted price. Suddenly 3 months later the price skyrocketed again. When I called back, armed with the previous CSR's name, extension, date and time of our call, I was literally told by a supervisor named Harold to suck it up and pay! Even worse, I can't get DSL in my neighborhood, so its cable or dial-up. Well, I decided no internet service was better than dealing with Comcast and cancelled on the spot.

Secondly, I live in Philly, so live people that live in Minnesota, I am basically stuck flying US Air. It is no wonder they are on the verge of bankruptcy, since they are never on time, have some of the rudest employees in America and have even charged me $100 fees when they lost my reservation. They even admitted it was their error and still said I had to pay $100 to get on the plane. Amazing!

Posted by: Josh | August 9, 2006 10:56 AM

I live in Minneapolis and have flown NW frequently. As for the bad customer service, those workers have had to go through numerous pay cuts. The flight attendants are about to strike because they want to cut their pay by 40%. Can you imagine trying to live on 40% less income? Can you imagine working somewhere for many years and end up making less and less? No wonder they are surly. Meanwhile, time and time again there have been corporate bigwigs who buy the airline, pay themselves millions, then sell it giving themselves outrageous "golden parachute" payments of millions more. I'm not saying that excuses bad customer service but it might explain some of the crankiness.

As for the $10 charge, this is for not booking your flight on the NW website. This is supposed to "encourage" people to book that way. Even if you go through a travel agent you have to pay the fee. I usually check the prices on Expedia and other sites, and the ones on the NW site are very similar. You can also can look at every single flight so you can the pick ones that suit your schedule going both ways. Other sites don't seem to offer as many choices.

I have lost luggage so many times with so many airlines that I have learned how to pack everything in my carry-on. My motto is: never pack more than you can RUN across the airport with (to catch your connecting flight).

Posted by: Victoria | August 9, 2006 1:01 PM

Amen!

I had never heard the term "bad profits" before but it perfectly describes most of the money that I feel the airlines are taking from their customers.

And recently I contributed the most I've ever had to the "bad profits" of an airline. I had an overseas trip on Delta Airlines that I had to make and due to bad traffic and other ground transport problems I arrived at the airport 5 minutes after "the computer locks out any new bags on the plane." Even though the plane was still sitting there and we were 55 minutes from takeoff they made me rebook for the following day. Total charge? $1200! $200 was a "change fee" for changing my itenary and the other $1000 was the excess cost of a new itenerary (booked the day before travel) AFTER my old ticket payment was applied.

$1200 for 5 minutes late? I realize that I was the one at fault for getting to the airport late, but with customer service totally lacking in understanding or basic decency it'll be a VERY long time before I choose to fly Delta again. Bad profits indeed!

Posted by: PG Boger | August 9, 2006 1:07 PM

Add my voice to the group of people who will never fly Northwest Airlines again. My girlfriend and I were flyng Northwest Airlines out of National Airport to Minnesota for a friend's wedding. She arrived 47 minutes before the flight and tried to check-in using their self check-in computers, but her terminal would not work. She asked one of the people behind the counter to help her and finally got someone to do so after 10 minutes of asking them to help her check-in. They told her that she still had time to check-in to the flight... but when they tried to do so, the person at the gate had released her ticket, even though she still had more than 5 minutes until the 30-minute check-in cut-off. With every Northwestern flight to Minnesota oversold after that (there were 15 people on standby for our flight and another group already checking in for standby on the next flight), and the two of us forced onto standby for the rest of the day, we ended up having to take a taxi cab to BWI (paid for, of course, by us) to actually get an underbooked flight to the wedding. Even then the airline wanted to charge us a massive fee to transfer on to that flight, while they were offering people who "volunteered" to be bumped from flights in DC free transport to Baltimore and an extra ticket. We were told the deal would not be extended to us because we had not volunteered to be bumped, we had only had our tickets given to someone else.

Northwestern's gate agent working our flight - the one who released the ticket early - was easily the least helpful, most insulting person I have dealt with during my many travelling experiences, and their custome services beyond that was astoundingly inept. My girlfriend was literally in tears because it appeared we would miss the wedding and, with her crying and asking the gate agent what she could do to help us, the gate agent told her that it was her fault for being late (even though she was not late) and then called a police officer over and threatened to have her arrested because her crying was creating a disturbance. Rather than trying to help out paying customers that they had stranded, Northwestern's employees treated us like unwanted cattle trying to board their airline and were completely at their mercy. They have lost our business forever and, hopefully, they will lose the business of many more people thanks to me telling anyone who will listen about my experience with them.

Posted by: Matt | August 9, 2006 8:40 PM

For consistent, surly service try Air Canada.

Posted by: Lola Crumpet | August 10, 2006 4:51 AM

We've all had bad cs experiences...how about some good ones?

Check out Costco policies vs. Sam's and B.J.'s, not to mention Best Buy and others - particularly pertaining to return policies. I bought a camera at Costco that broke after about 9 months, and Costco exchanged it on the spot - no questions asked.

If we're talking about un-earned profits, look at what your pharmacy is charging you, even for generics - then check out Costco's Pharmacy prices.

Worth the $50 I pay for membership each year.

For airlines, check out Continental. Talk about rewarding loyalty - they are really exceptional.

Posted by: kmf | August 10, 2006 6:26 PM

I agree with John Johnson re Symantec rebates.

Not only did they lose the proof of purchase and previous version proof, they took so long in rejecting the rebate that their atrificial deadline had passed as far as providing alternate proof.

Anyone but Symanitec was the call when I got to choose the anti-virus for our company's three dozen or so desktops - for a cheap $25 they lost a couple of thousand dollars in sales.

Posted by: KT | August 15, 2006 5:00 PM

My "bad profit" experience was at the W Hotel in Atlanta. The hotel charged me for parking my own car myself in its parking lot. The hotel is north of the city, so the only other options are to pay a higher rate to valet park or to park down the road at the closest strip mall and hope you don't get towed for staying parked there overnight (in other words, not really an option at all).

It seems to me that high-end hotels are more likely to charge for everything little thing, whereas moderately priced hotels often include parking and amenities like high-speed Internet access with the (lower) room rate. Often these hotels are clean, well-decorated, and run by friendly, welcoming staff -- not to mention also having hallways that are actually lit well enough to see in...

Posted by: Ginger Conlon | August 18, 2006 1:45 PM

Here's a positive story for you, Jet Blue. Yes, sometimes things happen in the airline industry, but the people have always been polite, my baggage has never been lost, their website works well, and their JFK terminal is never a hassle. I have had bad experiences with NW and also with American. In fact, I will be going on a flight to San Juan that I booked with Jet Blue even though American also went there, and did so cheaper.

My daughter has had frequent delays with Jet Blue flying from Buffalo, but each of them has been traced to weather, and she has never had a customer service complaint.

Posted by: Kamdog | August 18, 2006 1:46 PM

Guess what, we get what we pay for. What a bunch of overpaid whiners. Do you realise we live a very affluent life just to be able to travel and do business this way!

Prior to hiring on with NWA, I interviewed with most of the other majors. They were surprisingly similar; people say nothing when life is good, and cry like spoiled babies when more than 30 mintues delayed.

NWA had the fewest hassles back than so here I am. And after years and hours hanging around the traveling public, I've decided there's either few that understand the "commodity" they seek, or superior to THE ULTIMATE QUESTION is that the sweaky wheel syndrome has derail western thought.

And finally, yes it is refreshing to even see the response to real customer service.

Posted by: The employee | September 4, 2006 9:10 AM

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