Virgin America Takes A PR Tumble, But Its Customer Service History Will Pick It Back Up

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Virgin AmericaEvery company has its bad days. We all know it and there’s no way to appease everyone, but you try your darnedest to make it happen. Sure, some of the “bad days” that companies have had to endure are more nightmare’ish rather than just a single individual filing a complaint, but even the ones that earn all the rave and praise have had to go through some changes that really tested the mettle of that brand. The most recent culprit: Virgin America.

The background

Several weeks ago, Virgin America notified its users and flyers that their website would be experiencing some outage, but their customer service support line would be still available. It seemed that everything was going fine until people started to call the airline’s customer service number only to experience lengthy hold times trying to get through to either do simple things like checking in to cancelling flights. It quickly mushroomed into a nightmare scenario and if you’ve been following Virgin America (@virginamerica) on Twitter, you’ll know that their tweets have been very understanding and apologetic. Unfortunately that didn’t solve any problems.

Virgin America complaint tweet

The constant communication

The above issues surrounded the fact that there were changes to the airline’s reservation system and it wound up taking longer than expected to roll out the new platform — sadly this is not surprising, but not really reassuring to those who wanted to use their brand and travel. But it seemed that Virgin America knew what they were getting into. In checking out their website this weekend, I noticed that they have updated it with an advisory on what to expect when you use their site. In addition, they’ve been pretty active in terms of social media (specifically Twitter) to get the word out about what’s happening and trying to smooth things out with their customers. Unfortunately their policies do not allow that much liberal help through Twitter, but they kept people abreast about the status of their reservation system enhancements and even got to direct message some folks in order to find out ways to better serve them. While this might not be much, compared to how other companies handled their own issues, Virgin America has still come out on top.

And this advisory that you see on Virgin America’s website isn’t one where they simply shrug things off and issue a rather bland apology…you know, the ones that say something like “We apologize for the incovenience. Please check back in a few hours and we’ll be working again.” Instead, their team understood the appreciation of over-communication and explained what the issue is and several possible steps for customers to seek redress and assistance.

So the problem:

We’ve recently made the switch to a new reservations platform – a change that will make our booking system and website stronger, faster and all-around better. Although the new Sabre platform will ultimately improve our booking system, the switch to a new platform will cause some inconvenience as we transition from the old system to the new. For those flying or planning to use our website or Call Center, read on for key details about what to expect.

And the possible redress:

We continue to work through web issues and are aware that some users are encountering errors when trying to complete bookings on virginamerica.com or check-in online. We apologize for this inconvenience and expect to have these issues addressed soon. Please note that Virgin America flights are also available for sale on Orbitz.comExpedia.comTravelocity.com and Priceline.com.

In addition to these alternatives, they included some helpful “frequently asked questions” type points since it might help those who don’t want to wait several hours on the phone just waiting to ask one of these “obvious” questions, including, but not limited to, frequent flier mileage, flight cancellations and changes, gift certificates, and future flight news and information.

Virgin America website

You might hate Virgin America today, but it’s not going to be forever

So does this reservation system issue leave Virgin America with little Klout or fans? I highly doubt it. Sure, the airline has caused some unforeseen issues with their migration process, but I don’t believe that it will result in any permanent ill-will. Why? Because of their reputation as being a customer service-friendly airline. Frankly, if Virgin Airline wasn’t known for being customer-friendly, they would probably be known along the same lines as the legacy airlines and if this issue happened in that instance, would people still complain? Probably, but I think the fact that people actually love the brand gives the airline a bit of breathing room and also gives them a psuedo-free pass. This too shall pass and Virgin America’s efforts at customer service have not slacked off or been negligent. On the contrary, the brand’s renowned customer service has continued and during this moment of crisis, has been buffered by an increase in agents at their call center (even though volume still continues to be at an alarmingly high rate), frequent contacts using Twitter, updating their website with latest information (and not letting it be outdated by more than a day) and having it in a place of prominence for everyone to see, along with some other attempts at communication.

To give you a taste of just what happened with Virgin America recently, here’s a summary of the tweets that I saw relating to this debacle:

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4 responses to “Virgin America Takes A PR Tumble, But Its Customer Service History Will Pick It Back Up”

  1.  Avatar
    Anonymous

    After a week of trying, I just got through to Virgin America’s telephone reservation center (now run by Xerox, according to ads that have been pulled).  I was advised that both their website and the telephone call center reservation systems are down and they don’t know when they will be back up.  I was advised to call back in “three or four hours”  (with three hour wait times, perhaps I should make the call now) and “maybe it will be back up.”

    This has been going on for a week, and is a significant snafu.  Judging from their website, Virgin clearly didn’t anticipate this and needs to update their website to honestly address what is happening instead of keeping on last weekend’s apologies and pretending that this is just a “temporary” problem.

    1. Ken Yeung Avatar

      Hi Retired_from_SPOnaj:

      Thanks for your comments and it’s really unfortunate that it took you a week just to get through to Virgin America’s reservation center. I agree with you that the fact that their reservation system issue has progressed to a significant snafu. In my opinion, the issues that VA had with integration of this new reservation platform is just one of those things that “can happen” foreseen or unforeseen. However, how they handled it to compensate for this downtime is critical and I tend to agree with your statement that VA needs to be more open to offering transparent updates instead of claiming it’s a “temporary” problem.

      Nevertheless, what I had hoped to convey through this post was that IN THE FUTURE, after all of these issues had been resolved, would people cling to the idea that Virgin America is bad? Sure they’ve now experienced a “Virgin America Fail” study, but in my opinion, I feel that VA’s customer service in the past and in the future will help avoid it being perceived as one of the legacy carriers who just don’t care.

      1.  Avatar
        Anonymous

        Hey Ken,

        I suppose that whether VA will be viewed as just having gone through a bump or suffer a permanent loss of goodwill depends on how long it takes them to get straightened out.  The reason that I am (note the continuing present tense) a VA fan is because they deliver consistently great service between the city pairs that I fly at a great price.  Their cabin service is perfectly tuned to what I want, although their inflight TV service is still a bit spotty.  Up until now, their online reservation system has been great if you were an Elevate member.  However, if I continue to be unable to book a ticket or manage my reservations unless I remember to copy down my confirmation number (we’re now entering the second week of this), inevitably I am going to have to fly another airline.  Will I take the time to keep checking VA’s website to see if they are up and ready to sell me a ticket?  Perhaps until the end of November, but if they haven’t solved this by then, I may lose interest and reach the conclusion that they are not a serious business operation..

  2. Fewsaw Avatar
    Fewsaw

    Over a MONTH after your blog, I am having the same experience – unable to use the website for seat selection for a flight in the next few days – and on hold for 45+ minutes listening to awful electronic “music.”  I like new planes and cheap fares as much as anyone, but it will be a long time before I fly Virgin again!

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